August 31, 2000
Not Just Another Pretty Face
Republican Senate hopeful Tom Campbell looks for Jewish support his at Fairfax Towers despite weak support for Israel.
Tom Campbell, the freshly scrubbed, bright and articulate Republican senatorial candidate, works the room of elderly Jews at Fairfax Towers retirement home like a pro, just as he did the Hadassah convention a month ago. But there's something wrong with this rosy picture. Who would guess that Campbell has one of the worst voting records on Israel in Congress, that he opposes economic aid to Israel and that his most passionate opponents here include leading Jewish Republicans?
In July 1999, Campbell was the sponsor of the Campbell amendment to the Foreign Relations Bill to cut aid to Israel and Egypt. The bill was defeated by a vote of 414 to 13.
Campbell, a congressman from Silicon Valley and the main contender for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat, has selected Fairfax Towers for a joint press conference with the Green Party vice presidential candidate, Medea Benjamin. They pledge to refrain from accepting any PAC money in their races for the Senate, and they denounce U.S. aid to Colombia in the midst of its civil war. Former presidential candidate John Anderson is also with them: He has taken a break from the Shadow Convention (also addressed by Campbell) to support Campbell's positions on campaign finance reform.Campbell's candidacy has induced a state of alarm in Jewish Republicans and many words of praise for his Democratic opponent.
"He's done an awful job when it comes to Israel, while Dianne Feinstein has been very good on our issues," Nettie Becker, a Republican Jewish activist, says. "Campbell opposed moving the embassy to Jerusalem. He didn't sign the Crowley-Sweeney letter opposing lifting sanctions on Iraq. He didn't vote for a resolution expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. He didn't sign the Paxon-Engel letter urging the administration not to pressure Israel. It goes on and on. What's annoying about Campbell is when he first ran for a Senate seat against Barbara Boxer, he promised he would be supportive of Israel. So you really can't trust him. In Congress he hasn't been supportive at all."
Other longtime Jewish Republicans echo this view of Campbell. Ozzie Goren, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee and former president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, concedes that Campbell is a "moderate Republican," but on the question of the U.S. relationship with Israel says, "I think he leaves much to be desired. He falls short, as far as I'm concerned, in that area."
"I feel that Dianne Feinstein has done a far better job in terms of serving the needs of the pro-Israel community," says Jonathan Mitchell. "Just look at her voting record, and you'll see that it's vastly superior to that of Tom Campbell."
Although I asked the Campbell campaign to suggest some Jewish supporters for me to talk to, they came up with only one, and he hardly provided a ringing endorsement.
"Campbell is a puzzling person. He's all over the board. I disagree with him on some stuff - first of all, a lot of his Mideast policy," said Howard Epstein. "He wanted to cut some of Israel's aid and send it to Africa. He doesn't strike me as being really strong on Israel - rather weak. I don't know that he has any deep roots in the Jewish community. Probably there are other Jewish people who have supported him longer than I. But I don't know who they are.
"But if you look at other things, " Epstein continued, "he has good ideas on taxes, education, he's for tort reform. He's for cutting capital gains taxes. Getting rid of the death tax. He voted to get rid of the marriage tax. He spoke out very strongly on Clinton over impeachment. Then he's probably to the left on environmental issues. There's more than one thing to support him on. I look at the whole picture. I want to support Republican candidates."
Campbell is a former constitutional law professor at Stanford University. He seems to take pleasure in assuming contradictory and maverick positions on issues. One veteran observer put it another way to me: "He's a very strange bird. It's almost as if he had a death wish."
On domestic issues Campbell comes across as a moderate on some issues (he supports abortion rights and gay rights and opposes prosecution of drug offenders) and a bedrock conservative on others: he supports the positions of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, opposes a moratorium on the death penalty, supports school vouchers and stresses small government.
"I favor solutions more at the local than at the federal level," he says. "The president proposes more federal money for new teachers, with federal standards for those teachers to meet. I'd rather see the local school board decide. They know better what the problems are."
In an interview with The Journal, Campbell, a preppy, youthful 48-year-old with gray hair who grits his teeth as he navigates a potpourri of conflicting positions, attacks Dianne Feinstein from the right for "her record of expanding the federal role... in education, transportation and criminal law."
On Israel, he states that "U.S. economic aid to Israel should go instead to more needy countries. ... I'm driven to that conclusion by my sense of need in Africa. I've been on the Africa sub-committee for five years. There's a tremendous good we can do with just a few dollars. And Israel's GNP per capita is on the level of Western Europe."
Speaking at the Fairfax Towers, there was an air of piety and sanctimony to Campbell's presentation. But his record on Israel belies his clean-cut, judicious manner and appearance. Over the years he has placed himself among a very small minority of legis-lators who consistently vote against pro-Israel measures. Even on this issue, however, Campbell tries to confound expectations: He co-sponsored legislation in 1997 commemorating the 30th anniversary of the reunifi-cation of Jerusalem. But those who have observed him over the years suggest that Campbell, in seeking support from Arab groups such as the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (which held a fundraiser for him), has fallen into the pit of believing it is not enough to be pro-Arab; it is necessary to be anti-Israel as well.
The largely Russian immigrant residents of Fairfax Towers, however, were not persuaded by Campbell's charm, even though they noted his attentiveness to their questions about health issues. There was a major language barrier, to be sure, but they had other reservations.
Manya Dubrovsky, formerly from Moscow, is 88. She had dressed for the occasion with a string of pearls, a white dress and a babushka. She has been a U.S. citizen for two and a half years. Did she like Tom Campbell? "He speak very nice. He cared about the old people, the poor people. I don't know what he's doing." Would she vote for him? "Oh, no. People here are Democrats always. We're waiting for Al Gore and Lieberman. It's very nice for us."