Candidates’ Representatives Discuss Jewish Vote, Middle East

By Eric Marx

Published December 05, 2003, issue of December 05, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Representatives for seven of the nine Democratic presidential candidates squared off this week on issues of importance to the Jewish community, ranging from health care and abortion to Israel and the war on terrorism.

The “Democratic Presidential Insider Roundtable,” sponsored by the New York chapter of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was held on Tuesday evening at the Makor/Steinhardt Center Lecture Hall in Manhattan, and was moderated by the Forward’s political reporter, E. J. Kessler.

With a slew of undecided Jewish democratic voters facing them, and with New York State’s Democratic presidential primary less than four months away, each liaison made the case for why his candidate represented what is best for the Jewish community. Noting that the New York Jewish vote constitutes about 20% of the turnout statewide, and can constitute a full quarter of the vote in New York City, Kessler began by asking the candidate representatives how they would appeal to Jewish voters.

In reactions, the liaisons batted around candidate positions on the various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the West Bank security fence currently under construction to the Geneva Accords led by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Seeking to undo missteps early in the campaign by his candidate Howard Dean, Matt Dorf, reaffirmed his candidate’s commitment to a secure Israel but said he could not support the current plans for the security fence put forward by the Israeli government. Representative Dick Gephardt’s liaison similarly hedged full support for the fence, saying he saw the need for Israelis to defend themselves against terrorist attack but that the fence should be only a temporary measure.

Joseph Lieberman’s representative backhandedly rejected the Geneva Initiative, saying face-to-face negotiations between the elected government of Israel and a responsible Palestinian leadership are the only way to broker a peace deal, while General Wesley Clark’s representative noted that the Palestinians are too weak and suggested that a deal would remain elusive until the Syrians, Jordanians and Egyptians saw peace in their own self-interest.

Representative Dennis Kucinich’s liaison sought to distance his candidate from the pack. “Some people think that being a good Jew means you have to support Ariel Sharon and his policies. I don’t agree with that,” said Bob Ginsburg, Kucinich’s representative. “You may think that we should build walls and more settlements and, if you feel that way, then you should not support Kucinich.”

The discussion of Israel’s security quickly led into a heated debate over the war on terror and Iraq, and the positions taken by the various candidates.

“General Wesley Clark has reached the highest level of diplomatic and military activity and is the only candidate who can say today and tomorrow, ‘I know how to get us out of Iraq peacefully and honorably,’” said Clark’s liaison, Fred Ohrenstein.

Dorf tried to broaden the debate to address issues of health care, education and civil liberties but then quickly switched back to Israel and foreign policy, noting that Dean has a plan to deal with Iran, a country whose nuclear aspirations Dorf characterized as the “single greatest threat to Israel.”

Seeking to defend his candidate’s vote to authorize the war in Iraq, Gephardt’s liaison noted that the candidate had based his decision on intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein posed an “imminent threat.” But Dennis Kucinich’s camp took issue with those who had voted with the president, saying the war does not support Jewish values.

“I suggest that anybody who claims that they were fooled who was a member of the Senate or House should resign because they don’t have the intelligence to represent us,” said Ginsburg. “Were any of you fooled?” he asked the crowd.

Many of the liaisons soon pointed out that they believe Jewish voters are interested in more than just the candidates’ positions on Israel and the war on terror.

For example, Gephardt’s representative sought to lay out his candidates position on health insurance, noting that his plan to provide health insurance to every working American would be financed by a 67% tax refund to employers who pay for their employees’ health insurance.

The Kucinich camp took issue with such a proposal, arguing that only a single payer system that regulates drug prices would eliminate administrative inefficiencies and make the pharmaceutical and insurance industries honest again.

Paul Rivera, speaking for Senator John Kerry, said the issues were largely the same for those in and outside of the Jewish community. “On every major issue,” Rivera said to the audience, “there is a choice.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.