Flip-flopping for the Jews

Posted: Aug 05, 2004 12:00 AM

Oy vay , as my bubby would say. A lot of Jews will vote Republican this year. Bubby's spinning in the great beyond.

Most Jews vote Democratic, and they have for a long time. They have voted in huge majorities for Democratic nominees since FDR created the New Deal. Several Republican nominees since have only occasionally increased Jewish voting percentages. Dwight D. Eisenhower won 40 percent of the Jewish vote against Adlai Stevenson in 1956; Ronald Reagan won 39 percent against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush won 35 percent against Michael Dukakis in 1988. He slipped to 11 percent against Bill Clinton.

Although George W. did a little better with 19 percent against Al Gore four years ago, the president should do better in November. Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York who is as partisan as a Democrat comes, is a Bush man this year.

"I do not agree with President Bush on a single major domestic issue," he says, "but in my view those issues pale in comparison with the threat of international terrorism. The stated goal of al-Qaida and its supporters is to kill or convert every infidel, and that means Jews, Christians, Buddhists and everyone else who will not accept Islam's supremacy."

Critics of George W., Jewish and otherwise, complain that he plays to evangelical Christians (among the best friends Israel has), but there's good reason for people of different faiths, including moderate Muslims in America, to encourage the president's strong stand against terrorism.

Ed Koch, like a growing number of his co-religionists, doesn't think a President Kerry could withstand the pressures from the left-wing radicals of his party, no matter how hard they bit their tongues in Boston. These lefties are hostile to Israel, and cultivate strong links to anti-American partisans in Europe, especially in France and Britain.

John Kerry tells Jewish audiences what they want to hear, and when he imagines he's safely out of their sight, flip-flops. During the primaries, in a speech to the Arab-American Institute, he denounced the fence Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was building on the West Bank. "We don't need another barrier to peace," he said.

Eight months later, with the Democratic nomination safely tucked away, he sang a different tune: "The security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense erected in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israeli citizens."

He suggested that he might send Jimmy Carter, the rare evangelical Christian who is not a friend of Israel, to work on Middle East peace negotiations. When that idea bombed, he blamed the "mistake" on his speechwriters. It's not clear whether John Kerry would encourage negotiations with Yasser Arafat, whom he described as a "role model" and "statesman" after the signing of the Oslo accord. How he really feels apparently depends on where he is, and who's listening.

The Republicans count on Jews in America to spot the Kerry weakness as it affects Jewish and Israeli interests. They are actively courting the 500,000 Jews who live in Florida, where a small shift could make a big difference.

Only one in 10 Jews in Florida are thought to have voted for George W. in 2000, but that was before Sept. 11. A spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign does the math. "Without Joe Lieberman on the ticket we get a jump," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "Then you add in the president's Israel policies and our grassroots effort . and you can't help but get a big jump."

Many Jews agree with Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who calls President Bush "the best friend Israel ever had." In January, 31 percent of the Jews surveyed in a major poll said they would vote for the president's re-election. The perils of Middle Eastern politics and worldwide terrorism trump everything else.

When Israel destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in 1981, the world universally - and naively - condemned the raid. Had it not been destroyed, there would be no argument today about whether Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. One of the Scuds that landed on Tel Aviv and Kuwait in 1991 would likely have carried a nuclear tip. Saddam, in fact, had shown no mercy when he used poison gas to kill his own Kurds.

Terrorism in the Middle East was used first against the Jews, but the suicide bombers were but a warm-up act for the terrorism against the United States on 9/11. Jews who take pride in their smarts know the stakes this time.