Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Inside the Elephant's Tent: Jewish Americans Feeling Alienated?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Inside the Elephant's Tent: Jewish Americans Feeling Alienated?

Article excerpt

Inside The Elephant's Tent: Jewish Americans Feeling Alienated?

The sea of signs read "Pro-Israel, Pro-Bush," in a blue and white that came close to but did not quite match the Israeli flag. On the final evening, they were all over the floor of the Republican convention in Houston. The signs were supplied by the National Jewish Coalition, the AIPAC-organized Republican equivalent of the National Jewish Democratic Coalition, the AIPAC offshoot that had such prominence at the July Democratic convention in New York.

The Republican NJC is quite a bit smaller than its Democratic twin, but compensates with the prominence and activism of its millionaire chairman, Detroit wheeler-dealer Max Fisher, and a grassroots organization that extends down to every key congressional district, according to its officers. They pointed out too that, with 110 Jews among the 2,100 delegates at this year's Republican convention, Jewish participation was three times that of 1988.

Jewish GOP "Intimidated"

Despite their prominence, supporters of Israel said they felt left out, even intimidated, at Houston. Washington Jewish Week reported real concern by Jewish delegates and observers over certain hallowed GOP platform positions and the prominence of Christian fundamentalists at the convention. Some Jews were "deeply uncomfortable," according to Phil Baum of the American Jewish Congress. National Director Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said, "The Jewish community, as a Jewish community, [did not] fare well at either convention," a statement with which Arab Americans might disagree.

On the floor of the GOP convention, the estimated 300 "Pro-Israel, Pro-Bush" signs were distributed through most of the big-state delegations, ready to be waved at key moments for the television cameras. Backing up this convention-floor activism were at least 10 primarily Jewish-organized events during the week, for party regulars and leaders such as HUD Secretary and leading 1996 presidential candidate Jack Kemp, probably the number one supporter of Israel in the Republican party.

Peace Now Group Denied Role at Houston

While at the Democratic convention Jewish right-wing and center groups cooperated with Americans for Peace Now, at Houston the Peace Now forces were denied a chance to hold any event or have much input into the platform deliberations. The rationale was that Americans for Peace Now were "not in good standing" with the majority of the Jewish community.

There was a single Arab-American evening event at Houston, attended by visiting Arab ambassadors and one Republican campaign official who promoted the Bush cause with the Arab-American ethnic group. The large Arab-American community in and around the oil capital of America appeared to be very friendly to the Republican cause, but not nearly as involved in the actual politics of electing a president as were Arab Americans at the New York Democratic convention a few weeks before.

President George Bush referred in his acceptance speech to the fact that Arabs and Israelis were sitting across from each other at peace talks for the first time. But no reference was made to "Palestinians" except in the platform plank on the Middle East. Secretary Baker made only a cameo appearance at the convention and took no public role in any of the events, although his presence was certainly part of everyone's calculations on the chances for a Bush win.

Jack Kemp: Mr. Israel, 1996

Housing Czar Jack Kemp was acknowledged by key GOP Jewish Americans at Houston as "Mr. Israel" of the 1996 campaign, above even Dan Quayle and Phil Gramm. In an appearance before the National Jewish Council, Kemp opened with a cutting reference to the only Arab American ever to serve as a presidential chief of staff: "I cleared this speech with the White House...with everyone there...Baker, Darman, and of course Sununu. I told them I was going to speak about settlements...I just didn't say where. …

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