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After the Democratic Party Convention: Jackson’s Role in the Party May Be a Turn-off for Jewish Vote

July 23, 1984
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Former Vice President Walter Mondale has begun his campaign to defeat President Reagan with the question still open whether he can turn back the erosion of traditionally Democratic votes that went to his Republican opponent in 1980.

The answer may hinge on whether the major role the Rev. Jesse Jackson has rightfully won in the Democratic Party through his passionate speech to the Democratic national convention last Tuesday night and his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination will turn off Jewish voters.

The immediate reaction of Jewish leaders to Jackson’s apology to the Jewish community was that while they appreciated it they are waiting to see whether the speech will be follwed by words and deeds in the weeks and months ahead. Mondale did not address any issues of particular Jewish concern in his acceptance speech last Thursday night except to condemn Soviet “repression of dissidents and Jews. “It was left to his running mate, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York, and to Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts to briefly make some remarks aimed at Jews.


Ferraro, the first woman to be chosen as a Vice Presidential candidate by a major party, in her acceptance speech, accused the Reagan Administration of turning from one to another of “Israel’s long time enemies” which she said raised the question, “Will America stand by its friends and sister democracy.

“We say America knows who her friends are in the Middle East and around the world. America will stand with Israel always. “The remarks, which were not in the prepared text, were greeted by an ovation from the delegates.

Kennedy, who introduced Mondale, said that in a second term Reagan “would stand even closer to rightwing dictatorships abroad and the racist regime in South Africa; he would sel even more sophisticated weapons to the enemies of Israel. President Mondale will stand for democracy — and he will stand against apartheid — and he will stand with Israel for a secure peace in the Middle East.”

Perhaps even more pointedly, Kennedy stressed that “under the leadership of Walter Mondale, there will be no room in the Democratic Party for bigotry of any kind– or bigots of any stripe.”


Stuart Eizenstadt, who was President Carter’s domestic counselor. said that Jackson’s “unique public apologia” should stop the “hemorhage” of Jews from the Democratic Party. But Eizenstadt stressed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the speech by itself will not end the controversy raised by Jackson who was seen as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel by many Jews.

A different view was given the JTA by Lynn Nofzinger, who has long been a close political and media advisor to Reagan. “I think the Republicans will do very well in the Jewish community, “he said. Nofzinger said that Jackson’s “Mea culpa” was “nice” but” everytime I looked up he was talking about Arabs.”

Phyllis Sutker, president of Pioneer Women, who is active in Democratic politics in her home town of Skokie, III. said she believes the Jackson issue will fade as the campaign gets fully underway. Sutker said she believes that so many major issues, such as economic and social issues and the threat of nuclear war, will be more important to Jews.

Hyman Bookbinder, the American Jewish Committee’s Washington representative, said Jackson’s speech has “the potential to be very positive. “But he said one speech does not change a very serious problem. But he added that if there is a “new Jesse Jackson, more willing to have a civil discourse on policy differences” then this is “healthy development.”

Rep. Julian Dixon of California, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the speech “set a tone of apology.” He said many Jews he talked with were very appreciative.

Many Blacks feel Jackson “went out of his way” to apologize to the Jewish community. Their different perception could load to a new rift between the Black and Jewish communities unless both sides are able to make each other understand how they feel.

Jackson said, after his speech, that he asked kennedy and Percy Sutton, a New York City Black leader, to convene a meeting of leading Blacks and Jews to discuss their differences. Bookbinder noted that even before Jackson’s speech, such a meeting was in the works by the major national Jewish and Black organizations. Now Jackson will be included.

Of course, Mondale and Ferraro, like Reagan, are considered to be friends of Israel. The Democratic Party at its convention adopted a platform which is strong in support of Israel. The Republicans are also expected to do so when its convention meets in Dallas in August. But the Democrats also call for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Reagan opposes. Mondale has pledged to take action if elected.


The one controversial issue is the question of quotas, which is also one of the major sources of Black-Jewish divisions in recent years. Mondale’s supporters, in a conciliatory gesture to Jackson, whose other platform amendments were defeated, allowed opposition to quotas to be removed from the section of affirmative action. Mondale reportedly did not want a floor fight on affirmative action.

Black spokespersons for the change said that the call for “verifiable measures” to end discrimination meat quotas. But Rep. Barbara Mikulski of Mary land, national co-chairperson of the Mondale campaign, said that in the view of Mondale and Ferraro it “does not mean quotas.”

Nofzinger said he believes that quotas will be a major issue for the Republicans in the Jewish community. When asked about the different views expressed about “verifiable measures” at the convention he said, “A quota is a quota is a quota.”

With the Republicans hoping to make major inroads in the Jewish community and increase the some 40 percent of the vote Reagan had in 1980, and Democrats seeking to keep their traditional support, the coming campaign should be especially interesting in the Jewish community. It may hinge on whether Jews, who have long supported the efforts of Blacks to make economic and social gains, perceive whether their own particular interests are being addressed or sacrificed.

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