Reagan and the Jews

During the national election of 1984, the Republican party spent at least two million dollars to directly influence the Jewish vote. This effort failed. Jews are the only white “have” group in America to withstand the Reagan landslide: they voted two to one for the Democrats and are, with blacks, the last members of the old New Deal coalition to support the party as strongly as they did in the past.

Some Republicans have argued that the Jewish vote for Reagan has been underestimated; others are trying to explain this “aberration” as having been caused by last-minute switches over the issue of separation of Church and State. Many leaders of Jewish organizations thought they could deliver an unusually high Jewish vote to Reagan and now they are trying to account for their failure to do so. During the campaign, a number of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis, speaking for themselves, came out for Mondale, but figures of much heavier weight in the Jewish community asked Jews to support Reagan. They included Max Fisher, the honorary chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Agency for Israel; Jacques Torczyner, a past president of the Zionist Organization of America; and George Klein, a major builder in New York and a central figure in the Orthodox community. In conversations with well-placed Jews, the argument was made that a large Jewish vote for Reagan was necessary in order for the Jews to influence government policy on behalf of Israel. This argument, so far as I know, never made its way into print in any of the publications of the Republican National Committee, but it was very much at the center of the appeal to Jews. Toward the end of the campaign it was published, I noticed, in a mailing piece sent to Jews in Bergen County, New Jersey, where I live, by the local branch of the “Jewish Republican Coalition.”

That this argument was on the minds of important Jewish leaders is beyond doubt. On the morning after the election Ma’ariv, one of Israel’s two large afternoon newspapers, interviewed a number of them to get their reaction to the election. Yehuda Helman, the executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the central representative body of the Jewish establishment, told Ma’ariv’s New York correspondent: “We now will have a very hard task to repair the damage that the Jewish vote has caused; the Jewish organizations will have to struggle to restore their influence in the American establishment.”

The same theme was stated more openly and with greater passion by Abraham Foxman, the second-ranking professional staff member of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman insisted that the exit polls taken by the press and television, which showed Jewish support for Mondale by two to one, were wrong, and that the vote was actually 53 percent for Mondale and 47 percent for Reagan, a bare majority. (He attributed these figures to Republican sources.) Thus, Foxman asserted, Reagan indeed had advanced substantially beyond…

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