Lieberman not a major factor as Jews cast their votes

NEW YORK, Nov. 7 (JTA) — Yair Nadiv, a Republican from the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, Mich., had just done something he’d never done before: He voted for a Democratic presidential candidate.

The dual citizen of Israel and the United States believes that with the Middle East in turmoil, U.S. policy should not be in the hands of an amateur in foreign affairs.

Al Gore is more experienced, “shows more intelligence, and his commitment to Israel seems very, very strong,” said Nadiv, 40, whose youngest child, his ritual fringes dangling from his shirt, accompanied his dad from the polling area.

“I voted basically my conscience as a Jewish man first.”

Nadiv said he would have voted for Gore with or without the vice president’s Jewish running mate, Joseph Lieberman.

In fact, Nadiv is convinced that Lieberman would be faced with conflicting loyalties because his decisions would have to be based on the U.S. Constitution and not on his values as an Orthodox Jew.

Nadiv was not alone in his vote.

In interviews across the country — in Los Angeles, South Florida, the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as in suburban Detroit — Jewish voters mostly expressed their support for the Gore-Lieberman ticket, although some did back Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

And while many voters expressed their pride that Lieberman, one of their own, had a shot at the vice presidency, his historic candidacy did not appear to be a major factor in their decision-making.

In Los Angeles, the voting lines at the polling places in the heart of West Hollywood’s Russian community spilled out into the streets.

The immigrants, many newly minted American citizens exercising their voting rights for the first time, turned out in force — and almost unanimously for the Democratic standard-bearer.

Indeed, if voting had been restricted to the nearly 6,000 Russian Jews in West Hollywood, Gore would have won almost unanimously.

Leonid Shvartz, pointing to his elderly parents, said the preservation of Social Security swung him to Gore, who he believes is “close to us.”

“Everybody is for Gore,” said Dimitri Olshansky, an emigre from Belarus, who was sitting on a sunny park bench, watching a dominoes game. “He’s strong for Social Security. Also, his vice president is Jewish.”

In South Florida, however, traditionally a Jewish stronghold, Gore appeared to still be haunted by the ghost of Clinton’s indiscretions.

Jews are known for turning out to vote in large numbers and for their strong opinions — and Mildred Ross, who lives in the Century Village retirement community in West Palm Beach, Fla., did not mince words when discussing her feelings about Gore.

“I hate him, because he’s just like” his boss, she said, using a derogatory word for President Clinton.

“He’ll do anything; he’ll besmirch his own parents, just for a vote,” she said, pouring a cup of decaffeinated coffee. “I’m voting for Bush.”

But Rose Dunsky, also of Century Village, was proud of Lieberman’s candidacy.

While spreading peanut butter on matzah for the frail elderly at the local JCC’s kosher meals site, Dunsky discussed the prospect of seeing the first Jewish vice president.

Her eyes twinkling, she said, “It’s important for the future. Now children will see that anyone — any minority — can be president, that their being a minority won’t get in the way.”

In Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, outside P.S. 321, where Lubavitch voters — the men in beards and black hats, the women in long skirts — voted alongside the neighborhood’s sizeable African-American community, presidential sentiment favored Bush over Gore.

But many people expressed unhappiness about both candidates.

“Gore is in with the Arabs and the first thing Bush did was declare Jesus Day,” one Chasidic male voter, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, referring to a day celebrated in Texas and other states.

Nor did Lieberman’s observant Judaism appear to sway any of these fervently Orthodox voters.

Daniel Cohen, 28, said he likes Lieberman, but is worried that he might interfere in Israeli politics. “At a time of crisis in Israel, we want to see someone less involved in foreign policy and more involved in domestic policy.”

Cohen voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket.

But if some of the voters in Crown Heights backed Gore, there were no such mixed feelings about the state’s U.S. Senate race, which pitted first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton against Republican Rep. Rick Lazio.

Signs reading “Save NY — Stop Hillary” were plastered on lampposts and street signs, as were others exhorting Jewish voters to recognize that “Pikuach Nefesh,” or the Jewish interdiction to save a life, required Jews to vote for Lazio “for the safety of our brethren” in Israel.

Many of these voters oppose President Clinton’s policies in the Middle East, and the first lady herself riled many in the Jewish community last year when she failed to respond immediately to allegations made in her presence by Suha Arafat, wife of the Palestinian Authority president, that Israel poisoned the Palestinian population’s water supply.

Clinton later said she did not receive a proper translation of Arafat’s remarks.

The Middle East became one of the major issues in the campaign.

Both candidates aggressively pursued the Jewish vote, and Clinton returned $50,000 raised for her campaign by a U.S. Muslim group whose leader reportedly supports the use of armed force against Israel by Palestinians.

But Clinton had many Jewish supporters outside Forest Hills High School in Queens, N.Y., a large red brick colonial building, one block away from an intersection officially designated as “Holocaust Memorial Corner,” where a Jewish community center and synagogue stand.

Douglas Aronin, who said he is active in the Union for Traditional Judaism, said the criticisms of Clinton were “overblown” and that her opponent, Lazio, never “put forward any positive reasons to vote for him.”

This tree-lined upper-middle class neighborhood is a mixture of modern Orthodox and liberal Jews.

With the exception of a lone Patrick Buchanan supporter, everyone interviewed said they had voted for Gore-Lieberman. Or, as Dave Grossman, a senior citizen exiting the polls with his wife, Zita, put it, “We voted for Joe Lieberman and Al Gore.”

No one said the appointment of a Jewish vice-presidential candidate had factored into their choice, although some said they feared it would hurt Gore with non-Jewish voters.

Esther Mechaly, a French immigrant, said she liked Lieberman — “not because he’s Jewish,” but because she always votes Democratic.

“I don’t trust him because I don’t trust his father,” she said of Bush, adding that his father, former President George Bush, “didn’t like Israel or the Jewish people.”

Jonathan Edelstein, a 29-year-old, also voted for the Democratic ticket, but not because of Lieberman.

But the possibility of a Jewish vice president made him think of how far attitudes in the United States — and of its Jews — had come from when an elementary school teacher told his class: ” ‘Any of you could be president, and I said, ‘Not with my last name.’ ”

(JTA managing editor Howard Lovy in Detroit, staff writer Julie Wiener in New York and JTA correspondents Tom Tugend in Los Angeles and Tom Brodigan in South Florida contributed to this report.)

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