Jewish Leaders make the case for their candidates of choice

Why I back Mike Huckabee
By Jason Bedrick
CONCORD, N.H. (JTA) — Asked to write an editorial explaining why the Jewish community should support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president, I wondered which aspects of his record I should highlight.
Of course, the cliché pitch to the Jewish community is to emphasize a candidate’s pro-Israel credentials, and Huckabee is a strong supporter of the Jewish state who has visited Israel nine times. But fortunately, all of the major candidates in both parties are officially pro-Israel, so most Jews will be choosing their presidential candidate based on other issues.
Should I focus on his achievements in education and health care? Time magazine named him one of the top five governors in the nation for his innovations in health care. He expanded health care for children, eliminated vending machines in public schools to curb childhood obesity and created incentives for small businesses to offer health insurance.
Governor Huckabee signed landmark legislation to provide music and art education to all children in his state, raised quality standards and increased transparency and accountability. Under his tenure, the Arkansas school system went from one of the nation’s worst to one of the best.
Huckabee was the only candidate at a recent Republican debate to address the struggle so many Americans are having in today’s economy. He has also proposed an ambitious program to cut carbon emissions, end energy independence and fight global warming.
On all these issues — even where I disagree with the governor, such as his workplace smoking ban — Huckabee seems to be a perfect fit with the political mainstream in the American Jewish community. Yet many Jews refuse to give Huckabee a chance because they see him as the newest incarnation of the old bogeyman, the “religious right”: He ran ads in Iowa referring to himself as a “Christian leader” and religious rhetoric flows freely from his pastoral tongue.
As a prerequisite to discussing the merits of a Huckabee presidency, it is necessary to examine the Jewish attitude toward Christian religious expression in politics.
Religious rhetoric isn’t unique to Huckabee or even the Republicans. It wasn’t Huckabee who promised a congregation of evangelicals in South Carolina, “We’re going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.” That was U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful.
And it wasn’t Huckabee who told the New York Times that he carries a Bible on his campaign travels and that he experienced “the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions.” No, that was U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, another Democratic presidential candidate, who the Times article also noted “sought to meld her faith and political ideology into an overarching philosophy of public values.”
Jews might not agree with the political philosophy of evangelicals, but there’s no denying they are Israel’s greatest friends.
“The greatest support Israel has today is in the United States,” said former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a recent meeting of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus. “And the greatest support Israel has in the U.S., besides the Jewish community, is that of evangelical Christians.”
While it’s important to maintain a healthy skepticism, we must recognize who our true friends and allies are. It is imperative that the Jewish community adopt a more mature view of American evangelicals instead of the ghetto mentality that automatically assumes that all committed Christians are our antagonists.
Many of our old alliances have broken down; expressions of hostility to Israel, Zionism and even Judaism are increasingly frequent in some quarters on the left. Meanwhile, evangelicals have risen to -Israel’s defense and refrained from missionary activities directed at Jews.
Our shared agenda doesn’t end at Israel. For decades it has been evangelicals like Mike Huckabee who have led the fight against poverty and who are now pushing for good stewardship of the environment, a solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and an end to human rights violations around the world.
“Real faith makes us more humble and mindful, not of the faults of others but of our own,” Huckabee says on his campaign Web site. “It makes us less judgmental, as we see others with the same frailties we have. Faith gives us strength in the face of injustice and motivates us to do our best for ‘the least of us.’”
The great rabbi and social activist Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — a Christian leader — to promote civil rights. Perhaps it is time for Jews to join forces with another Baptist minister to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
Jason Bedrick is a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Why I back Mitt Romney
By Mel Sembler
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (JTA) — A year ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying Gov. Mitt Romney on his trip to Israel. Governor Romney met with key, senior Israeli economic, political and military officials in order to assess the unique challenges facing America’s closest ally in the region.
This allowed me to see firsthand his pragmatic approach to problem solving coupled with tireless motivation. The combination was refreshing and inspiring. His respect for differing points of view and ways of life is compassion at its best. Now, more than ever, we need this kind of leadership for America.
With a leadership style developed over decades in the private sector, Governor Romney has been successful throughout his career. In the business world, companies must change, challenge assumptions and innovate. As the CEO of Bain Capital, Romney invested in over 150 companies like Domino’s Pizza, Staples and Sports Authority, and helped develop successful business plans. Bain Capital is now among the nation’s five largest private equity firms.
At the peak of his business career, Mitt was asked to take over the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. At that time, the Olympics were beset by scandal and had fallen deeply into debt. Mitt took over andturned things around.
The result was one of the most successful and profitable Olympics in history, even in the face of security concerns following 9/11.
Mitt brought leadership to Massachusetts. His accomplishments as governor were impressive — strengthening education, laying the foundation for health insurance for all, cutting the size and cost of government. Without raising taxes or increasing debt, he closed a nearly $3 billion deficit. Each year he filed a balanced budget without raising taxes.
By eliminating waste, streamlining government and enacting comprehensive economic reforms, Governor Romney transformed deficits into surpluses.
As president, Mitt will govern by emphasizing his core principles: faith in free enterprise and free trade, accountability in education, personal responsibility, tolerance, strong families and a strong national defense. Our country faces what could be a defining moment in shaping its history.Mitt Romney can provide the kind of leadership that is sorely needed.
Americans are losing faith in Washington and our elected officials. We need a proven leader and executive like Mitt Romney, not another lifetime politician who has never run a corner store, let alone the largest enterprise in the world.
I am confident that millions of Americans will conclude that we deserve no less than Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States.
Mel Sembler, national finance co-chair of Romney for President, was U.S. ambassador to Italy and honorary chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Why Obama is good for Israel
By Jay Michaelson
BOSTON (JTA) — The 2008 primary election already is shaping up to be one of the most interesting, and unpredictable, in years.
Never before have both parties lacked a clear frontrunner with, as of this writing, at least three Republicans and two Democrats all having a plausible shot at their parties’ nominations. Moreover, in an unusual reversal from recent experience, most Democrats express satisfaction with all their leading candidates — perhaps eight years of “Anything But Bush” has lowered their standards — while most Republicans are dissatisfied with theirs.
But where is the “Jewish vote”?
In the Democratic Party, which is my focus here and which usually attracts three times as many Jewish votes as the Republicans, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) seems like the safer bet. Both candidates support roughly the same center-liberal social policies that resonate with many American Jews, but when it comes to Israel, Clinton benefits from her husband’s track record, which, while controversial at the time, is now generally regarded positively by American Jews.
Of course, during her time as First Lady, Clinton herself rankled segments of the Jewish community, most notably when she met with Suha Arafat and seemed to call for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But today, she seems to hold an edge.
I want to suggest, however, that an Obama presidency would be of enormous benefit to a 21st-century Israel, not because Clinton is dangerous in some way, but because Obama could reverse eight years of deepening hatred of America.
The guiding principles of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy have been unilateralism and exceptionalism. With contempt for international institutions such as the United Nations, and with a neo-conservative policy of remaking the world in capitalism’s “democratic” image, the Bush administration has managed to alienate traditional U.S. allies and further enrage America’s enemies.
By invading Iraq on the thinnest of pretexts, by ignoring international efforts on climate change and human rights, and by its demonstrably cavalier attitude toward cooperation, the Bush administration managed to move world opinion from one of intense sympathy with America after 9/11 to almost worldwide hatred of all that we stand for.
Traveled in Europe lately? People shake their heads when they find out you’re American.
For some conservatives, none of this matters much. They’ll hate us anyway, the reasoning goes, and we weaken ourselves by trying to make them like us. What matters is strength and solidity of purpose.
Of course, many American Jews and Israelis make the same argument about Arab nations and the Palestinians: Carry a big stick, and talk however you want. Whether for vaguely racist reasons — “Arabs only understand violence” — or for strategic-political ones, many Jews have argued that only a policy of strength and resolve will succeed. And so they have applauded Bush’s support of the Israeli government, which generally has followed such a policy.
Yet even if this policy of fear-us-don’t-love-us makes sense for Israel itself, it is dangerous for Israel when it is applied to America.
Israel long has been regarded as an American proxy state, not only on college campuses and in French coffeehouses but throughout Europe and Asia. But now it is seen as the proxy state of imperialism. Israel is widely regarded as the baby brother of a violent, selfish bully, oppressing the Palestinians and pointing to its mean elder sibling if anyone dares to complain. This may not be how Israel -actually has behaved, but it is how it is perceived.
Enter President Obama. Yes, it matters that he is black, that his first his name is Barack and that some people keep mispronouncing his last name as Osama. Internationally, it matters for the good.
But beyond these superficial aspects, Obama is a different kind of politician: eloquent, sincere, talented and visionary. He is an internationalist, educated abroad as well as here. Yes, Clinton, too, likely would be an internationalist, but Obama is the real deal: He has lived overseas, and his multi-ethnic background is a truthful representative of the minority-white America that soon will come to pass.
Even more than a female president, Obama meaningfully could shift the way America is perceived in the world, both through his simple appearance and his more significant substance. No more America versus the world; Obama represents an America that is connected to the rest of the world.
All this would be of great benefit to Israel. Obviously, Israel still will be demonized, hated and misrepresented throughout the Arab world and beyond. We should not be naive. But the less stark the opposition between America/Israel and the Muslim world is perceived to be, the better for all of us who want to find some way to coexist — not love each other, not embrace one another, but share a small strip of land and reduce the appeal of extremists.
This is why the outrageous “Obama is a Muslim” e-mails, circulating widely in the Jewish world and duly condemned by all responsible Jewish leaders, are as wrongheaded as they are inaccurate: It’s precisely Obama’s international, multicultural background that makes him such a promising leader for Israel’s greatest ally.
Of course, we ought not elect our president based on what we think will please our enemies. But, lest we forget, the president of the United States used to be called the “leader of the free world.” That title has been a joke for the last eight years, but it’s a phrase worth remembering.
This isn’t about pandering to those who hate us; it’s about leadership, and rebuilding badly frayed relationships. Israel needs an American ally who inspires not intimidation — Bush — or even mere respect — Clinton — but a sense of commonality around the globe.
Just imagine yourself waking up in Tel Aviv on Jan. 20, 2009. If you don’t think the world changes when President Barack Obama takes office, and if you don’t see how important that could be for a malaise-ridden Israel, you’re obviously still asleep.
Jay Michaelson is a visiting assistant professor of law at Boston University Law School and the founding editor of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought & Culture.
Why we back Hillary Clinton
By Susie Stern and
Steve Grossman
NEW YORK (JTA) — In February 2002, after 9/11 and during the second intifada, few visitors came to Israel. One who did was Hillary Clinton.
She met an Israeli soldier named Natan, an Ethiopian Jew who had jumped on a terrorist carrying a bag full of explosives. Natan had miraculously survived the explosion. She invited him to walk with her in the next Salute to Israel Parade in New York.
So when Hillary takes the lead in fighting anti-Israel discrimination, including her successful advocacy of Magen David Adom’s right to be included into the International Red Cross, it is not some mere political gesture. It is a cause she holds deep in her heart having seen firsthand the struggles of the Israeli people.
On that same trip she visited the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem following the suicide bombing there. She then brought the press to Hadassah Hospital to visit the victims of that horrible attack.
Hillary talked privately with victims and families to guide them on making their lives whole after such devastating terror. In 2005, while inspecting the security fence at Gilo, she saw an apartment pockmarked with bullet holes and landscaped not with flowers and shrubs but with sandbags to protect its residents.
She observed emotionally, “No one should ever have to be afraid in their own home.”
Not content to settle for routine affirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and its right to self-defense, she repeatedly has defended Israel’s security fence as an effective deterrent. She also stands with Elie Wiesel in exposing anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic language in Palestinian schools and textbooks.
She voted in the Senate to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.
In her domestic agenda, Hillary Clinton has demonstrated leadership on issues of concern to the American Jewish community. Her values embody the Jewish commitment to justice articulated in Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.”
She was the first presidential candidate to propose an economic stimulus plan to fight the looming recession. She has fought for health care reform. She has fought for equal pay for women and for a woman’s right to choose. She believes America’s future demands greater educational opportunities for all.
There is a close bond with Israel in this as well. In 1985, as first lady of Arkansas, Hillary learned about an innovative Israeli preschool education program created by Hebrew University and worked to bring the initiative to her state. The Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, or HIPPY, was so successful that Hillary worked with the National Council of Jewish Women to implement it in other states.
When then-Gov. Bill Clinton addressed the AIPAC Policy Conference in 1989, he told Steve: “You really should have invited Hillary. She’s the one who has the real connection to Israel.”
Hillary Clinton’s values and vision for what we as a nation can achieve together are described in Isaiah 58: “If you offer your compassion to the hungry and relieve the oppressed, then shall your light shine in darkness and your gloom shall be like noonday.”
This is Hillary Clinton and what she stands for. This is why all Americans should join in making her the next president of the United States.
Susie Stern is the immediate past chair of the board of UJA-Federation of New York and immediate past president of the National Women’s Philanthropy of United Jewish Communities. Steve Grossman is a past president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Why I back John McCain
By Joe Lieberman
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Americans are voting in a tightly contested election that will help determine the next president.
In this election, however, we are not just choosing our next president. We are also choosing our commander-in-chief — the person whose No. 1 job will be to defend our nation at a time of war.
And have no doubt: We are at war.
Although much of this war unfolds in the shadows, it remains deadly real. Every day, in fact, our terrorist enemies are working feverishly to strike at us and our allies around the world, from Iraq to Afghanistan and — if given the chance — right here at home in America.
From the moment the next president steps into the Oval Office, he or she will be confronted with life-and-death decisions that will make the difference between victory and defeat in this war.
That is why I believe we need a president who is ready to be commander-in-chief from day one — a president who won’t need on-the-job training.
And that is why I have decided to cross party lines to endorse U.S. Sen. John McCain for president.
It is unusual for someone who is not a Republican to support a GOP candidate for president. But the dangers we face as a nation are too profound, and the challenges we face too real, for us to play partisan politics with the presidency.
After all, the Islamist extremists we are fighting in this war do not distinguish between Democrats and Republicans. They want to kill all of us, irrespective of our political differences, because we are all Americans.
I have worked with Sen. McCain on just about every major national security issue over the past 20 years — from stopping the genocide in the Balkans, to reducing our dependence on foreign oil, to creating the 9/11 Commission and enacting its recommendations into law. Time and again, he has risen above negativism and petty politics to get things done for the country he loves.
Sen. McCain has dedicated his life in service to America. He has fought in uniform on the front lines against America’s enemies, and has been tested under fire like no other candidate in this race.
More than experience makes Sen. McCain qualified to become president: his character and leadership.
Throughout his career, John McCain has proven that we can trust him to do what is right for our country, not only when it is easy, but when it is hard — and to do what is necessary, not only when it is popular, but when it means standing against the tide.
When others were silent, John had the courage and conviction to sound the alarm about the mistakes we were making in Iraq, and to call for more troops and a new strategy. When others wavered, and were ready to flee the field of battle, John had the courage and conviction to stand against public opinion and fight for the surge in Iraq — where at last today the forces of Islamist extremism are on the run, and we are winning.
This is the kind of leadership we need in the years ahead — and it is the kind of leadership that you can expect when John McCain is in the White House.
Many fine people are running for the presidency. But when it comes to keeping America safe and solving our most important problems, I believe that John McCain is the candidate who has the experience, strength and character to bring us together and lead us forward.
We need a president who is a proven leader on national security matters: someone who can reunite our country, restore faith in our government and rebuild confidence in America’s future.
John McCain is just that person. I urge you to vote for him.
Joe Lieberman is a U.S. senator from Connecticut.

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