Al Gore’s surprise choice in August 2000 of Joseph Lieberman as his running mate electrified American Jews, and seemed to foreclose any possibility that George W. Bush would even approach the poor numbers put up among Jewish voters by his father in 1992 (15 percent) and Bob Dole in 1996 (16 percent).
As things turned out, the Lieberman selection failed to have a net positive effect among Jews. Bush got slightly more than 19 percent of the Jewish vote, an actual gain of three points from what the Dole-Kemp team had been able to muster four years before. Surprisingly to some, the Orthodox Lieberman ended up hurting Gore among the very group – Orthodox Jews – with whom he was most closely identified.
The trouble began for Lieberman when the website JewishWorldReview.com relentlessly publicized an appearance that Lieberman had made on the Don Imus radio show during which Lieberman joked about various Jewish practices and denied that Judaism banned intermarriage.
The Jewish Press featured the story on its front page, and JewishWorldReview, in response to claims by the Gore campaign that Lieberman’s words had been taken out of context, posted a link to the audio clip of Lieberman’s remarks. Soon other questions began to be raised about Lieberman’s views, and then one day, seemingly out of the blue, the Lieberman camp released a statement informing journalists that Lieberman preferred to be referred to as an “observant” Jew as opposed to an Orthodox one.
Also troubling to many politically conservative Jews was Lieberman’s rush to disassociate himself from his long-held centrist positions. Within 48 hours of his selection by Gore, Lieberman met with various left-wing interest groups to pledge his newfound fealty and deny that he’d ever entertained so much as a moderate thought – it had all been a terrible misunderstanding, he whined to outfits like the Congressional Black Caucus.
In its editorial endorsing the Bush-Cheney ticket, The Jewish Press said of Lieberman, “Soon after he was selected as Mr. Gore’s running mate, [he] suddenly changed his stand on a whole host of matters…doubtless to bring them into line with those of the head of the ticket. Thus he became an advocate of affirmative action, gay rights and outreach to Louis Farrakhan. He no longer opposed late-term abortions and became more tolerant of Hollywood’s vulgar standards. And he became a staunch opponent of tuition vouchers.”
Lieberman was far from the only problem The Jewish Press had with the Democrats; the newspaper had for years been sounding the alarm over the direction of the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy, and now the concern shifted to what the ramifications would be of a Gore presidency.
“The stark reality is that the Clinton policy of unswerving support for the Oslo process – despite the clear absence of reciprocity on the part of the Palestinians – has brought the Middle East to the brink of war,” The Jewish Press warned.
“Seven years of winking at and overlooking the failure of the Palestinian side to meet its obligations, while at the same time insisting that Israel deliver on what it promised, has led to dangerously unreasonable Palestinian expectations and the notion that at the end of the game the Palestinians will achieve their goals through unilateral Israeli concessions.”
In endorsing Bush, The Jewish Press stated its “fear that a Gore presidency would mean more of the same slavish obeisance to Oslo….This is not to suggest that Mr. Gore is anti-Israel, only that he seems ready to continue policies that have proven so disastrous.”
The editorial also noted that “Mr. Gore told The Jewish Press that President Clinton “is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House.” Questioned about whether he would continue the policy of pressuring Israel, he responded: “What pressure?” ”
(Continued Next Week)
Jason Maoz can be reached at email@example.com