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Jewish Journal

Tight Races

The broad impact of election wins and losses on Jewish concerns.

by Rabbi Dov Fischer

November 16, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Initially, one cannot help but think that the surge of retired, elderly Jews to Florida, augmented by this year's Lieberman Factor, has redefined Florida politics into an Israel-style method of governance. While the rest of America was voting and deciding on Tues., Nov. 7, Florida was telling us - just as Israel runs under Barak - "Wait 48 hours, and then we'll decide." Two days later, as the last recount came in from Seminole County with Bush a nose ahead, Florida essentially told us, "Well, wait 48 more hours, and then we'll really decide." Even today, Nov. 17, with all the incoming mail ballots from those Floridian voters stationed out-of-state in the military and on campuses tallied, we still have the proverbial 48 hours and more. Recounts. Manual recounts. Just like Barak's Israel.

Critically, the deadlock that marked the presidential voting also spilled over into splitting the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. An interesting quirk, as the Senate totters on a 50-50 split - and that possibility will continue as Americans monitor the health of two elderly Carolina Republicans in the upper chamber - is that if Bush ultimately emerges the uncontested winner, then Vice President Dick Cheney could be in the Senate casting tie-breaking votes until the next election. The impact of such a situation cannot be underestimated, although everyone in the meantime is underestimating it. Traditionally, vice presidents stay in the shadows and bide their four or eight years until they get to run for president. But if Cheney casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate, he will become a powerful force. Imagine if he casts the deciding vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice - or an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

Another impact of the close Senate result is that, at least for the next two years, every Republican Senator will have great, inordinate power. That is, as long as the GOP holds the Senate by 51-49, or if it goes 50-50 with Cheney casting tie-breakers, all it takes to switch the majority is for one or two Republicans to "vote their consciences" on a bill. So, liberal Republican senators will become a major nuisance for Trent Lott and will have huge power, as will the Democrat conservatives in their party.

As a result, presidential leadership will be minimized, avoiding dramatic initiatives, and that will redound to Israel's benefit, especially if James "F--- the Jews" Baker III is back in the equation. In Israel's time of great crisis, in the era of Oslo's collapse, the gridlock will make it difficult for an American president to impose brutal concessions on Israel. Look for adherence to the polls. As a result, these will be the years of cautious moderation, and that will help Israel. Ironically, the necessarily practical course will make the new president wildly popular over the next two years, artificially reassuring independent voters that he can be trusted to "steer the course."

Jews lost a few good friends and a few enemies in this election, as we usually do. Florida's Sen. Connie Mack had been a strongly supportive Republican voice in support of Israel; he has retired, and we shall see whether and hope that Senator-elect Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, takes care not to offend Florida's Jewish Democrats on Israel. Jim Rogan of California was a top-drawer Republican Congressional supporter of Israel. He is replaced by Adam Schiff, a liberal Jew, who will follow other liberal Democrat Jews in Congress - backing whatever the Israeli government does or fails to do, whether it be Oslo or whatever. In New York, Rick Lazio already had been named by Arabs to their "Congressional Hall of Shame," so we lose a good friend in the House. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is a political mercenary, so she may very well become a strong "friend of Israel" in the coming months. The bad news on Hillary has been that she was among the first to back an independent Palestinian State, that she hugged Suha Arafat while the Palestinian First Lady was accusing Jews of horrible things, and that Hillary had received lots of bucks from Hamas supporters. But the good news is that she easily backtracks on her principles as the situation requires. Consequently, Arabs have lost a friend, at least until she seeks a higher office, when she no longer will need to rely on Jewish voters in New York, much as former New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt progressed once his constituency expanded. She has begun her White House march by quickly proposing to abolish the Electoral College.

In addition to Hillary's temporary conversion to Israel, the Arab side apparently has lost another friend with the fall of Republican Spencer Abraham in Michigan. Abraham, a Lebanese American, was one of only two senators who refused to sign the recent Senate letter supporting Israel.

Sen. Jon Kyl's huge reelection numbers in Arizona are encouraging because he has been a wonderful friend of Israel. Dianne Feinstein's victory in California was good news, too, because Republican Tom Campbell overtly supported Arab aspirations against Israel during his campaign. We have friends and ill-wishers in both parties. The election results demonstrate as much.

As for the electoral college, I kind of like it. It allows states like Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin to be taken seriously. It also forces national candidates to make promises on Israel to Jews in New York. That is a powerful motivator for the candidates and their advisors to learn about Israel early, to study the issues and to make informed decisions as to where they will aspire to stand. Ultimately, their views change, in the face of Arab oil pressures, the sheer number of Arab countries, and the United Nations factor. But the electoral college system forces them to come out for Israel early because there are lots of Jewish votes in New York, in California, in New Jersey, in Pennsylvania - and in Florida. Therefore, like every Jew who values higher education, I endorse that college. I am not married to it, but I like it.

Nevertheless, we may remain concerned - especially if Oregon still goes to Gore - that, with Bush coming out of Florida with 271 electors, one or two of his electors may decide to show Mom and Dad back home how famous he can be, or try to impress Jodie Foster with how powerful she is, and decide to vote for Gore, making it a tie, or otherwise throwing the results askew. It just may happen -because this is America, where tabloid papers sell briskly at supermarkets and where everyone in the country except me watched "Survivor." If such a thing happens and the Bush elector who throws the election to Gore-Lieberman turns out to be a Jew, it will not be funny at all. So if Dubya wins Florida, may he win New Mexico, too.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Jewish Community Relations Committee and national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, practices complex civil litigation and First Amendment law at the Los Angeles offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

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