By E.J. Kessler

Published February 06, 2004, issue of February 06, 2004.
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Jews for Joe!: Confounding the fears of many, including the candidate, Jewish voters in the states that voted February 3 did support Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman in greater percentages than did non-Jews.

In the end, however, that did not provide much help for Lieberman, who ended his centrist bid for the presidency Tuesday.

According to exit polls conducted by the Voter News Service, in Arizona, where Jews comprised 5% of the vote, Lieberman did substantially better among them than he did among voters generally, pulling 23% of the Jews and only 7% of the total vote. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry won the state with 43% of the total vote and also drew 43% of the Jewish vote. In Delaware, where Jews also comprised 5% of the vote, Lieberman drew 29% of the Jewish vote, Kerry 40%. Their percentages of the total vote were 11% and 50%, respectively.

Responding to an oft-heard sentiment among older Jews that his candidacy would stoke anti-Semitism because of Middle East antagonisms, Liebermanore than once exhorted Jews to “stand tall” and step up to the plate and support his effort.

Conceding his defeat Tuesday night, Lieberman turned to the faith that nurtured him throughout his life and political career.

“Dear friends, a campaign ends, but life goes on. I consider myself to be a very lucky man. I have a great family, wonderful friends and an extraordinary opportunity to serve my beloved country as a United States senator,” he said. “So tomorrow, when I wake, the first words I will say are the first words I say every morning. I will thank God for blessing me with another day of life, and I will pledge myself in the traditional words to serve the Lord during the day with as much gladness and purpose as I possibly can, to improve the world around me.”

* * *

Defunct Dean?: Hawkish pro-Israel Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has vaulted in front of former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Dean’s opposition to the Iraq war and his ambiguous statements about Israel antagonized many in this crowd, especially members of the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse Aipac.

“The idea that the Democratic Party was ready to elect someone anti-war was hard to swallow,” said one pro-Israel Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There’s definitely a sense of relief.”

The Democrat said that Kerry would attract many “institutional Democrats” in the pro-Israel camp, and that his emergence as frontrunner would draw many pro-Israel Democrats who had been dallying with retired general Wesley Clark, as well as many who had been holding back from the race. Even so, the source said, pro-Israel Democrats would be asking penetrating questions to Kerry and others in the field about “the Democrats’ ability to deal with the failure of Oslo.” These Democrats want candidates to reject the idea that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for unilateral separation, and Israel’s security fence, somehow hurt the Palestinians.

Kerry hasn’t done that, and has criticized the fence. He also made his own gaffe in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in December, when he suggested that former President Carter and former secretary of state James Baker might make good Middle East envoys. Both men are considered pro-Arab by many pro-Israel activists.

North Carolina Senator John Edwards also stands to gain pro-Israel support. New Jersey lawyer Lionel Kaplan, a former president of Aipac who was a top supporter of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, told the Forward, “I believe John Edwards is a good candidate and a good friend of Israel.”

Dean’s national campaign co-chairman, Steve Grossman, told the Forward that Jewish voters “will hear from Howard Dean in his own voice” positions that will show that he supports a “robust” foreign policy and U.S.-Israel relationship, and that “the New York primary will be the perfect opportunity to do that.”

* * *

Clark’s Candles: Clark may take his Jewish ancestry more seriously than he lets on in public, according to an Israeli diplomat.

Many political observers have pegged Clark’s public utterances about his Jewish roots as campaign-trail pandering.

But Giora Rom, a retired brigadier general who served as Israel’s military attache in Washington in the 1990s, relates a story that happened in 1994, when Clark was director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs. At the time, Rom said, he often entertained Clark and his wife Gertrude for dinner at his home, but one Friday night dinner sticks in his mind.

“Gerty, while sitting next to me, told me that on their way to our house they were wondering if the Shabbat dinner will be conducted in a way where all participants — we were 12, not all Jewish — will be asked to wear a yarmulke and to light candles,” wrote Rom, now director-general of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in an e-mail.

“When I expressed my surprise about that line of thought, she said, directly, ‘Don’t you know that Wes is Jewish?’ and then she told me the story about his father.”

Clark’s biological father, Benjamin Kanne, was Jewish, but he died when Clark was four. Clark’s mother remarried and raised Clark a Baptist. Clark now practices Catholicism.

Rom told the Forward that, three weeks later, he arranged for himself, his wife and the Clarks to attend Sabbath dinner at the home of State Department official Daniel Kurtzer, an observant Jew who is now ambassador to Israel.

The Clarks were delighted by the Sabbath rituals they experienced at the dinner, Rom said.

* * *

Velvet Hammer?: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has a reputation for eating Democrats for breakfast, actually said something nice about one last week – publicly.

At the Aipac northeast region dinner last Thursday in New York, DeLay, the Republican keynote speaker, praised a fellow House member, Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, for sponsoring the Syria Accountability Act. The act, recently signed into law, seeks “to halt Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its development of weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of Iraqi oil and hold Syria accountable for its role in the Middle East,” according to the bill.

“He said I asked so hard on the bill I was pestering people to get it passed,” Engel told the Forward last Sunday at the New York Jewish Community Relations Council’s annual congressional breakfast.

Lest anyone get the impression that DeLay has gone soft on Dems, however, a headline at his congressional Web site blares, “Hateful Kennedy Speech Disgusting, Sad.”

The Democratic keynoter at the Aipac event was Rep. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

* * *

Truth Squad: The National Jewish Democratic Council is launching a weekly electronic newsletter to hold Republicans accountable when their operatives use Holocaust language and other “unacceptable” speech.

“As we begin the 2004 political year, we have seen troubling examples of misuse of language — including the debasing of imagery from Jewish history,” says the first installment of the newsletter, which NJDC calls ‘Operation Emet-Truth’ and which will appear each Tuesday. “But while Republican operatives complain loudly about a liberal misstep, they refuse to acknowledge the more extensive and troubling language of their own political allies — from comparing the estate tax to the Holocaust to calling political opponents ‘Gestapo.’”

The first installment raps Dr. Laura Shlessinger, a New York Post columnist, along with several GOP lawmakers for such language and contains instructions on how to respond by letter writing.

Asked whether Republicans really would generate enough material for NJDC to run Operation Emet-Truth every week, the council’s executive director, Ira Forman, said, “Sure!”

The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, called the NJDC’s initiative “posturing” and said NJDC would serve the Jewish community better by turning its efforts on its own party.

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