The bitterly fought 2004 presidential race may be remembered as the first election in recent memory in which the Republican incumbent put the Democratic challenger on the defensive about his support for Israel, essentially turning Israel into a wedge issue for Jews.
Concern about Israel was heightened by the four-year Palestinian intifada that has killed more than 1,000 Israelis, the fear of another terrorist attack in the United States and apprehension about the war on terrorism launched after 9-11.
Jews in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania turned out in large numbers to vote Tuesday, despite rain and long lines in some parts of the country.
In Florida, exit polls by Frank Luntz, who has worked with Republicans in the past, showed that 74 percent of Jews supported Kerry and 23 percent supported Bush.
Robert Glaser, 72, of Boca Raton told The Jewish Week he had considered voting for Bush again but switched to Kerry in the last few weeks.
Boca Raton, Fla. — Rosita Bard, a retired accountant from Lake Worth, came to a Republican Jewish Coalition training session at the Rascal House here two weeks ago and was clearly glad to meet fellow Jewish Republicans.
“Everybody I know is for anybody but Bush,” she said. “And they are so hostile. … I’m afraid to tell people I’m Republican. When I do, they say they can’t believe I’m Jewish.”
Pembroke Pines, Fla. — Sen. Joseph Lieberman sounded an ominous warning last week when he told The Jewish Week that Sen. John Kerry’s failure to speak substantively about Israel during campaign appearances here had weakened his support among Jewish Democrats.
“I was here two or three weeks ago and this question came up a few times, not from the media [but] from people,” said Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat.
“Why isn’t he talking about Israel?” he said voters wanted to know.
Philadelphia — Clifford Lipkin is a lifelong Democrat who has been active in local party politics. But with barely three weeks before the election, his vote is up for grabs.
“I’m so disillusioned” with Democrats and their candidate, said Lipkin, 71, a retired public school administrator, standing in the doorway of his home in the Sun Valley neighborhood of the northeast suburbs here.
Clearly stung by the strong reaction of Jewish leaders to their General Assembly’s support of selective disinvestment in firms operating in Israel, a leader of the Presbyterian Church (USA) promised yesterday a more even-handed approach.
“If there are companies promoting terrorism on the Palestinian side, they would be considered in the disinvestment process,” said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the General Assembly’s chief executive officer.