The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies is holding September 23 a conference thatit says is the first ever on the Jewish vote in American electoral politics. Among those speaking at the conference are former New York City Mayor Edward Koch, Professor David S. Wyman, and Dr. Rafael Medoff. The latter two speakers are experts on the American response to the Holocaust, while Dr. Medoff has also written on the influence of the U.S. Jewish community in national politics.
Speaking in an exclusive interview, Medoff said that the conference entitled “The Jewish Vote, the Holocaust, and Israel,” is timely because of recent developments in the 2012 presidential race and in the relations between Israel and the United States. “The Jewish vote has become a very important issue in this year’s presidential election. Many experts believe that it could play a critical role in states such as Florida and Ohio, battleground states that could determine the race. So, it’s particularly timely.” He noted that the conference, to be held at New York City’s Fordham University School of Law, is the first ever to bring together scholars and public figures to discuss the Jewish vote in the U.S. Discussions will center on how the Jewish vote influenced past elections, and how it will affect this year’s race.
Scholar Medoff spoke about the differences between the Republican administrations of President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush. He characterized the first Bush administration as not so sympathetic to Israel, for example, while he singled out former Secretary of State James Baker III as being especially unfriendly to Israel. But the administration of President George W. Bush, said Medoff, proved to be quite different. President George W. Bush was seen as “strongly pro-Israel,” said Medoff. He expects that the conference will examine the evolution of the Republican position towards Israel.
When asked why the Jewish vote has become a burning issue in the current presidential race, Medoff spoke of the controversy that arose when the Democratic National Committee’s platform, announced at the recent Democratic National Convention, did not assert that Jerusalem is the actual capital of the modern state of Israel. The flip-flop that occurred at the convention, in which the Democratic party did finally assert that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, “raised a lot of eyebrows” of Jewish voters, said Medoff.
Noting that while Jews make only 2 percent of the population of the United States, but that Jews tend to live in states with large numbers of electoral votes, Medoff said they stand to have a significant say in the coming election. It is in the battleground states of Florida and Ohio where they have an outsized effect on the vote, said Medoff, who said that Jewish voters amount to between 6 to 8 percent of the voting population.
Turning to other issues of concern to many Jewish voters, Medoff said “The declared policy of the Obama administration that Israel should go back to the 1967 borders, which would leave Israel just nine miles wide at its midsection, is something that has alarmed and worried a large number of Jewish voters.”
As to the role of Mayor Ed Koch, Medoff said that the affable and loyal Democrat is “unpredictable”, even though he has endorsed Obama’s re-election. However, Medoff noted that Koch was essential in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. Koch was very critical of President Jimmy Carter’s policies towards Israel, and is thus credited for the 60 percent of Jewish voters who abandoned Carter for candidates Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. Medoff said that while Koch supports Obama “…at the moment. Whether he will change his mind in the months ahead, no one can tell.” Mayor Koch will join U.S. Representative Bob Turner to speak on "The Jewish Vote in 2012: Lessons from the 1980 Presidential Election and the 2011 New York City Congressional Race.
Medoff is the author of The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust, along with 10 other books he has written or co-authored. He will speak at the conference on “ A New Look at the Jewish Vote in the Truman-Dewey-Wallace Race of 1948.”
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