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Behind the Headlines: Jewish Vote for a Republican Mayor Could Sour Relations with Blacks

November 2, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jewish community officials say that regardless of who wins next Tuesday’s mayoral election, the intense focus on the so-called “Jewish vote” could result in a souring of intergroup relations in the city and perhaps around the country.

The race pits David Dinkins, a black politician with a long record of activity on behalf of Israel and Soviet Jewry, against Rudolph Giuliani, a white former federal prosecutor, who is a political newcomer.

Dinkins won the Democratic nomination in September by defeating the incumbent mayor, Edward Koch, and two other prominent Jewish politicians.

Since the primary election, Giuliani’s campaign has put heavy efforts into associating Dinkins with black activists that have clashed with the Jewish community, particularly the controversial Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom Dinkins supported in his 1988 presidential race.

Dinkins also was embarrassed by revelations that two local black radicals with anti-Semitic pasts were volunteers in his campaign. Both were dismissed, but the affair left a negative flavor on all sides.

Despite those embarrassments, Dinkins continued to enjoy a commanding lead, both among Jews and in the general opinion polls, until mid-October, when the press turned up inconsistencies in his own personal financial dealings over the past decade. Within a week, his lead virtually evaporated.

Jews, in particular, were reported by the news media to have reversed their loyalty, giving Giuliani a comfortable lead among the usually Democratic Jewish voters.

Since then, coverage of the race has featured front-page reports almost daily on the candidates’ efforts to win over undecided Jewish voters by touring Jewish neighborhoods, visiting synagogues and declaring their admiration for Israel.


“It’s terribly unfortunate that Jews have emerged as the turning point of this campaign,” said Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress.

“This situation has been aggravated by the very pernicious notion that David Dinkins cannot be trusted because he has been endorsed by Jesse Jackson,” he said.

“This sets up the Jewish community for terrible damage,” said Siegman. “Those who advance the notion prepare the ground for the ugly accusation that, if Dinkins were to lose, it’s the Jews who defeated him because of his association with Jesse Jackson.”

The impression has been strengthened by stepped-up activity among some Jewish activists who have appeared at various Dinkins rallies to chant “Hymietown,” an anti-Semitic term once used by Jackson in reference to New York.

According to several reports, even Jackson has finally come to recognize the depth of Jewish antipathy toward him, which he reportedly had ascribed to fringe elements until now.

Sources close to Jackson say he has met with Jewish leaders several times in recent weeks to hear their assessments.

As a result of the apparent anti-Dinkins swell among Jewish voters, community leaders say the longstanding alliance between black and Jewish leaders — particularly in Congress, where black legislators have consistently supported aid to Israel and other Jewish concerns — could be shattered.

“If Dinkins wins and gets even 40 percent of the Jewish vote, there will be a sense that the Jewish community is not delivering,” said one political activist in the Orthodox community. “And if he loses, there’s a sense that the Jewish community will be blamed for his loss.”

The irony, insiders add, is that Dinkins’ recent losses have resulted from his financial dealings, not from his relationship with Jackson.

But because of the heavy media focus on the anti-Jackson statements by some militant Jewish elements, the impression has been created that any black politician associated with Jackson will be unacceptable to Jewish voters.


“From a Jewish point of view, it’s an absolute ‘churban’ (catastrophe),” said Dinkins supporter David Luchins, a Democratic party leader who is a vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

“What we’re saying is that Jesse Jackson is becoming a litmus test. We’re saying Jews will vote for a man with no record over a man with a superb 20-year record.

“What we’re telling them in effect,” continued Luchins, “is that blacks don’t have to bother working with us, don’t have to bother supporting us. It won’t help, because we’re not going to work with them.”

Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld, religious leader of Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, is among those who believes Jews must take a firm stance against Jackson.

“Jesse Jackson is perceived to be an anti-Semite, and there is nothing on Earth he can do to convince us otherwise,” Schoenfeld said in an interview.

But he denies that taking a stand against Jackson necessarily harms black-Jewish relations.

“Dinkins made this into a racial issue, Giuliani didn’t. He says if you don’t vote for him, you don’t vote for any black, and black-Jewish relations fall apart. It’s stupid, it’s nonsensical and it’s insulting,” said Schoenfeld.

Despite such sentiments, Dinkins has assembled an awesome array of Jewish community leaders to endorse him and campaign for him, including past presidents and chairpersons of the local United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as leaders of the Lubavitch and Satmar Hasidic movements and many others.

The Jewish leaders made the endorsements in their private capacities, as the organizations they represent do not make political endorsements.

Giuliani’s efforts have yielded only a few minor endorsements, mostly by some militant Zionist activists and rabbis.

Nonetheless, the polls suggest Jewish voters in large numbers will break with their leaders and vote for the Republican. The only questions seem to be how wide the gap will be and how leaders on both sides handle the fallout.

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