Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2000, pages 18, 46, 76

Congress Watch

Most of Pro-Israel Community Rallying Behind Gore But Muslim- and Arab-Americans Far From United

By Richard H. Curtiss

People who regularly read a couple of daily newspapers carefully don’t have any trouble following which presidential candidates are anointed by the Israel lobby and its media supporters. The Friends of Israel humor, but don’t pay serious attention to, the pro-Israel candidates doomed to be also-rans. Instead, like all of the media, the pro-Israel journalists concentrate on potential winners.

In the Democratic race, Vice President Al Gore has been the favorite of the Israel lobby since the primary campaign began. And, in a March 3 article in the pro-Likud Jerusalem Post, Washington correspondent Janine Zacharia reported that already he “is the clear-cut Jewish favorite in the upcoming presidential elections.”

To make sure things stay that way, Gore told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations March 6, the day before “Super Tuesday” primary elections, that “in a Gore administration, there will be one constant during any negotiations that we facilitate—the United States must have an absolute, uncompromising commitment to Israel’s security and Israel alone must decide the steps to ensure that security.”

Asked about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a matter on which he had previously supported the Clinton administration position of waiting until final status negotiations have been completed, this time Gore said his views are “the same as your desires.” And on what a Gore administration would do if a Palestinian state is established outside the Mideast peace process, he responded: “I would consult with the government of Israel to see what the most helpful response from Israel’s view might be. That would have a great deal of influence for me.”

Gore’s consistent pro-Israel positions have been on display since his first run for the presidency. Even after Bill Clinton earned the title of “most pro-Israeli president in U.S. history,” both in the Israeli press and America’s weekly Jewish community newspapers, there was always the feeling that while Clinton had adopted his pro-Israel bias as a matter of political expediency, Gore’s pro-Israel outlook was even more genuine than Republican President Ronald Reagan’s, whose formative political years were spent in Hollywood, and whose Middle East policy was largely based on the premise that whatever was desired by any incumbent Israeli government was good for the United States.

On the other hand, since Israel endured more real pressure to enter into peace negotiations with the Palestinians during the four years of the Bush administration than at any time since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961, Friends of Israel cocked a wary eye at President Bush’s son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, from the time “W’s” role as the anointed candidate of the Republican establishment became obvious.

The Israel lobby’s approach was two-fold. The dean of Jewish Republicans, Detroit multi-millionaire Max Fisher, announced his endorsement of George W even before the primary campaign got seriously underway. His ally, Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is an arm of the Republican Party aimed at attracting Jewish support, did the same.

The endorsement means little in terms of votes, since most American Jews, no matter how prosperous they have become, tend to embrace liberal causes and vote Democratic, particularly in presidential races. In fact, support for Israel always outweighs economic or class interests in reinforcing that tendency. Exit polls showed about 85 percent of American Jews voted for the Clinton-Gore ticket against Bush Sr. 1992. They topped that record in 1996 by giving the Clinton-Gore ticket about 88 percent of their votes against Sen. Robert Dole.

In fact, there have been only two times in recent history when the Jewish vote has not gone overwhelmingly for the Democratic nominee. The first was in 1980 when Jimmy Carter, who was trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, just as he’d done between Israel and the Egyptians, got only about 50 percent of the Jewish vote. The rest was split between independent John Anderson (who announced his candidacy from Jerusalem) and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. Again, in 1988, Reagan got a significant percentage of the Jewish vote, despite the fact that his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, was reliably pro-Israel, and despite the tendency of pro-Israel voters to distrust second-term presi- dents, who no longer have to fear what the Israel lobby can do to them.

While it doesn’t bring votes, the Fisher endorsement does mean that he and some other pro-Israel fat cats are making large contributions to the Bush campaign. Thus, in case of a Bush victory, they or their surrogates have earned a place in a Bush administration both as advisers and in backing some candidates for foreign policy positions and blackballing others.

It would be foolish to say that fear and loathing for what “W” Bush might do in the Middle East was the only driving force behind the mainstream media love-in with Bush’s only serious rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain was easy to admire because of his proven heroism, round-the-clock accessibility to the press, and the earned image of a man ready to do something about the pernicious influence of lobbyists and special interests that corrupt every aspect of American government.

Nevertheless, it would be accurate to observe that media Friends of Israel were in the forefront of John McCain’s admirers. Political analyst Douglas Bloomfield, a former legislative director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s principal Washington, DC lobby, explained why in his column in the Jan. 27, 2000 Washington Jewish Week: “McCain has been staunchly pro-Israel since he came to the House and continued in the Senate...All his GOP rivals have taken strong pro-Israel stands, but McCain, with the longest record of support, offers more than the usual platitudes and clichés...McCain is the back-up candidate for many Jewish Republicans supporting Bush. The governor was their first choice, particularly for the major campaign contributors, because he had the early momentum, the most money in the bank and the aura of a winner. But they are uneasy because of his father’s poor record on Israel. No major party presidential candidate has done as poorly among Jewish voters as his father in ’92.”

In the past, when presidential races appeared to be close, many media Friends of Israel have abandoned all pretext of impartiality and revealed their own personal preferences in the final hours before election day, just in case any Jewish voters hadn’t gotten the message. A remarkable example was in 1992 when New York Times columnist William Safire, who is the resident Republican on that Democratic newspaper’s editorial pages, bluntly announced in his final column before election day that he would be voting for Democrat Bill Clinton because of the senior Bush’s lack of concern for Israel.

This time Safire has been a shade subtler. His column in the March 6 New York Times and other newspapers, the day before the “super Tuesday primaries,” called McCain “the real reformer” and accused Bush of “callous exploitation of women’s concern about breast cancer,” quoted a New York congressman’s charge that Bush has a “heart of stone,” and said a Bush victory would give “cover to the sort of smashmouth campaign that the Democrats perfected in stealing the 1996 election.” (Safire never had to turn on Republican Dole in the 1996 campaign because it was clear almost from the beginning that Dole would lose to Clinton.)

But in attacking Republican Bush on behalf of Republican McCain, Safire didn’t have to abandon his Republican cover. If the November 2000 campaign looks close, however, let me predict right here and now that Safire will find a reason to unmask just a day or two before election day and support Democrat Gore.

Other Friends of Israel were even less subtle in telling Jewish voters exactly what to do. On Feb. 28 the Israeli government-funded Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a principal supplier of news to U.S. Jewish community weeklies, printed a feature describing how “two Jewish supporters of John McCain managed to re-register between 5,000 and 7,000 Jewish Democrats to vote for the Arizona senator in the Republican primary.” One of the two “life-long Democrats,” the story revealed, was “a state chairman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” The article reported that the other Jewish McCain supporter, who started an organization called “Democrats for McCain,” was attracted by “McCain’s foreign policy positions.”

Equally blunt was the Feb. 25 edition of The Jewish Week of New York, the last edition to reach subscribers before the New York primary election. “Bush’s Growing Jewish Problem” was the headline over a Page 1 article by the paper’s Washington political analyst, James D. Besser, with the subhead proclaiming “Rightward lurch in S. Carolina, Michigan could hurt chances with Jewish voters.”

And just in case readers of The Jewish Week were too dim to figure out what they therefore should do, Besser concluded: “If Bush is the presidential nominee and if some of the concerns he generated in South Carolina persist, that could be a limiting factor, although it’s way too early to make concrete predications.”

We don’t think so. In fact, we’ll predict right now that at least 85 percent of the Jewish vote will go to Al Gore in the November 2000 election.

Muslim and Arab American Activities in Election 2000

Lacking a nation-wide network of weekly community newspapers, and about a century of prior experience enjoyed by Jewish organizations, Arab-American and Muslim-American political and educational organizations have fewer ways of communicating with potential voters. Nevertheless, some groups are making their mark in Election Year 2000. At local levels there is much good to report. Before the March 7 Super Tuesday primaries, many local mosques and Islamic centers had invited local candidates to appear at ongoing functions to hear Muslim concerns and also to introduce themselves to Muslim voters.

There also have been town meetings organized by national Arab- and Muslim-American organizations, in conjunction with local sponsoring groups, to introduce candidates for elective offices at all levels to their communities, and the communities to the candidates. The Arab American Institute (AAI), in conjunction with local organizations, held three town meetings in California, one in Michigan (see p. 90), one in Ohio (see p. 62) one in Texas and one in Virginia. AAI, which presents election news on its Web site, www.aaiusa.org, plans other town meetings for Illinois and in the New York-New Jersey area. Also working with local sponsors or chapters, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held two town meetings in California, and the American Muslim Alliance (AMA) held five such town meetings. California-based AMA also has been extremely active on a nation-wide basis in encouraging Muslims to run for elective office from school boards to Congress. To do this it has used its very limited resources for civic action training sessions both for Muslim voters and for Muslim candidates. Prior to Super Tuesday it also posted recommendations on its Web site www.amaweb.org for California candidates for the Senate and House and for all of the state Senate, state Assembly, and state ballot initiatives.

Presidential Disarray

Prospects are dimming, however, for potential Muslim-American and Arab-American impact on this year’s presidential elections, where the differences between the remaining candidates on Mideast policy are increasingly discernible. (George W. Bush already has taken to referring to “America’s churches, synagogues and mosques” in his speeches, a first for either a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate in any election. And recently, when asked if he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he has taken to hedging his earlier affirmative answers by saying he wouldn’t do anything to wreck the peace process.)

All indications are for a very close November election in which Muslim- and Arab-American votes, if combined, could tip the scales either way in swing states like California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio or New Jersey, without whose electoral votes probably neither candidate can win. But at this writing some Arab-American and Muslim-American organization leaders have fallen out over the fact that after Arab Americans formed the American Council for Jerusalem, Muslim Americans formed their own separate American Muslims for Jerusalem, both in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, the Washington, DC-based American Muslim Council, which has been the Clinton administration’s principal conduit to the Muslim community, has had serious problems within its board of directors that have resulted in rapid turnover of executive directors (and board members) over the past two years.

Unfortunately, this year’s election won’t wait until all of these organizational problems are resolved. And although there will be another presidential election in four years, it could be 40 years before such a clear opportunity to get Muslim Americans and Christian Arab Americans working constructively together over a single major issue (Jerusalem) reappears.

Together, Muslim- and Arab-Americans number some 10 million people. But if half of this community votes for the Democratic candidate, and the other half votes for the Republican, the net political weight of America’s Arab- and Muslim-Americans is zero. Worse, if organization leaders start sneaking off for private meetings with the presidential candidates, in hopes of being “the Arab-American leader by appointment” to the next administration, or “Muslim-American organization by appointment” to the next White House, they’re only competing among themselves. On the other hand, if they insist on going only as a delegation of presidents of major Arab-American organizations, or a delegation of leaders of national Muslim political organizations, or a delegation of both, then it’s the presidential candidates who have to compete for Arab and Muslim votes.

Election Year 2000 presents a huge but very brief opportunity to bring even-handedness to U.S. foreign policy. But, so far, personal ambitions seem to be blocking the political unity necessary to seize it.

Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

SIDEBAR

Pro-Israel PAC Contributions

No one keeps score by religion or intention of individual donors of either hard or soft money to election campaigns, or purchasers of “issue” ads on radio and television. However, political action committees (PACs) have to file quarterly reports on their income and expenditures with the Federal Election Commission. According to these reports, contributions to congressional candidates by pro-Israel PACs in 1999, the first year of the two-year election 2000 cycle, were up slightly over the same period in the previous election cycle. In 1995, 61 active pro-Israel PACs distributed $541,400 to 59 Democratic candidates and 58 Republicans. In 1999, 28 active PACs distributed $634,824 to 75 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two candidates of other parties (see details on facing page).


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