NEW ORLEANS (Aug. 21)
Jewish Republicans emerged from the Republican National Convention here last week with high expectations that many of their fellow Jews will cut their traditional Democratic ties and vote for Vice President George Bush and his running mate, Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana.
This same hope was expressed in 1984, but on election day that year, some 60 percent of the Jewish vote went to the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
But Jewish Republican leaders with whom the Jewish Telegraphic Agency talked during the convention believe that signs are even better this year.
Richard Fox, chairman of the National Jewish Coalition, said that this is not just optimism, but a “realistic” appraisal.
“I think that, more than any time in my lifetime, there are more undecided Jewish voters in America today,” he said.
Fox and other Jewish Republicans point to the record of the Reagan administration, which they call the most pro-Israel ever, and for which they maintain Bush shares credit.
They emphasized the Middle East plank of the platform adopted by the convention, and contrasted it with the brief mention of Israel in the Democratic platform.
It became clear in New Orleans that a major argument expected to be used by the Republicans to garner Jewish votes will be that the Democrats have deserted the Jewish community.
“The Democrats have turned away from the Jewish community in favor of minority blocs,” said Jacob Stein, a longtime Jewish Republican and Reagan’s first liaison to the Jewish community.
DESERTION BY DEMOCRATS
Max Fisher, the honorary chairman of the National Jewish Coalition, also emphasized that the Democrats have deserted the Jews, in his speech to the convention last Monday.
The 80-year-old Fisher, who has been active in Republican Party presidential campaigns for 40 years, said this was the first time a Jewish lay leader had addressed a national convention.
Jewish Republicans repeatedly noted that the Republican platform denounces anti-Semitism while the Democratic document is silent.
Jewish Republicans are pointing to an article in The New Republic last week by Martin Peretz, the weekly’s editor-in-chief, which was distributed at the convention.
Peretz, a Democrat, charged that anti-Semitism was displayed on the floor of the Democratic National Convention last month by some supporters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson during the debate on a Palestinian plank. He said some of them “do not want a Democratic coalition that includes masses of Jews.”
Stein also emphasized the debate on the plank sought by the Jackson forces to support Palestinian self-determination, a code word for a Palestinian state.
He said that although it was not voted on, Jackson claimed the plank could have been adopted but he did not press for a vote to maintain party harmony.
Jewish spokesmen for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis have denied that Jackson could have won such a vote.
Fisher also mentioned this debate in his convention speech, warning that next time the Democrats might adopt a pro-Palestinian plank.
Interestingly, Jewish Republicans did not dwell on Jackson in their comments with JTA. When they did, it was to assert the claim made by the Republicans that Bush and Quayle would be running against a Democratic triumvirate of Dukakis, his running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, and Jackson.
But the point the Jewish Republican leaders repeatedly made was Bush’s personal support for Israel and his closeness to Jewish leaders.
Fisher told the JTA that he knew every Republican president from Eisenhower to Reagan, and Reagan and Bush “are the greatest friends Israel ever had.”
Stein predicted a strong shift in Jewish votes. “I think that based on longstanding personal relationships between Bush and the leaders of the Jewish community, and his intense personal conviction that Israel and the United States each serve their own interests by a strong strategic relationship, that the Jewish community will support — to a greater extent than ever before – a Republican ticket headed by George Bush,” he said.
“Never before have knowledgeable Jewish leaders, in large numbers, been so close and intimate with the presidential candidate,” Stein said.
Jewish Republicans will also remind voters of the central role Bush played in the mass airlift of Ethiopian Jews from the Sudan to Israel.
QUESTIONS ON QUAYLE
The one cloud over this seemingly sunny picture for Jewish Republicans was Bush’s selection of Quayle as his vice presidential running mate.
Jewish Republicans, like almost everybody else at the convention, were surprised by Bush’s choice, and admitted they did not know much about the conservative Indiana senator.
But they soon learned that Quayle has a mixed record on Israel. He has supported defense aid to Israel, but he has also backed every arms sale to Arab countries.
Gordon Zacks, co-chairman of the National Jewish Coalition and probably the Jewish leader closest to Bush, emphasized that Quayle comes from a state opposed to foreign aid.
He said that now that he is on a national ticket, Quayle will support the Republican platform which pledges to continue the $3 billion in U.S. military and economic aid Israel has been receiving for the last several years.
In the 1984 election, when many Jews were undecided until the last minute because of concern over Jackson, an analysis of the election found they stuck with the Democrats because of the emphasis by the Republicans on school prayer and other issues demanded by the religious right.
The selection of Quayle and the support of these issues were seen as a price Bush had to pay to keep conservatives and the religious right from sitting out the election.