There is every reason to believe that had Bill Clinton been on the ballot in the 2000 presidential election, American Jews would have voted in overwhelming numbers to return him to office for a third term.
With the possible exception of Orthodox voters, who exhibited, as the Clinton era drew to its merciful close, an increasing dislike and distrust of the administration’s Middle East policies, Jews were supportive of Clinton in a way they hadn’t been of any American president since they paid collective and shameful obeisance to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the thirties and forties.
To be sure, Clinton had his share of Orthodox supporters right through the end – including one prominent rabbi who appeared on the cover of The Jerusalem Report kvelling like a bar mitzvah boy in Clinton’s embrace and who, even after Clinton left office in disgrace over his pardons of Marc Rich and other persons of dubious repute, continued to try to kasher him in such very public venues as the Letters page of The New York Times.
But it was precisely because Orthodox Jews are generally more hawkish on Israel than the American Jewish community as a whole – indeed, the aforementioned Orthodox rabbi who enjoyed such a close union with Clinton was described by The Jerusalem Report as a “Democratic party activist” and “more dovish on Israeli politics than many Orthodox Jews” – that they were far more likely to sour on Clinton than other Jews.
For most American Jews, however, the Clinton approach to the Middle East was just fine by them. In fact, well before the Oslo accords and the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn that was supposed to herald a new age of peace between Arabs and Israelis, public opinion surveys had consistently shown a large majority of American Jews supporting negotiations with the PLO and the creation of a Palestinian state.
Given that reality, the Democratic candidate for president in 2000, Clinton’s faithful vice president Al Gore, was certain to win the Jewish vote by the overwhelming margin to which Democrats had long become accustomed.
Even if Gore felt any misgivings about the way events were transpiring in the Middle East – and there is not the slightest indication that he did – he and his advisers were well aware that there was no political gain to be had from separating himself from the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy. Not when he was certain to receive at least two-thirds and probably more of the Jewish vote no matter what.
Sure enough, candidate Gore gave every indication that he intended to follow the Clinton approach of making nice to Yasir Arafat while ignoring the Palestinian Authority’s failure to abide by virtually every promise it had made at Oslo and afterward.
And since the 2000 campaign was conducted for the most part before the scales began falling off even the most liberal of eyes (Arafat launched Intifada II in late September of that year, just weeks before the election), the policy pursued by Clinton and endorsed by Gore was still viewed by the nation’s chattering class – whose opinions most Jews faithfully echo – as the enlightened way to go.
If there had been even the slimmest of chances that Gore’s Republican opponent, Texas Governor George W. Bush, could somehow capture more than a sliver of the Jewish vote, it was dashed to pieces when Gore, on the eve of the Democratic convention, chose Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate.
The excitement of seeing a Jew on a major party’s presidential ticket – of seeing a Jew with a realistic chance of being a heartbeat away from the presidency of the United States – swept through the Jewish community, causing even Jewish Republicans to reconsider their intentions.
(Continued Next Week)
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org