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Behind the Headlines Jewish Concerns in the Democratic Party Convention

August 6, 1980
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Democratic national convention which opens in Madison Square Gorden next Monday promises to be as raucous and exciting an event as the sports contests and circuses that are usually on display at that arena.

President Carter, pummeled by his low standings in the public opinion polls, will be trying to hold on to the huge majority of delegates he has to ensure his renomination for a second term; Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts will be making a strong last-ditch effort to wrest the nomination away from the President; and some Democrats, particularly members of Congress who fear Carter’s unpopularity will hurt their own re-election chances, are hoping for a third alternative.

The unpopularity of Carter is also rife in the Jewish community over his Administration’s apparent pressures on Israel as demonstrated, in part, by the U.S. vote for the United Nations Security Council’s anti-Israeli resolution March 1, which was disavowed by the President, and by subsequent abstentions in the Council by the U.S. on resolutions condemning Israel.

With the opening of the convention only days away, all of this has coalesced around the fight over whether the convention should be “open” or “closed,” whether delegates should be required to vote for the candidate for whom they were elected in the primaries or whether they can have a free choice. A new rule this year allows a candidate to remove any of his delegates who might want to change his mind.

The move for an open convention has snowballed since the announcement that the President’s brother, Billy Carter, has had to register as a foreign agent for Libya and the continuing investigation into Billy Carter’s activities, and the President’s knowledge about them and participation in them. Carter, in a report to Congress and in a nationally televised press conference last night, denied his brother had influenced him personally or the Administration on Libya and said there was no illegality or impropriety in his dealings with his brother.


But most political experts believe that whether the convention is open or closed Carter will be renominated. The President has 1990 delegates committed to him from the primaries, 324 more than the 1666 needed for renomination. If true, the Democratic convention, while more boisterous, would have as much a surprise ending as the Republican national convention in Detroit which nominated Ronald Reagan as the GOP Presidential candidate.

Kennedy, however, who has about 1250 delegates, believes he can defeat Carter if the convention is open, especially if the voting goes beyond one ballet.

But others who would like to deny Carter the nomination, do not believe Kennedy would be the Democratic Party’s choice either. They have mentioned such alternatives as Vice President Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington. All are considered popular in the Jewish community.

Muskie appears at present to be the favorite among the three alternatives. But he, like Mondale, is in a difficult position since as a member of the Carter Administration he would be unlikely to make an open bid.

Jewish Democrats can be found on all sides of the controversy and as partisans of all the candidates. No issue of particular Jewish concern, such as Israel, divides the candidates at this point. Many Jews, however, are in the forefront of the effort for the Democratic Party to support strong measures to increase employment, help the poor and needy and provide more aid to the cities.


At the same time, many of those seeking an open convention, particularly some of the New York delegates, have argued that among Carter’s handicaps is his unpopularity in the Jewish community. Although the Carter Administration considers the Camp David agreements its major foreign policy achievement, many Jews believe the Administration, particularly National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and some officials of the State Department have tilted toward the Arabs, particularly on the issue of the Palestinians.

A fear has been expressed among some Jews that if Carter is re-elected, he would no longer have to worry about the Jewish vote in his second term and feel to free to exert undue pressure on Israel. At the same time, this fear has been tempered by a belief that Congress would prevent any one-sided pressure on Israel.

In addition, nothing has angered the Jewish community so much as the U.S. vote for the March I UN resolution. Republican speakers at their convention continuously referred to it and it was the only specific reference to the Mideast made by Reagan in his acceptance speech in Detroit.

Because of this there is a fear that some of the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote could go to the Republican Reagan, Some of this erosion can already be seen. New York State Assemblyman Samuel Hirsch, a Democrat who represents the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, home of one of the largest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in the world, has announced his support of Reagan because of the Republican’s statements backing Israel.

Support for Reagan can also be seen among a group of Jewish intellectuals who combine support of Israel with a need for a more hardline foreign policy and beefed up defense. These people, who have been identified as neo-conservative and many of whom write for Commentary magazine, are member principally of the Committee on the Present Danger and the Coalition for a Democratic Majority.

A few have come out publicly for Reagan while others have let it be known that they do not now fear him as much as they once did. Their favorite Presidential candidate would probably be Sen. Daniel Moynihan of New York.


But perhaps even more worrisome to the President than an increase in the percentage of Jewish voters going to Reagan, possibly more than the 35 percent received by President Nixon against Sen. George McGovern of North Dakota in 1972, is that Jewish voters will back Rep. John Anderson (R.III.), the independent candidate for the Presidency. Polls have shown he scores high among Jewish voters and he has been making a major appeal for the Jewish vote.

The Jewish vote takes on great importance this year. The experts believe that for Carter to defeat Reagan he must win the major industrial states of the Northwest and Midwest. Jews make up an important part of the voters in these states, especially in New York. Anderson, if he receives a strong Jewish vote, could ensure that Reagan defeats Carter in those states, and might possibly carry the states himself.

A Jewish Telegraphic Agency survey in 1976 found Jewish voters helped contribute the deciding edge for Carter in such key states as New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Carter won 80 percent of the Jewish vote in New York. Yet in this year’s primary, only three-and-a-half years later, Jewish Democrats in New York voted overwhelmingly for Kennedy over Carter. In Illinois, Carter won the Jewish vote by a 2-1 margin, but there is evidence that a great deal of the Jewish vote was cast in the Republican primary and went to Anderson.

The Carter forces are well aware of this Evidence could be seen when the Democratic Party’s platform committee hammered out the platform that will be approved at next week’s convention. The Carter people rolled over the Kennedy backers on every issue. In fact, once the question of open or closed convention is out of the way, Kennedy will make the economy and what to do about it the major issues of the convention.

But on the Mideast the Carter forces were willing to compromise. They agreed to let stand the plank of the 1972 and 1976 platforms which states that the Democratic Party supports “the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

A qualifying third sentence which the Carter forces had originally demanded be added was moved to another part of the long section on the Middle East. This read: “It is recognized that the Democratic Administration has to proceed with special care and sensitivity resulting from its deep engage- ment in the delicate process of promoting a wider peace for Israel.”

While the Mideast does not appear now to be an issue at next week’s convention, the convention itself will be lively. The experts believe the renomination of Carter is a foregone conclusion, but anything can happen, especially if the delegates decide to have an open convention.

But one thing can be certain as shown by the efforts made so far by the political strategists of the Democratic and Republican Parties and the Anderson campaign. Whatever happens in Madison Square Garden next week, Jewish voters are going to be among the most courted in the United States from now until Nov. 4, Election Day.

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