By E.J. Kessler

Published December 05, 2003, issue of December 05, 2003.
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Jews for Clark: As retired general Wesley Clark campaigned at a large synagogue in south Florida this week, one of the grassroots groups supporting his campaign, “Jews for Clark,” was spreading the word about the general with an e-mail message that raised some eyebrows at Clark’s campaign headquarters in Little Rock.

The e-mail message puts Clark’s foreign policy experience front and center, appealing to Jews as liberal internationalists who worry that President Bush has alienated international support for America through his actions.

“There are many in our community who think George Bush’s support for Israel and Middle East intervention is good for our interests,” the group’s e-mail says. “But if you look at the bigger picture, you see a major erosion of American power and influence in the world and an erosion of American ideals at home — and this has major implications for both Israel and the Jewish community.

The group also takes some surprising stands, castigating the Patriot Act, which gives the government expanded tools to fight terrorism at home, as ultimately threatening to Jews.

“By passing the Patriot Act, the Bush people have suspended basic rights,” the message warns. “An American citizen, on American soil, can be labeled a ‘foreign combatant’ and held incommunicado and denied legal services and access to a court. And maybe today those people are not Jews. But if we give the government that power, then who is to say that one day the Jews won’t be the targets?”

The message also takes a huge whack at the presumed Democratic frontrunner, former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

“Howard Dean is not an alternative,” it says. “His support for Israel is lukewarm. He is too close to the radical left, where anti-globalization and anti-Israel sentiments go hand-in-hand. And, he doesn’t have the stature to win. The Bush people will eat Howard Dean for lunch.”

After a traditional Democratic appeal blasting Bush for his stances on abortion and separation of church and state – both issues on which American Jews are at the extreme liberal end of political spectrum — the message concludes, “All of this behavior presents a clear and present danger to Jewish interests and it means that as a community we have to come together to defeat Bush next November.” The group touts Clark as a nominee who “can win.”

Clark’s Jewish outreach coordinator, Greg Caplan, told the Forward that he hadn’t seen the message until receiving it from the Forward, and he practically disavowed the group. “We have a lot of grassroots groups,” Caplan said. “Some we are in closer coordination with than others. … It’s a free country. People are allowed to do whatever they want. There’s no relation between us and them.”

Dean’s adviser for Jewish affairs, Matt Dorf, blasted the Clark campaign. “Wesley Clark needs to decide what kind of campaign he going to run, whether he’s going to allow supporters to distort opponents’ records, or whether he’s going to distance himself from them and shut them down,” Dorf said. “They’re trying to have it both ways. Howard Dean’s support for Israel and for Middle East peace is second to none.”

On Monday, Clark spoke to about 1,500 Jews at Temple Emeth in Delray Beach, Fla., deep in “Lieberman country,” as The Miami Herald noted. Clark, who has spoken about his father’s Jewish background in Jewish venues across the country, kicked off his late-starting campaign at a kosher-style deli in Florida, signaling his intent to go after Senator Joseph Lieberman’s core audience and contributors. In New York, another Jewish bastion, Clark has assembled a coalition that includes several downstate Jewish congressmen, including Reps. Anthony Weiner and Steve Israel.

* * *

Peas in a Pod?: Rep. James Moran — the motor-mouth Virginia Democrat who hastily repudiated his remarks last spring blaming the Jewish community for dragging America into the Iraq war — apparently has more than one reason for endorsing Dean for president. Moran’s spokesman told the Forward two weeks ago that the Virginian is backing the Vermonter because “he likes how [Dean] has jumpstarted the [Democratic] party.” But apparently the lawmaker also sees in the gaffe-prone Dean a fellow exponent of political candor or (depending on how you look at it) sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease.

The Hartford Courant’s David Lightman recently caught Moran complaining about the scripted nature of the presidential candidates — presumably those other than the “straight-talking” Dean. “They tend to be candidates whose staff can tell you what they say before they say it,” Moran told Lightman.

True, but is the alternative a candidate like Moran or Dean, whose staff often must do damage control after he opens his mouth? Virginia Republicans have launched a Web site,, dedicated to chronicling the swill spewed by the putatively well-intentioned but not-especially-well-spoken Moran. As for Dean, well, rival campaigns have been whispering to reporters about how interesting it is that a presidential candidate who stepped in it on Israel with his famous, now withdrawn, remark about how the United States “ought not to take sides” in the Middle East has found a pal in a lawmaker who blamed the Jewish community for the war in Iraq.

* * *

Religion in Politics: Judaism’s oldest living gadfly, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, is turning up in a group of liberal clergy seeking to influence the 2004 election. Hertzberg, the Bronfman visiting professor of the humanities at New York University, is involved with the Clergy Leadership Network, a so-called 527 group (think soft money) that opposes the Bush administration’s policies at home and abroad and seeks to elect a Democrat. Others in the leadership include such familiar names from the anti-war and civil rights movements as Rev. William Sloane Coffin and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell.

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