NEW YORK (Oct. 12)
Bill Bradley avoided direct political campaigning during his first address to a major Jewish organization since he declared his desire to become president.
But his speech Monday evening subtly indicated that the Democratic presidential candidate would be a friend to Jewish voters on key issues: Israel and religious freedom.
The evening, sponsored by the Orthodox Union’s Washington-based Institute for Public Affairs, honored retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) for his decades of service defending Israel and promoting Jewish causes.
But Bradley, who was invited to speak months before he declared his candidacy for the 2000 elections, opted to keep the spotlight on Moynihan rather than use the opportunity to make a pitch for Jewish votes.
Bradley’s speech came amid an unusually early start to a heated race for the Democratic nomination between Bradley and Vice President Al Gore.
Although steering clear of a stump speech, Bradley, in recalling Moynihan’s ideals and accomplishments, seemed to imply his own goodness by association with the veteran New York senator, who had just weeks before endorsed Bradley’s campaign.
Bradley, in his testimonial to his friend and colleague, touched on Moynihan’s history as a statesman and American ambassador to the United Nations, including his support for Soviet Jewry and his vehement defense of Israel against the 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism.
He “unforgettably declared” Israel as “a metaphor for democracy” — a metaphor, Bradley said, “I have used since, without apology.”
Alluding to Moynihan’s sponsorship of the 1995 Israel Embassy Act, which requires the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Bradley praised Moynihan’s support of Israel’s right to choose “the capital of its choice” as the recognition of “a simple truth translated to the law of the land.”
In a more oblique reference to Israel, Bradley said of Moynihan, “When he tells us democracies are entitled to make their own mistakes, he’s warning us of the self-fulfilling folly of interfering in their domestic political affairs.”
Reading through half glasses, Bradley stressed in his remarks the need for more legislation to protect religious freedom.
“Americans should never have to choose between their career and their conscience,” he said.
The remark seemed to be a nod to the Orthodox community, which has been taking the lead in lobbying Congress to pass legislation known as the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which would give employers less latitude in deciding whether to accommodate a worker’s religious needs.
“No American should feel trivialized because of their religious beliefs,” Bradley said.
In remarks that included a rabbinical quotation, Bradley noted that as a senator from New Jersey, he represented the state with the country’s largest yeshiva and its second largest Orthodox community.
The dinner, which also honored the chairman of the IPA, Richard Stone, was apparently Bradley’s second appearance before a Jewish group since his campaign began.
On Sunday, he spoke to an audience at a Holocaust memorial in Detroit.
The O.U. represents 1,000 congregations in the United States, and its members run the political gamut.
The audience of about 400 people generally found the presidential aspirant to be warm, well spoken and respectful of the Jewish community.
How long Bradley’s first good impression will hold up remains to be seen.
“I think he made a good start,” said Nathan Diament, the O.U. institute’s director.
His speech “was somewhat subtle, but touched on important issues such as religious freedom in the workplace,” said Diament, whose organization promotes issues of importance to the Orthodox Jewish community on Capitol Hill.
Diament noted that Gore has strong support in the New York region across the board, including in the Orthodox community.
One attendee, Vivian Schneck-Last, a vice president at the Goldman Sachs investment bank, said she feared a growing complacency in Washington on Israel- related issues without strong advocates like Moynihan.
Would Bradley fit the bill? “I don’t know,” she said.
She gave Bradley credit for steering clear of politicking, saying: “I think more of him because of that.”
While Israel is seen as a key to voter support among Jews, several people at the event noted that domestic issues were a close second.
A self-identified Republican among them said, “A strong America is what Israel needs.”
Despite the electoral undertones, however, O.U. President Dr. Mandell Ganchrow stressed that the evening was meant to be apolitical.
Bradley was invited to speak, with Moynihan’s encouragement, months ago – – before his campaign took off.
The invitation was not meant as an endorsement, and Ganchrow said he had spoken to the White House and to Gore “many times over the past months.”
He also noted that Gore had been the keynote speaker at the group’s events in the past.
In accepting the tribute from the group, Moynihan reiterated his support for Bradley, coming as close to electioneering as the evening would allow.
He said he was honored by the group’s decision to invite Bradley.
“In a lifetime of politics, I have known no man with his combination of character and stamina,” Moynihan said of the one-time professional basketball player.
“He stays the course, he listens, he understands and he leads.”