February 17, 2000
Who’s Backing Whom?
Jewish Supporters Line Up Behind Their Candidates
Thursday, Feb. 10 was a cold and rainy day in Los Angeles, but that didn't deter political junkies of the Democratic persuasion.
About 300 supporters of Bill Bradley crowded into the University Synagogue to welcome their man and cheer his demand for strict gun controls.
That evening, some 750 fans of Vice President Al Gore, predominantly women, gathered at the Beverly Hills home of Richard and Daphna Ziman and dined in a large tent erected on the backyard tennis courts. They also contributed to their candidate's campaign -- "twice as much as expected," said Ziman; $200,000 reported the Los Angeles Times.
As the March 7 primaries draw near, Jewish voters are raising their voices, and money, for their favorite contenders. In a limited and unscientific survey of the usual suspects -- Jewish leaders with political interest and financial clout -- some trends were discernible.
In the Democratic race, the Jewish establishment weighed in heavily for Gore, leaving Bradley with a smaller and less prominent core of supporters.
On the Republican side, a highly charged cadre is going all-out for Sen. John McCain, leaving Gov. George W. Bush with some Jewish grassroots support, but no discernible backing by any community leader.
Among the Gore partisans, a frequent theme was sounded by longtime AIPAC leader Larry Weinberg, and his wife Barbara, a former Jewish Federation president.
"Going back for decades, Al Gore has been there for us whenever we needed him," said Larry Weinberg. "In the Senate, he became an informed, active leader on issues affecting Israel, and he has been a warm and caring friend."
Bradley, observed Weinberg, "had also a good voting record when he was in the Senate, but he wasn't a leader."
One of Gore's oldest and closest friends in Los Angeles is former Congressman Mel Levine. "I've watched Gore closely for many years and he has compiled a stellar record, especially on Israel and Middle East peace issues," he said.
Levine thinks that Bradley is somewhat disingenuous in positioning himself to the liberal left of Gore. "During his years in the Senate, he defined himself as a centrist Democrat," said Levine.
Veteran presidential advisor Edward Sanders is not actively campaigning this year but is voting for Gore as the best candidate to oppose the Republican standard bearer.
Howard Welinsky, head of Democrats for Israel, said he and the majority of his group are backing Gore, but there is a sizable faction supporting Bradley, particularly in Congressman Henry Waxman's 29th district.
In the local Bradley campaign, the most prominent activist is Bruce Corwin, chairman of the Metropolitan Theatres Corp. He hosted a "primarily Jewish" fundraiser for Bradley some months ago, which netted $100,000.
"I've known Bill Bradley for 25 years and I speak to him frequently," said Corwin. "He is an extraordinary man, who gets away from the people in the Beltway and can see the big picture."
Corwin mentioned two other high-profile Bradley supporters in the Jewish community, but one did not wish to be identified and the other did not respond to phone calls.
However, Ralph Fertig, who organized the Bradley meeting at the University Synagogue as chairman of its social justice committee, believes that Bradley supporters make up in enthusiasm what they might lack in financial muscle.
Among his fellow activists, Fertig named TV producer Lila Garrett and philanthropists Ted and Rita Williams.
Enthusiasm is also the hallmark of McCain supporters on the Republican side. Noticeable is Rosalie Zalis, who brings the same unflagging zeal to the McCain campaign that she did to former Gov. Pete Wilson's administration during her many years as senior advisor.
McCain activists are preparing for a big general-fundraiser for their man on Feb. 25, whose host committee includes such Jewish figures as attorney Marvin Jubas, real estate developer Jerry Epstein, investor Peter Lowy, and veteran Republican pillar Nettie Becker.
Recent recruits to the cause, said Zalis, include novelists Faye and Jonathan Kellerman.
No one is more fervent in his support for McCain than Marvin Jubas.
"I have known the senator for many years. No one in this town is more aware of his integrity and character than I," said Jubas. "Nobody is more pro-Israel than the senator and those of us associated with AIPAC know that if we really need someone, we turn to John."
Becker acknowledged that "I don't go along with [McCain] not being pro-choice," but that's outweighed by "his willingness to speak his mind and his wonderful support for Israel."
Apparently McCain's public stand last month opposing the release of Jonathan Pollard, imprisoned for spying for Israel, has not hurt his standing among his Jewish supporters.
A fairly diligent search by The Jewish Journal failed to turn up the name of any well-known community leader supporting Bush.
One likely factor is that the governor is paying for the "sins" of his father.
"When President Bush first ran in 1992, I'd say 40 to 50 percent of Hillcrest Country Club members supported him," said veteran Republican stalwart Marshall Ezralow, who is now backing McCain.
Ezralow said he became disenchanted with the elder Bush by his on- again, off-again support of Israel; the perceived anti-Israel policy of his Secretary of State, James Baker; and Bush's flirtation with the Christian right.
This does not mean that the younger Bush is without Jewish support on the grassroots level.
The Jewish Journal spoke to a number of volunteer workers for Bush, who praised their candidate but generally emphasized that their support was not motivated by "Jewish" interests but by a patriotic concern for America's well-being.
Dentist Joel Strom, who serves as the state chairman for Bush volunteers, believes that the governor's election "offers the best opportunity for those who want to change the political landscape and consider themselves compassionate conservatives."
Connie Friedman, a human resources consultant who heads Bush volunteers in the Valley-centered 24th Congressional district, feels that "Bush is the right guy to lead this country."
Friedman said she liked Bush's pro-Israel stance, but that she wasn't voting primarily voting as a Jew. "Of course, we don't want an anti-Semite in the White House, but we're voting as Americans first," she said.
Other Jewish regional or district chairs of volunteer committees for Bush include Steve Kass, Phil Kurzner, Michael Schneider, Phyllis Cheng, Noel Anenberg and Sue Schreiber, according to Strom.
Also active for Bush is Century City attorney Donald Etra, who said he has been a personal friend of Bush for decades.
"I trust the man," said Etra. "He has an outstanding record in Texas for handling race relations, much better than we have done in California. He'll be very good for the country."
Two high-profile and usually vocal community leaders preferred not to state their preferences on the record, for understandable reasons.
Entertainment lawyer Bruce Ramer said that given his position as national president of the American Jewish Committee, it would violate AJC's policy if he took a political stand.
A similar restriction was cited by veteran Republican leader Osias (Ozzie) Goren, pointing to his non-partisan post as chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation.