OPINION: Gore clear choice for Jews

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (JTA) – Never in American history has the choice for American Jews in a presidential election been as clear and obvious as it is this year. Never.

Amazingly, this was true even before the vice presidential candidates were named. Obviously, there are major distinctions between George W. Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney, and the man selected by Al Gore, Joe Lieberman.

During his congressional career, Cheney supported virtually every proposed sale of weapons to nations at war with Israel, including the 1981 sale of AWACs to Saudi Arabia. This stands in sharp contrast with Lieberman’s clear understanding and support on issues related to good U.S.-Israeli relations.

Throughout his career, Vice President Al Gore has established a record of leadership on issues of the greatest concern to the Jewish community, both in foreign and domestic policy.

I first met Al Gore in 1981 when he was a relatively junior congressman from Tennessee and I was a lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He already had a record of support for strong American relations with Israel. I asked him why, especially as he represented a district with such a small Jewish population.

Gore told me that Israel represented a partnership based on shared values, a mutual commitment to democracy, and common strategic interests. With this as the basis of his beliefs, throughout his career in the House, Senate and as vice president, Gore worked to strengthen Israel’s defense capabilities, enhance bilateral cooperation between the United States and Israel on economic, trade, military and scientific endeavors, and support realistic proposals for peace in the region. He has repeatedly made these points to innumerable Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike.

His record on opposing arms sales to Israel’s enemies and supporting closer ties between the U.S. and Israel is so consistent that it is hard to single out only a few examples, so two will have to suffice. First, both Sens. Gore and Lieberman understood the threats posed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. They broke with the majority of their party and voted to authorize the use of force in 1991. Second, that same year, both senators opposed the Bush administration’s effort to use loan guarantees to pressure Israel.

Gore has been to Israel numerous times, but one trip stands out. Before he decided to run for president in 1988, he had committed to hosting a mission to Israel by fellow Tennesseans, with the highlight to be a country western concert in Jerusalem. Once the campaign began, many of his advisers urged him to cancel the trip, but Gore fulfilled his commitment and took his entire family to Israel.

He has been active in the peace process, stressing that any agreement must be reached by the parties themselves. Over the course of many years of direct involvement, he developed good relationships with Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, as well as with numerous other leaders in Israel and the Arab world.

He was among the first to understand that improving the economic conditions for the Palestinians would enhance the potential for peace. He has also worked to encourage Arab states to make peace with Israel and to promote greater economic development in the entire region.

While many Jewish voters focus on a candidate’s record on Israel, it is important to stress that Jews, like all Americans, are directly affected by domestic policies. In fact, it is his experience, intelligence, values and priorities that should convince a majority of all Americans, regardless of religion or ethnic background, to support Al Gore for President.

Gore has been an integral part of the administration that has presided over the greatest economic growth in American history. Individual wealth and personal stock portfolios have gained in value, inflation was held under control, 22 million jobs were added, 2 million new businesses got their starts, the welfare roles were reduced and unemployment reached record lows. Gore has outlined specific policies that will continue America’s economic prosperity and expand it to those who have not yet fully benefitted. For example, he will use the anticipated surplus wisely to pay down the national debt, and assist such priorities as education, health care and social security. His targeted tax cuts will aid Americans without undermining our economic future.

The Gore/Lieberman ticket gains wide support from voters who share their views on a range of social issues. Gore supports the separation of religion and state; specifically he opposes mandatory prayers in public schools. He is an advocate of sensible gun control measures including banning assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, mandatory child safety locks, and requiring photo-license-ID’s and background checks for handgun purchasers.

Many voters feel comfortable that the vice president supports a woman’s right to choose and the principles contained in Roe v. Wade. But Gore’s work for women goes beyond this issue. He was a major leader for the Violence Against Women Act. He has assisted women entrepreneurs and supported efforts to close the pay gap between men and women.

Together with his wife, Tipper, he worked to improve treatment for mental illnesses and to remove the stigma attached to these diseases. He has also advocated additional funding for breast cancer research.

Education is, and remains, one of the major themes of his campaign with an emphasis on improving our public schools, linking all schools to the Internet, providing adequate pre-school opportunities and assisting people to pay for higher education.

Gore has worked to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens, including expanding hospice care and long term care, and strengthening Medicare and Social Security. His prescription drug coverage plan fits within this framework.

Unlike the governor of Texas, who did not support a Hate Crime Bill in Texas even after the brutal murder of James Byrd, Al Gore has fought for such legislation on the federal level. After the attack against the Jewish community center in Los Angeles in 1999, Gore stated that “hate crimes wound all Americans.” With three Supreme Court Justices over age 70, it is likely that the next president will shape the court and federal benches across the country for years to come. The decisions these judges make will set agendas – one way or another – on most social issues facing this nation. For many voters, this alone is a sufficient reason to support the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

(Ralph Nurnberger served for over eight years as a legislative liaison at AIPAC. He is currently a Government Affairs Counselor at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, and teaches graduate courses on international relations at Georgetown University.)

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