A Dilemma for the Jewish Community
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A Dilemma for the Jewish Community

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A panel discussion on the “Jewish Community and Changing Political Realities” at the 84th national convention of the Zionist Organization of America here Friday was a microcosm of the Presidential campaign in the Jewish community.

Joseph Hiller of Houston, chairman of the discussion, said that he believes that never before have Jews faced such a “dilemma” over who they should vote for than in the current contest between President Reagan and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

An attempt to solve the dilemma was made by Jacob Stein, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Reagan’s first liaison to the Jewish community; Marshall Breger, special assistant to Reagan for liaison with the Jewish community; David Ifshin, general counsel for the Mondale Ferraro campaign and its liaison to the Jewish community; and Stuart Eizenstat, who was President Carter’s assistant for domestic affairs and policy.


Stein made the Reagan Administration’s basic argument of its support for Israel. “This President believes that Israel is a strategic asset, a trusted partner and a loyal and dependable ally,” he said.

This belief has been demonstrated by the Administration’s policy of strategic cooperation, by making all aid to Israel in the form of a grant, thus putting a “cap on Israel’s debt to the U.S.,” and by the creation of the free trade zone between Israel and the U.S., Stein said.


Ifshin, however, said that for its first three years the Reagan Administration followed policies that were not in the interest of either the U.S. or Israel, starting with the sale of AWACS and F-15 enhancement equipment to Saudi Arabia. He noted this was done with the use of the slogan “Begin or Reagan” in which the loyalty of those who opposed the sale was challenged.

The Administration gave Israel the “yellow if not the green light” to go into Lebanon “and then turned around and worked against Israel,” Ifshin charged. He said Reagan’s September 1, 1982 peace initiative was made without consulting Israel while the Arabs were given advance notice and the plan called for imposing a solution on Israel.

Ifshin said the greatest burden on Israel’s economy is its defense budget and the Administration’s proposals to increase arms sales to Arab countries, including 3,000 Sidewinder missiles to Saudi Arabia, makes that burden heavier.


A different approach to supporting Reagan came from Breger, who declared that “a strong America is necessary, a predicate, for a strong Israel.” He charged that even if Mondale and other Democrats want to support Israel’s security, the Democrats are “not willing to take the necessary measures for a strong national defense.”

Breger accused many Democrats of becoming neoisolationists and said they do not understand the threat that insurgency in Central America poses to Israel as well as the U.S. He said if there is still insurgency movements in Central America 10 years from now it will mean that most Americans will turn to problems in the Westem hemisphere exclusively ignoring the rest of the world, including Israel.

Many Democrats are “psychologically” unable to defend Western values, including that of Israel, Breger said. He contrasted how U.S. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick has spoken out against the effort to deligitimize Israel with the lack of such efforts by Carter’s UN envoy, Andrew Young.

Stein also noted Reagan’s pledge that if Israel is expelled from the UN, “Israel and the United States will walk out of the hall together”. Ifshin said that Mondale has made the same plege.


Eizenstat charged that the “Republican Party has been taken over by the religious right who want to fundamentally change the pluralistic nature of our country, a pluralism which is our greatest protection as a religious minority.”

He said the Administration proposed Constitutional amendments threatening the separation of church and state, including the one to have prayers in schools, “a humiliation to which I went through in the public schools of Atlanta and do not intend to have my children suffer.”

Eizenstat said that the Administration also supported the side in every court case on church/state issues that weakened the separation of the two. “You and I as American Jews have enough pressures of assimilation without having to fight our own President and own government,” he said. He said Mondale has pledged to maintain a “strong wall” of separation.


The issue of anti-Semitism, which has become a major part of the campaign in the Jewish community, was also raised. Stein accused the Democrats of failing to repudiate anti-Semitic remarks by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and said the Democrats were following the pattern of the UN by attacking apartheid and racism but not anti-Semitism.

Ifshin said Mondale frequently called on Jackson to repudiate Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. He said that anyone who knows Mondale’s lifelong record knows it is “ludicrous” to charge him with not being opposed to anti-Semitism.

Stein also charged that the Democrats removed opposition to quotas from their platform at the Democratic national convention to appease Jackson. Ifshin said it was made clear at the convention that Mondale and his running mate, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, are opposed to quotas.

Both Reagan and Mondale received endorsements during the ZOA program based on personal experiences with the two leaders. Stein said he urged ZOA members to vote for Reagan and Vice President Bush “based on my personal knowledge of both men, my experience with them in the White House and my continuing relationships with them.”

Noting that “I worked every day for four years with Vice President Mondale,” Eizenstat stressed that “he was always there when issues of particular concern to us” came up, whether it was Soviet Jewry, the law outlawing American firms from participating in the Arab boycott of Israel, and all issues relating to Israel.

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