April 19, 2007
Local women’s caucus endorses Clinton’s presidential bid
Pictures of the Clintons with Ziman and her husband, real estate executive Richard Ziman, stood proudly beside glass-encased Hebrew texts.
Many of the guests were liberal, Jewish women whose dissatisfaction with the Bush administration's policies toward reproductive rights and its hands-off approach to the Israel-Palestinian peace process made them hungry for a Democrat in the White House.
So why Clinton?
Barbara Greene Ruskin, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) said she believes Clinton's centrist position is a "better position from which to command independent voters" and pointed to Clinton's pro-choice stance as among the highest concerns for both NWPC and NCJW.
The conversation soon turned to the right candidate for Israel. Ruskin spoke of the rising prominence of Jewish Republicans, whose strong voice within the current administration compensates for the relatively small percentage of Los Angeles' -- and the nation's -- Jewish vote.
Reflecting on a recent discussion with a friend who supported President Bush because he believed Bush was a friend of Israel, Ruskin quoted the friend's response to her strong disagreement: "We all do tikkun olam [healing the world]; we just do it differently."
Making clear that NCJW does not make endorsements, Ruskin said that within the Democratic Party, the Jewish vote would likely rally around Clinton. She said she fears that as appealing as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama may appear, "people know his name is Barack Hussein Obama. Fair or not, those things matter when you get people in the booth."
However, Terry Paule, a nonmember of NWPC who was present, said she is "pretty OK" with Clinton on "some issues," but Clinton's Iraq War vote and her refusal to disavow her early support for the war gives her pause. "I wish she showed some leadership," Paule said, adding, "I'm still waiting for Gore to run."
Once all the guests arrived, Robyn Ritter Simon, president of NWPC-LA, introduced Celeste Weingardt, president of NWPC of California. By this time, the buzz that NWPC would be supporting Clinton was at a fever pitch. When Weingardt stood before the room and announced, "The National Women's Political Caucus has formally endorsed Hillary Clinton," the guests burst into applause and let out celebratory shouts.
Next up was Ziman. Very much aware of her almost entirely female audience, she spoke of the nation's need for a woman as president. She painted Clinton as a caring mother figure, with a knack for problem solving and diplomacy currently lacking in a White House that is, "for the first time in history, handing the world over to our children worse than we found it."
As if to rebut those who would maintain Clinton is anything but warm and motherly, Ziman told the audience about how as first lady, Clinton reached out to Queen Noor of Jordan to bring an AIDS symposium to the Middle East in order to help end the region's ignorance about the disease.
After the speeches, the question remained about Clinton's support among Jewish voters. Clinton's senior adviser on women's outreach and longtime friend, Judith Lichtman, asserted that Clinton has "enjoyed enormous, strong, devoted support from men and women in the Jewish community."
Ziman agreed. Although she confessed that she's heard many Jews in Los Angeles are supporting Sen. Joe Biden, she believes they are "not nearly as many as those who are supporting Hillary." As for national support, Ziman had been to the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference and noted that many "believed she's the best for Israel."
But how does Ziman's observation fit with the perception that AIPAC has lately become an arm of the GOP?
"[Yitzhak] Rabin was like a father to Bill and Hillary," she said, indicating she believes their relationship with the late Israeli prime minister is the Clinton's trump card. On one of her visits to the Oval Office during the Clinton years, Ziman was amazed to find that the only framed picture on its walls was one of the Clintons and Rabin.
Indeed, she said, in contrast to Bush's foreign policy ignorance upon entering office, Clinton "knows all the heads of countries, knows their wives, their families." And because "Israel has never been in jeopardy the way it is now," Ziman believes Clinton, rife with experience and backed by former President Bill Clinton, can rally the world once again behind a comprehensive peace.
As a Jew and one of Clinton's most influential supporters in Los Angeles, Ziman knows she has to convince people like Ruskin's Republican friend to practice tikkun olam the way she and Ruskin practice it.
Given the currently divisive atmosphere surrounding the interpretations of "pro-Israel" policy, this won't be an easy task. But among Democrats, the night did have its successes.
Remember Paule, the Gore-hopeful in attendance? She became an NWPC member after the speeches.