Jewish voters stay with Clinton

WASHINGTON - 'Clinton is likely to get the highest percentage of any Jewish vote since Hubert Humphrey' in 1968 says Stuart Eizenstat, the vice-chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council and a former aide of President Carter. In the last presidential election, 70 per cent of American Jews voted for the Democratic candidate to 30 per cent for President Bush, writes Patrick Cockburn.

Success for President Bush would be to ensure that an even higher percentage of Democrats do not vote for Bill Clinton this year. Although Jews made up only 6 per cent of the Democratic vote in 1988 the numbers in which they turn out could be crucial in states such as California and Illinois.

The ending of the dispute between Israel and the US over loan guarantees worth dollars 10bn ( pounds 5.23bn) should therefore help the administration, particularly if it is followed before the presidential election by an agreement on interim autonomy for the occupied territories. But it probably would not be enough to enable President Bush to win the same percentage of votes as four years ago.

From an early stage in his campaign Mr Clinton cultivated the Jewish vote. In June he told a meeting of Jewish political activists that he would support the loan guarantees despite Israeli settlement of the occupied territories, enhance US-Israeli strategic co-operation and pre-position US military stocks in Israel. He even promised to 'seriously review' the case of Jonathan Pollard, in jail for spying for Israel.

Given that the witholding of the loan guarantees were the stick with which President Bush forced the former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to negotiate in Madrid, Mr Clinton's position looks like pure opportunism. Nor do his aides make much effort to deny this. One said: 'It ain't complicated. We needed Jewish votes for the primaries. We can only hope there's enough residual bitterness about Bush's hardball tactics to depress his part of the Jewish vote in November.'

This hope is likely to be fulfilled, though not necessarily for the reason given. Surveys underline the degree to which Jews are alienated from the administration on domestic issues such as abortion and the confirmation of Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court Justice. For instance, 95 per cent of Jewish Democratic primary voters said they supported Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court ruling making abortion a right.

Yet the impact of the Jewish vote on the elections is probably more theoretical than real. In 1988 there were four states, California, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania, with 109 electoral college votes, which Bush carried by less than 4 per cent and where the Jewish portion of the vote is between 4 and 8 per cent. In theory this gives Jewish voters critical influence, but in fact most of them voted Democrat anyway. Had there been a 20 per cent shift in the Jewish vote in California away from President Bush towards Governor Michael Dukakis, it would still only have totalled 1.3 per cent - not enough to get Mr Dukakis in. In New York 18 per cent of voters in the last presidential election were Jewish and Mr Dukakis won the state by 4.1 per cent, but if Mr Clinton is not certain of New York then he has lost the election anyway.

Of course there is also the Jewish lobby's ability to mobilise money and publicity. But here again the very success of President Bush in facing down the pro- Israeli lobby in Washington last September over the dollars 10bn loan guarantees showed the limitations of its influence. When the issue emerged again in January the lobby was largely silent in the face of polls which showed that President Bush's refusal to grant the loans while settlements were being built was backed by US voters by a four to one margin.

At the end of the day, the worst damage may already have been caused to President Bush's campaign by the alienation earlier in the year of right-wing opinion- formers, supporters of Likud's policies during the Reagan years, who turned on President Bush over his Middle East policy.

(Photograph omitted)

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