WASHINGTON (Jun. 14)
A forum here on “American Jews and Politics, 1988″ revealed that the issue of how much influence the Rev. Jesse Jackson has on the Democratic presidential candidate may be even more a factor in how Jews vote this November than it was in the 1984 presidential campaign.
Morris Amitay, former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, stressed Tuesday that the way Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis “handles” Jackson will affect the Jewish vote “more so than any statement the candidate may make on Israel.”
“Should Jackson have a strong position in the Democratic Party, and should some of his views with regard to Israel prevail in any way, shape or form, I believe there will be a great deal of disaffection,” he said.
Amitay, who called himself “a pro-Israel lobbyist,” said that the swing vote in the Jewish community is about 15-20 percent and is made up of people whose chief concern is Israel.
He added that if the election is close, this swing vote in such key states as California, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts and Maryland could decide the contest between Dukakis and his Republican opponent, Vice President George Bush.
Also participating in the forum, sponsored by B’nai B’rith International, were: Stuart Eizenstat, former domestic policy adviser to President Carter; Marshall Breger and Jacob Stein, both former liaisons to the Jewish community in the Reagan administration; and Rabbi Israel Miller, a former chairman, like Stein, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Breger and Stein, both Bush supporters, said Jackson will be a problem for Dukakis because of Jackson’s positions on the Middle East, his calls for defense cuts and advocacy of higher taxes.
Breger also noted that Jackson’s support of quotas to provide opportunities for blacks and other minorities will also hurt the Democrats in the Jewish community.
QUOTAS NOT AN ISSUE
Eizenstat said that quotas are no longer a major issue. But he said that Dukakis would oppose any attempt by Jackson to include support for a Palestinian state or talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as defense cuts and higher taxes, in the party’s platform.
Stein stressed that while Jackson’s Middle East positions may not get into the Democratic platform, he would still have influence on a Dukakis administration.
In 1984, Republicans expected a large Jewish vote for Reagan because of Jackson’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements. But the Jewish vote swung to Vice President Walter Mondale after Reagan’s speech in Dallas, in which he strongly attacked those who opposed prayer in the schools.
Although Jackson toned down his rhetoric this year, Jewish voters continued to be concerned about him. A study of various primary exit polls, published Monday by The New York Times revealed that Jackson received only 8 percent of the Jewish vote nationwide. Dukakis, meanwhile, won 75 percent of the Jewish vote.
Before Bush sewed up the Republican nomination, he did not do well among Jewish Republicans, with most of them voting for Senate Minority leader Robert Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York.
Eizenstat said he believes that the erosion of the traditional Jewish vote for Democrats will stop this year and Dukakis will get 75 to 85 percent of the Jewish vote.
Breger, however, said that Jews are moving toward the Republicans. While Mondale got about 65 percent of the Jewish vote in 1984, the majority of Jews under 24 voted for Reagan.
Stein added that the growing Orthodox community largely supports the Republicans, as do the 200,000 Soviet Jews now living in the United States.
Amitay said that he does not “jump for joy” that Dukakis’ wife, Kitty, is Jewish because many times in the past, an action harmful to Israel has been “hidden behind the fact that a secretary of state or Cabinet member or close friends happen to be Jewish.”