George Bush's Success with Jewish Voters Seems Limited
By Eric Leser
Wednesday 30 July 2004
The Republican president's campaign cultivates this traditionally Democratic electorate sensitive to his Israel policy.
"If Bill Clinton was the first black president, then George Bush is the first Jewish president." The phrase is a quote from an article Ciro Scotti, a Business Week magazine editorialist, wrote this summer.
It reflects a widespread feeling among political experts. George Bush's practically unconditional support for Ariel Sharon should bring him some electoral reward from a Jewish electorate largely won to the Democrats ever since the nineteenth century.
Bill Clinton received 80% of the Jewish vote in 1992 and Al Gore 79% in 2000. Ronald Reagan is the sole exception. He succeeded in attracting 38% of Jewish voters in 1980, more out of rejection of Jimmy Carter than out of any affinity with the Republican Party.
"George Bush is the most pro-Israel president in history," emphasizes Matthew Brooks, Director of the Coalition of Jewish Republicans. For this reason, New York's former Democratic mayor, Ed Koch, changed sides and decided to rally to the outgoing president and "to vote Republican for the first time in my life." "George Bush surprised me," adds Mr. Koch. "His father wasn't particularly good for Israel. He wasn't an Anti-Semite, but thought, as did many Republicans, that the Jewish vote was lost in any case."
This time, the Republican Party thinks that it can hunt successfully in Democratic territory. During the days leading up to the Republican convention at the end of August in New York, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel organization, brought 2,000 important members of the city's Jewish community together with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and former mayor Rudy Giuliani. The President of the New York Jewish Federation, Morris Offit, presented George Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, in these words: "We are honored that the president has chosen one of us."
During the convention, a brochure detailing George Bush's pro-Israel and anti-anti-Semitism positions was distributed. A Holocaust survivor delivered his benediction for the convention. The Israel Project, an organization with the mission of improving Israel's image in the United States, proliferated receptions on a yacht moored along the Hudson.
However, the efforts of the Republican Party and the Jewish organizations close to it seem to have a limited impact. In a first poll effected in July for the National Jewish Democratic Council, 75% of Jewish voters declared in favor of John Kerry and 22% for George Bush. According to another opinion survey effected at the end of August for the non-partisan American Jewish Committee (AJC), 69% of Jewish voters intend to vote for John Kerry, 24% for George Bush and 3% for Ralph Nader. The outgoing president has gained five points against the 19% he got in 2000, but the progression remains modest.
The American Jewish community numbers close to 6 million - about 2% of the American population and 3% of registered voters. That doesn't give it a big impact in electoral calculations, but can weigh heavily in certain states key to the presidential election, such as Florida, which includes 500,000 Jewish voters, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
"The president has not made a breakthrough with moderate Jewish voters, probably because of his very conservative positions on questions such as abortion, stem cell research, homosexual rights, arms control, and the relationship of Church and State. He sticks to his base and has not convinced Jews, who are in large majority centrists," explains AJC Director David Harris.
Relations with Israel are important for American Jews, but far from constituting a single criterion for their vote. Moreover, an important part of the community is critical of Ariel Sharon's policies. According to a poll effected for the AJC, George Bush does not seem to have progressed in the community except among the Orthodox, who only represent 10% of the whole. The same opinion poll shows that 66% of American Jews disapprove of the war in Iraq and 57% believe that that the terrorist threat against the United States has increased following the invasion of Iraq.
Nonetheless, the Democrats have begun to worry. John Kerry published an opinion in the Jewish Forward magazine and has sent his own brother, Cameron Kerry, a convert to Judaism, and Senator Joe Lieberman out to meet the country's [Jewish] communities.
The Arrival of the First Jews 350 Years Ago
In all of American history, the Jewish vote has undoubtedly never before been the object of so much attention. This community's presence in the United States is, however, very deep-rooted. The community is celebrating the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews on American soil this year. "There were 23 souls, large and small." These words were discovered on a Dutch document dated September 7, 1654, that describes the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants at a place that has now become New York. They were fleeing persecutions in Brazil and had been captured by pirates. A French ship, the Sainte-Catherine, had saved them and landed them on the island of Manhattan.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.