A crowd of 150 well-heeled, mostly liberal Jews paid $250 apiece to hear Cameron Kerry, Sen. John Kerry's Jewish brother and top adviser, speak about the Democratic presidential candidate's commitment to Israel and the Jewish people.
Cameron Kerry, 53, told The Journal that his brother had developed a personal connection to Israel through his many visits to the country over the years.
"He understands the vulnerability that Israel has, along with Jews there and around the world," said Cameron Kerry, an attorney who converted to Judaism in the early 1980s before marrying Kathy Weinman, also a lawyer.
The June 22 Brentwood fundraiser, which was closed to the press, raised more than $30,000 for the Kerry campaign.
Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti said the fundraiser's strong turnout heartened him. "It's wonderful to see the Jewish community here in L.A. coming together to support John Kerry's candidacy," he said.
Despite the enthusiastic reception for his younger brother, John Kerry has yet to excite Southern California Jews the way past Democratic presidential candidates have, experts said. His wooden personality, occasional criticisms of Israel and vehement support for the United Nations -- an organization viewed by many Jews as anti-Israel, have raised questions about the Massachusetts senator's commitment to the community. Also, President Bush's pro-Israel policies and toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein have won over an increasing number of moderate and conservative Jews, experts said.
Bruce Bialosky, Bush-Cheney Reelection Campaign's state chair for Jewish outreach, said Bush has a record of "three and a half years of great leadership with Jewish issues." By contrast, Bialosky said, Kerry puts too much faith in the "demonstrably anti-Semitic U.N." and has flip-flopped about supporting a security fence around Israel, which he now favors.
Cameron Kerry's embrace of Judaism should help his brother curry favor in the community, because it shows that John Kerry has a "personal connection" to Judaism, said event co-chair Carmen Warschaw, former Southern California Democratic Party chair.
In addition to having a Jewish brother, candidate Kerry's paternal grandparents were born Jewish in the Austro-Hungarian empire, changing their name from Kohn to Kerry after converting to Catholicism. A genealogist recently claimed that two Kerry relatives perished in Nazi concentration camps, according to published reports.
Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, said John Kerry's concern for the working man and woman dovetailed with Jewish teachings.
"Jewish tradition says we're obligated to repair the world for the benefit of everyone, not just the highest income bracket," said Sokatch, a host at the fundraiser. "And for me, the platform that Kerry has set out reflects the idea that you have to care for everybody, the widow and the orphans rather than corporate chieftains."
Attorney David Nahai, one of the fundraiser's organizers, said Bush's foreign policy has undermined America's moral standing and security. The administration has failed to halt the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran, he said. The Iraqi prison-abuse scandals have sullied the country's human rights record.
Howard Welinsky, Democrats for Israel chair, said he detected a move toward Kerry in recent weeks among Jews and the general population. "This was a war that was supposed to be won and done, and that clearly isn't the case," he said.
As a Democrat, Kerry has history on his side. No Republican president has won a plurality of the Jewish vote since 1920, when Warren G. Harding took an estimated 43 percent to Socialist candidate Eugen V. Debs' 38 percent and Democrat James Cox's 19 percent. Ronald Reagan took 39 percent in 1980, and Republican George W. Bush won only 19 percent of the community's vote in the last presidential election.
But candidate Kerry faces a formidable candidate this time around in Bush, experts said. The president's stalwart support for Israel has won him a growing following among Jews. With the community increasingly moving to the center from the left, Bush could win 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote. In a close race, that increased support could help deliver Florida, Michigan and other hotly contested states to him, experts said.
Even some Kerry supporters concede that Bush's publicity machine has made inroads in the community.
"The Bush campaign has done an effective job using misinformation to confuse the Jewish community into believing that [the president's] supporting Israel has made him a friend to the Jews," said Lee Wallach, president of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California.