Dukakis-bentsen Campaign Opens with Jewish Voters in Mind

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, left here Friday to begin their campaign for what is expected to be a close race, in which Jewish voters could be among the deciding elements.

A close election could mean that Jewish voters in such key states as New York, California, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania could make the difference in whether the Massachusetts governor or Vice President George Bush, who the Republicans will nominate in New Orleans next month, occupies the White House in January.

Perhaps symbolic of this was that the Democratic National Committee began its traditional post-convention meeting here Friday with the sound of the shofar.

Rabbi Juda Mintz of Atlanta’s B’nai Torah Synagogue sounded the sofa as he opened the meeting with an invocation in which he prayed for the success of a Dukakis administration.

On the face of it, Democrats are confident that the Jewish community will support Dukakis. They not only have history on their side — a tradition of Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates going back more than 50 years — but also the fact that Dukakis was the clear favorite of Jewish voters in the Democratic primaries.

On the other hand, while Jews are not as important a factor in the Republican primaries as they are in the Democratic contests, Jews who voted in last spring’s Republican primaries appeared to favor Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas or Rep. Jack Kemp of New York over Bush. Both are being mentioned as potential Bush running mates.

The one issue that could have hurt Dukakis in the Jewish community was defused when supporters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson withdrew an amendment to the Middle East section of the party platform that would have supported Palestinian self-determination.

JACKSON PERSUADED TO BEND

Hyman Bookbinder, an adviser to the Dukakis campaign on Jewish and Middle East affairs, said the Jewish community would have been rightly concerned if the change had been made.

According to some sources, several of Jackson’s advisers also urged him to bend on the issue, stressing that it was not one of his key concerns.

Jackson also left out of his unity speech Tuesday night prepared remarks calling for Palestinian self-determination, although he did urge support of self-determination in general. His advisers convinced him that direct references to the Palestinians would do him more harm than good.

But many political commentators have expressed the view that while Dukakis was successful in emerging from the convention with Jackson’s support, this display of unity could hurt Dukakis in the Jewish community and among other voters concerned about Jackson’s positions.

Jewish Republicans have already demonstrated that they plan to hit hard on the Jackson involvement, and the GOP, in general, is expected to point up Jackson’s role.

Bookbinder said the Democrats could come back by stressing the influence that the Rev. Pat Robertson or Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina hold over the Republicans.

In his acceptance speech Thursday night, which, like the Democratic platform, dealt more with broad themes than with specifics, Dukakis made only one mention of the Arab-Israel conflict.

“We can do a lot more to bring peace to Central America and the Middle East,” he said. This was a brief summary of the short Middle East plank.

STAND ON JEWISH ISSUES

But as the convention opened, the Dukakis campaign began distributing a 300-page compendium of the governor’s statements on Jewish interests, entitled “Mike Dukakis on Issues of Concern to the Jewish Community.”

On Israel, Dukakis is quoted as saying the United States “will never let Israel down” and that peace will only come when Arab leaders “are willing to negotiate directly” with Israel and recognize its right “to exist within borders that are secure and defensible.” It also says that calls for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders are unacceptable.

The document says that the United States should accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; the Palestine Liberation Organization must be excluded from Middle East peace negotiations; the United States cannot impose a solution on the Middle East; and the question of a Palestinian state should be decided by the parties, particularly Israel and Jordan.

Dukakis has also called on the Soviet Union to press Syria to stop obstructing the peace process, to restore diplomatic relations with Israel and to stop supporting resolutions to expel Israel from the United Nations.

The booklet also stresses Dukakis’s personal involvement on behalf of Soviet Jewry and his support of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which ties trade benefits to increases in emigration.

Dukakis is quoted as supporting the separation of church and state and opposing “attempts to introduce religion in our public schools, as well as vouchers or tuition tax credits for private schools.”

THE KITTY DUKAKIS FACTOR

Bush is expected to counter this by stressing his support for the Reagan administration’s close relationship with Israel, symbolized by the development of a strategic alliance and the Free Trade Area agreement, as well as the vice president’s personal involvement in arranging the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

But all of these issues may not play as important for Jewish voters as the fact that Dukakis’s wife, Kitty, is Jewish.

This factor was noted Thursday in a column by Baltimore Sun columnist Ernest Ferguson. “The thought of Kitty Dukakis at the White House, hosting a seder at Passover, may bring thousands of Jewish voters into the Democratic column this fall,” he wrote.

Indeed, guests at a mainly Jewish reception for Kitty Dukakis last Monday seemed choked up with emotion as they listened to her speak. It was more a reaction to what she may be about to become and what it means to them as Jews than to anything she said about her husband’s support for Israel and Soviet Jewry.

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