WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 (JTA) – Minority voters in Florida have been disenfranchised, says a Jewish activist. That, he said, makes the presidential vote recount a civil rights issue – therefore a Jewish issue.
“Jews should be helping others,” said Rabbi Steven Jacobs, spiritual leader of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, Calif., who has traveled to Florida for rallies and events over the past few weeks.
Jacobs and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a leading black civil rights leader, held a prayer vigil Tuesday outside the Florida Supreme Court to protest what they view as the disenfranchisement of voters.
Jacobs said thousands of people, including a “terrific” Jewish presence, heard a powerful Jewish message: Each person’s vote should be counted.
Jacobs objects to the suggestion that the election must be decided as quickly as possible despite the lingering questions.
“I reminded people that when Moses was in Egypt he didn’t say to the children of Israel, ‘Let’s get it over, let’s concede,’ ” he said.
Jacobs and other activists planned to hold a rally Wednesday at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York.
Jacobs and Jackson maintain there was a concerted effort to keep blacks and Haitian Americans away from the polls in Florida on Election Day.
A veteran of the civil rights movement, Jacobs said many Jews were confused by ballots in Palm Beach County but were denied assistance.
Democrats claim Palm Beach County’s fold-out “butterfly ballot” was so confusing that votes meant for Democrat Al Gore were accidentally cast for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.
At an event Monday night at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Jackson urged U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate alleged voting irregularities in Florida.
Florida’s secretary of state certified Sunday that Republican George W. Bush had won the state by just 537 votes, giving him the Sunshine State’s critical 25 electoral votes.
Gore is contesting the results.
Jacobs says it has been difficult to galvanize the organized Jewish community.
Jacobs rejects what he says is the claim by some Jewish organizations that it’s a partisan issue something Jewish organizations should shy away from.
The American Jewish Committee has not taken a position on the issues surrounding the recount so far, but would look into the situation if it determined civil rights abuses had occurred, said spokesman Kenneth Bandler.
If voting rights were violated, that should be pursued, but it is not necessarily an issue for the Anti-Defamation League, said Kenneth Jacobson, the organization’s assistant national director. The ADL would be involved if Jewish voters were targeted, but there is no evidence so far of anti-Semitism, Jacobson said.
The Jewish community’s consciousness needs to be raised, Jacobs said, and he indicated there was increasing support for his cause.
“There are growing numbers of Jews who are interested,” he said.