WASHINGTON - A survey conducted this week by The Miami Herald in Miami-Dade County, which has one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the state of Florida, found that 82 percent of the Jews who live in the county plan to vote for John Kerry. Only 15 percent said they would be voting for George W. Bush.
This finding should come as something of a surprise to anyone who has been following the Republican Party's efforts to bring Jewish voters to its side, and after innumerable assessments to the effect that, this time, a higher percentage of the Jewish electorate will vote for a Republican president.
In the 2000 elections there were two main explanations for the sweeping Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. One was the fact that his running mate was the first Jewish candidate for vice president in U.S. history - Senator Joseph Lieberman. The second explanation was that nobody knew George W. Bush, that the Jews were uncertain about his position regarding Israel, and that his family and social background gave reason to assume that Bush would be pro-Arab.
Then came Bush's four years as president and he provided almost unreserved support for Israel and the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Surveys published two years ago testified to the beginning of a change in the Jewish community. Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, was sure that this year's elections would be a turning point in terms of American Jewish political support for the Republicans.
Bush was presented as the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House and that placed John Kerry in a defensive position. Kerry was forced to clarify his positions, to repeatedly tell the story of his ascent of Masada ("We yelled out: Am Yisrael Hai" - the people of Israel live), and to send former president Bill Clinton to a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida. If the polls are accurate, Kerry managed to remove the doubts concerning his support for Israel.
The fact that the American Jewish community does not intend - as things look now, a few days before the election - to cross the traditional lines and give massive support to President Bush testifies to a great extent to the political maturity of the Jewish community and to its self-confidence.
The Republican camp focused its efforts in the Jewish community on only one topic: support for Israel. With this single banner, Bush and his people tried to capture the hearts of the Jews in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and all over the United States. When Bush rose half a year ago to deliver the keynote speech at the convention of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in Washington, many in the audience stood and called out "four more years." Now it turns out that these cries may have expressed the appreciation of the Jewish community for his friendly attitude toward Israel, but not acceptance of his policy on a long series of other issues.
The Jews of the United States who are going to the polls on Tuesday demand absolute support for Israel from their leader, but they are also interested in all the other issues that have turned the Jewish community into the leading group in the United States in the struggle for social justice and human rights.
Four years of Bush have not provided satisfactory answers on this matter. During his term, cracks began to appear in the wall of separation between church and state, social gaps widened to the detriment of society's weaker sectors, and human rights became more limited. The Jewish community has proved that it is not a single-issue political group and that it cannot be made to give up its long-term principles only because of the Israeli issue.
The maturity of the American Jewish community is also evident in its ability to demand that the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, fall into line, calm their fears and promise that he will stand alongside Israel if he is elected president. Support for Israel is an essential condition for winning the American Jewish vote - but not a sufficient one. Bush met the first condition (and thanks to it, has won the support of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who agree with him on internal affairs, as well); but Kerry did more - he satisfied the Jewish community regarding Israeli issues, and also sided with it on internal matters. That is the explanation for the latest surveys showing the Jews supporting Kerry, and it also explains the words of the Bush campaign adviser on Jewish issues, who said that he is "disappointed" by the stand of the Jews.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now