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As surely as pastrami goes on rye, the Jewish vote has gone to the Democratic presidential candidate for as long as it’s been measured, and the 2000 election was no different (batty old bubbes of Palm Beach County notwithstanding.) But in the two years since then, we’ve seen some rather uncharacteristic developments. With the heightening of the crisis in the Middle East, most mainstream Jewish institutions have nearly abandoned their pluralistic agendas and focused their political energies instead on the single issue of Israel. In this shift, the Christian right and its chief benefactor in the Bush administration, political strategist Karl Rove, seem to have found an attractive opportunity to establish pro-Israel alliances with Jews. Indeed, Rove has speculated that he will grow the Jewish vote for Bush up to 35 percent in 2004, from 19 percent in 2000, and collect significant campaign donations from Jewish donors as well.
If there’s a creaking sound you hear, it might be Emma Goldman, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Bella Abzug, and Harvey Milk rolling over in their graves. Jewish leaders and laymen alike have declared Bush our greatest friend since Moses took us out of Egypt, despite his rather unfriendly attitude toward immigration, abortion-rights, condoms, the separation of church and state, clean air, and a big chunk of Alaska, among other things. All of which makes us wonder, have we become a parody of ourselves, able to evaluate the current White House only through the lens of that old vaudeville question borne of pain and paranoia: “But is it good for the Jews?” We pulled together a group of contentious folks to try and find out whether he really is good for us … or good for anyone at all.