‘jackson Question’ Dominates Jewish Debate on Presidency

When Jews meet to talk about the relative merits of Vice President George Bush or Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis for president, the conversation inevitably turns neither to the economy nor to the pledge of allegiance, but to the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

A debate last week between Jewish representatives of the two candidates was no exception. It was held during the Council of Jewish Federation’s quarterly board and committee meetings at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The Democratic Party is being held hostage by Jackson’s “un-American, anti-American and certainly anti-Jewish” forces, according to Jack Stein, and a representative of Bush’s campaign and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

But according to Hyman Bookbinder, special adviser to Dukakis, the Republicans’ claims that Jackson will determine Dukakis’ Middle East policy is both a “manufactured issue” and “mind-boggling.” Bookbinder formerly served as Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee.

Jackson was not the only topic during a sometimes heated debate between old acquaintances that will certainly be repeated before other Jewish audiences in the next two months.

Bookbinder, for instance, raised doubts about Bush’s commitment to Israel, and criticized Republican legislators for supporting arms sales to Arab nations. He also attacked the Reagan administration’s recent attempts to censure Israel for a number of actions in the administered territories.

MIDDLE EAST ISSUES

Stein relied on his own 18-year acquaintance with Bush to attest to the vice president’s feelings toward Israel and Jews. He praised the Middle East platform adopted at the Republican National Convention as the “most pro-Israel” that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee “has seen in years.”

But the debate was really about Jackson, to the extent that Bookbinder, speaking first, was also the first to bring up the topic. “The Republicans have decided to run against Jesse Jackson, not Michael Dukakis,” he said.

Stein said the success of Jackson and other Arab sympathizers in the Democratic Party in having a pro-Palestinian plank debated at the Democratic National Convention was a taste of things to come in a Dukakis administration.

Describing what he called the “Dukakis-Jackson-Bentsen” ticket as a “troika,” Stein said the Democrats had been “hijacked by a well-organized minority” led by Jackson.

Bookbinder countered that both parties had their “extreme wings,” citing as Republican examples Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, television evangelist Pat Robertson, former Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu.

He said the Democrat’s rejection of the Palestinian plank, by a 2-1 margin, was evidence that the Jackson wing “has not prevailed.”

countered Stein: “Do you mean one out of three delegates was prepared to agree to support this anti-Israel action?”

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