Focus on Issues Why Many Jewish Voters Continue to Be Undecided
Menu JTA Search

Focus on Issues Why Many Jewish Voters Continue to Be Undecided

Download PDF for this date

That many Jewish voters even at this late stage of the Presidential campaign continue “undecided” is not surprising to objective surveyors of the national political scene. They see major problems being kept in cold storage or glassed over with generalities while false or minor issues are hopped up with sly presentations to gain advantage or stain the opponent.

“This is the most agonizing election I have ever known, ” said one veteran analyst. “Many of us are suspicious of Carter and apprehensive about Reagan. We’ll either vote for Anderson or not vote, which amounts to the same thing.”

Among the imponderables is the impact on Jewish sentiment of the “Christian Right” and President Carter’s forecast that Ronald Reagan’s election will separate Black from white and Christian from Jew. One off-shoot of this was the remark by a White House Jewish official to a synagogue audience in a Washington suburb that “if you want Jerry Falwell in the White House vote for Reagan. ” Another was “if you want to continue having Libyan agent Billy Carter influencing the White House, reelect his brother.”


Dr. Bailey Smith was a generally unknown southwest clergyman who would have stayed that way if this were not an election year, but his remark, “God does not hear the prayers of Jews,” caused a storm that some suspect was politically stimulated. Reagan had appeared at the meeting at which Smith spoke but, Reagan’s aides stress, he did not even hear Smith’s remark, let alone endorse it as Democrats allege.

While Reagan is being convicted of go it by association with the Evangelicals, Carter is remembered as having told his Bible class at the first Baptist Church in Washington on April 23, 1977, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, that “He (Jesus Christ) had directly challenged in a fatal way the existing church and there was no possible way for the Jewish leadership to avoid the challenge. So they decided to kill Jesus.”

At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s request at that time, the White House provided a clarification that toned down these remarks and they were forgotten until after Reagan had been stigmatized by Carter’s Christian-Jew statement.

Then, the other day in Temple Ner Tamid in Van Nuys, Calif., Reagan, in denouncing anti-Semitism as “abhorrent” with reference to the outrages in Paris, criticized Carter for failing, he said, to “speak out forcefully to the world” about the bombings and say there is “no room” for the “virus that brought us the Holocaust.”

That brought Vice President Walter Mondale into the White House news room to say “Reagan should apologize” because his “facts were totally wrong. ” Mondale said that “immediately following the Paris bombings,” Carter had “condemned” them in the “clearest possible terms.”

As proof, Mondale read a three-line statement quoting Carter. Since Mondale did not say when and where the President had made that statement, press people were asked in the White House, the Democratic National Committee and the Carter-Mondale Committee to provide the specifics. It appeared that he made it at a town meeting in response to a question but the date was uncertain. The State Department, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and National Security Council chairman Zbigniew Brzezinski also denounced the synagogue bombing when asked for comment.


Reagan also has been assailed as courting racists by alluding to “state’s rights” at a rally in the south but overlooked is that the staunchest supporters of “state’s rights” are both Blacks and Jews — the Black Leadership Forum and the American Jewish Congress. They testified strenuously in the Senate — rightly from their position as minorities — against proposed abolishment of the Electoral College which is at the heart of “state’s rights.”

While the general belief seems to be that most Evangelicals support Reagan, an Associated Press-NBC poll published in the Washington Star Oct. 15 said “born-again Protestants are now splitting their votes” between Carter and Reagan “despite endorsements of Reagan by some leaders of the conservative movement. In fact Reagan does more poorly among born-again voters than among others.

Both Carter and independent candidate John Anderson have described themselves as “born-again Christians.” The poll, taken Oct. 8-10, showed Reagan the choice of 42 percent. Carter 41 percent, Anderson six percent, one percent for others and 10 percent not sure. “Among non-born-again Protestants,” the poll showed, “Reagan leads Carter by a 51-27 edge while holding a 43-35 margin among all likely voters.”


From the start of his Administration, Carter has had high Jewish visibility in his appointments, including those at the White House and in his Cabinet and as ambassadors. He also focused national attention on the Holocaust and Jewish heritage in America and opened his door to visitors concerned with Jewish affairs.

On his policy towards Israel, however, he has been almost continually criticized. Early in his first year as President, after Saudi Arabians saw him, the word from Arabs was “we have an Arab White House.” While foreign aid under Carter is almost half the total given Israel since its founding, the statisticians seldom note that inflation, the payments for withdrawal from the Sinai bases, the increases sponsored in Congress also have been principal factors in that figure.

In his Clinton, Mass. speech that like the Rogers Plan, virtually set back Israel to its insecure 1967 borders, his courting of the PLO and the U.S. positions in the UN Security Council, his record. Carter watchers point out, indicates he is opposed to meaningful territorial change supporting Israel’s security and permanent disqualification of the PLO in the peace process with Palestinian Arabs.

Only Anderson among the candidates appears free of the albatross of pro-Arab advocates among his top aides. Reagan has William Simon, John Connally and Robert Fluer on his side. With Carter are Brzezinski, George Boll (who left Anderson) and Andrew Young who continues urging U.S. recognition of the PLO without precondition.

In a jibe at President Ford’s 1975 threat to “reassess” the U.S. position toward Israel, Carter says he will never reassess his policy toward Israel. The facts, however, analysis note, indicate he already has many times. This includes his appeasement of the PLO by willingness to water down Security Council Resolution 242, his comparison of the PLO with the American civil rights movement his view that East Jerusalem is “occupied territory” (that conflicts with his statement about “undivided” Jerusalem).

In summary, the campaign is ending on waves of uncertainty and confusion for many Jewish voters plus a warning to them from some in Washington who urge “don’t put all your eggs in one basket. ” In practical political advice, one observer noted the absence of respectable support for any major candidate could prove damaging to Israel. Whether he wins or loses, the disappointed candidate who believes he has gone all out for Israel but was rejected could naturally have feelings of ingratitude and make them felt in later political struggle in and out of Congress.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund