The Senate elected Tuesday will include more Jews than ever before, including two from California, both of them Democratic women.
The election of Rep. Barbara Boxer and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein makes California the first state to have an all-Jewish Senate delegation. It is also the first time both members of a state’s Senate delegation are women.
With the election of Russell Feingold in Wisconsin, the Senate will now have 10 Jewish members, all of them Democrats with the exception of Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
As Democratic political consultant Ann Lewis put it, “there will be enough Jewish senators to form a minyan if the minyan includes Boxer and Feinstein. There’s a message in that.”
The House of Representatives will include 33 Jewish members, the same number as in the current Congress, despite the departure of 11 Jewish incumbents. Eleven of the Jewish representatives will be serving in Congress for the first time.
Tuesday’s election will also send more women and more minorities to Washington, signaling the voters’ desire for change. But it produced fewer upsets than anticipated, despite the congressional scandals and anti-incumbency wave that engulfed this political season.
Observers say that in spite of the changes that will occur, the new Congress will remain solidly pro-Israel.
That news comes as a relief to those who feared a massive upheaval would radically shift priorities and threaten the Jewish agenda, most notably aid for Israel. The departure of several key pro-Israel congressional leaders had aggravated that fear.
In fact, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday predicted there would actually be more votes for foreign aid than in the current Congress.
“The 103rd Congress will consist of even more supporters than the previous Congress,” said Tom Dine, executive director of AIPAC.
“I am excited by the caliber of veteran and new senators and representatives, and by their appreciation of Israel’s moral and military value to the United States,” he said.
An AIPAC spokeswoman observed that “while all Americans want to see more attention to programs at home, elected officials throughout the country did not run on isolationist platforms and continue to understand the value of aiding allies abroad who support fundamental American values.”
“There is a new sense of pluralism,” observed Steve Gutow, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, “and the Jewish community always benefits when pluralism shows its face.”
“With the new members, clearly we have work to do to explain why the relationship between our country and Israel makes so much sense,” said Gutow.
“But, having read a lot of position papers and watched the campaigns, many of them are far ahead of the starting line.”
Conservative incumbents fared particularly well in most of the tough Senate races closely watched by the Jewish community. In some of these cases, the races bitterly divided the Jewish community and underscored that Jews are not single-issue voters.
The biggest exception to the pattern of incumbent triumph was in Wisconsin, where Sen. Robert Kasten, a conservative Republican, lost to Feingold, a progressive Jewish state senator.
Kasten, a leader of the fight in the Senate to provide loan guarantees to Israel, was supported heavily by pro-Israel political action committees, but the Jewish vote was deeply split between the two.
In what may have been the most bitter race, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) narrowly defeated New York Attorney General Robert Abrams by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.
Despite the fact that Abrams is Jewish and D’Amato is Catholic, the conservative incumbent won 40 percent of the Jewish vote, which was key to his victory. He had received the lion’s share of the pro-Israel PAC money.
There was speculation that some Jews who initially backed Abrams switched their votes to D’Amato after the acquittal last week of the key suspect in the murder of Hasidic scholar Yankel Rosenbaum in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. The Republican senator was perceived as taking a tougher stance on the anti- Jewish riots in Crown Heights than the attorney general.
In another emotionally charged race, Sen. Specter of Pennsylvania defeated Democratic challenger Lynn Yeakel, conquering the backlash from his role in last year’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Yeakel had lambasted Specter for his harsh questioning of witness Anita Hill and had become an important symbol of change for liberals and feminists.
Jews were bitterly divided over the race, but Specter, who is Jewish and pro- choice on the abortion issue, ran a strong campaign. Because of his seniority and clout, he won stronger backing from the organized pro-Israel community.
In the California races, Feinstein benefited from a hard-fought campaign and anti-incumbent sentiment when she toppled incumbent Sen. John Seymour, who was appointed when his predecessor, Pete Wilson, became governor. She will serve the remaining two years of his term.
And Boxer, who defeated pro-Israel champion Rep. Mel Levine in the Democratic primary for a full six-year Senate seat, routed conservative pro-lifer Bruce Herschensohn, also Jewish, in a race that grew much tighter than expected.
In another close race, Republican pro-Israel Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri beat a Jewish St. Louis city councilwoman, Geri Rothman-Serot.
Other Senate races of interest to the pro-Israel community included a hard- fought contest in Oregon, in which Republican Sen. Bob Packwood squeaked through to beat Democratic Rep. Les AuCoin.
Both are solidly pro-Israel, but Packwood, who spent more money than any candidate in Oregon history, had the bulk of the support from Jewish PACs.
In Illinois, Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat, won her bid to become the first black woman to serve in the Senate. She was strongly supported by the Jewish community, despite opponent Richard Williamson’s attempt to link her to Rev. Jesse Jackson and openly anti-Semitic Rep. Gus Savage, who lost a re-election bid in the Democratic primary.
In the House, there were wins and losses for the pro-Israel community.
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) lost her bid for re-election to Martin Hoke, a political newcomer, after becoming engulfed in a series of ethical problems. Oakar, who is of Arab descent, had not been considered a friend of Israel because of her pro-Palestinian leanings.
In Alabama, a Jewish Democrat, Rep. Ben Erdreich, lost his race after redistricting forced him to run in a mostly Republican district.
Also losing a re-election bid was Jewish Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.), a trusted pro-Israel ally.
In Connecticut, Jewish Democratic Rep. Sam Gejdenson narrowly won re-election after an exceptionally close contest. He could become chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee if the next designated chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), is tapped to serve in the Clinton administration.
In California, San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner, a Jewish Democrat, beat Tony Valencia, a Latino Republican who had waged a nasty campaign with anti- Semitic slurs.
Other Jewish candidates who won seats for the first time, with heavy backing from the pro-Israel community, include Lynn Schenk, a California Democrat; Eric Fingerhut, an Ohio Democrat; and Herb Klein, a New Jersey Democrat.
But the pro-Israel lobby will lose a number of loyalists from the House Foreign Affairs Committee as a result of primary defeats or retirements.
They include the chairman, Dante Fascell (D-Fla.), and Reps. Mel Levine (D- Calif.), Larry Smith (D-Fla.), Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), Ed Feighan (D-Ohio) and William Broomfield (R-Mich.). The lobby also lost a friend on the committee with the recent death of Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.).
“It’s true we have lost many good friends, many leaders,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“But I think this Congress will be equally supportive if we do our job, reach out and advocate effectively,” he said.
JEWISH MEMBERS OF THE 103RD CONGRESS
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)*
Russell Feingold (D-Wis.)*
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)*
Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.)
Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.
Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.)
Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio)
Arlen Specter (R-Penn.)
Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.)
House of Representatives
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.)
Anthony Beilenson (D-Calif.)
Howard Berman (D-Calif.)
Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)
Sam Coppersmith (D-Az.)*
Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.)*
Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)
Bob Filner (D-Calif.)*
Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio)*
Barney Frank (D-Mass)
Martin Frost (D-Texas)
Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.)
Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)
Dan Glickman (D-Kan.)
Willis Gradison (R-Ohio)
Dan Hamburg (D-Calif.)*
Jane Harman (D-Calif.)*
Herbert Klein (D-N.J.)*
Tom Lantos (D-Calif.)
Sander Levin (D-Mich.)
David Levy (R-N.Y.)*
Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
Marjorie Mezvinsky (D-Pa.)*
Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)*
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Lynn Schenk (D-Calif.)*
Steven Schiff (R-N.M.)
Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Norman Sisisky (D-Va.)
Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)
Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Sidney Yates (D-Ill.)
Richard Zimmer (R-N.J.)
* denotes first time elected