NEW YORK, Aug. 15 (JTA) — Nervousness is tempering the initial euphoria over the selection of a Jew on the Democratic ticket for the White House.
“Here comes this event, and we’re unable to celebrate unencumbered by anxiety,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
While he said the anxiety has not reached “panic proportion,” the “buzz” reaching the ADL is that many Jews are worried about a rise in anti- Semitism after Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was chosen as Al Gore’s running mate.
Foxman said he was surprised at how insecure many in the Jewish community appeared. He said he had expected to see more confidence in the American people’s acceptance of Jews.
“Anti-Semitism is there. It hasn’t disappeared,” Foxman said, but stressed that the rate of anti-Semitism is “the lowest it’s ever been.”
A 1998 ADL survey found that the number of Americans who held strong anti-Semitic views had dropped to 12 percent from 20 percent in 1992 — and from 29 percent in 1964.
But despite lower levels of anti-Semitism, hate groups focused their vitriol on the Connecticut senator during the past week. Before the advent of the Internet, many of these people would have been content to write anonymous letters to the editor of their local newspaper or confine their comments to like- minded people meeting in basements and barrooms. Now, they have an international audience.
“The idea of Orthodox Hebe Lieberman being a heartbeat away from the presidency makes me want to retch,” wrote one contributor to the Internet message board of Stormfront, a white supremacist group.
“We already have a Zionist-occupied government, but now the Clinton- Gore administration has brought it out of the closet,” wrote another in all capital letters.
Lieberman, addressing the issue of anti-Semitism, told CNN talk show host Larry King last week, “I’m sure there are some anti-Semites out there. But you know, this people, the American people, are so tolerant, they’re so open, I’m just convinced that they’re going to vote for me or against me not based on my religion, but based on how they judge me as a person and whether they think I can do this job, and I can’t ask any more than that.”
Foxman said he believes the American people will reject any injection of anti-Semitism into the presidential campaign.
“We will respond when it’s serious, but I believe America has come of age. At the end of the day, Joe Lieberman will be judged as an individual and not by the fact that he goes to shul or doesn’t go shul,” Foxman said.
But in online message boards, the issue of how Lieberman practices his Judaism is argued even among Jews.
One contributor to the America Online Jewish Community message board wrote, “Had Lieberman been a Reform Jew I would say, great, run, the job is yours. However, as an Orthodox Jew he is absolutely not supposed to do various things that are going to crop up in his vice presidency.
“If he makes concessions, he is no longer Orthodox.”
Some criticized what they see as hypocrisy on Lieberman’s part, maintaining the importance of religion in his life, but attending meetings and other activities on Saturdays.
Lieberman has addressed that issue, however, by saying that for the past 12 years in public life he has voted on Saturday as part of the Jewish tradition of pikuach nefesh, or saving people’s lives.
The senator recently clarified his interpretation of that tradition to mean he may work on Shabbat, but only to promote “the respect and protection of human life and well-being.”
But the complexities of Lieberman’s traditions embarrasses many Jews, Foxman said, who may be expected to explain the intricacies to their non-Jewish neighbors, and might not be able to.
“He’s not like all of us, and this adds to their anxiety level,” Foxman said.
But one post on the Stormfront message board sees contention among the Jewish community as an opportunity.
“Nice to see the hyenas devour each other rather than us for a change,” the respondent wrote.