New York, Tuesday, July 6, 2004
BEHIND THE HEADLINES
As critic of
Israel - and spoiler for Democrats - Nader irks
By Matthew E. Berger
July 6 (JTA) -- Jewish communal
officials are trying to ensure that Ralph
Nader does not play the same role in the 2004
presidential election as he did four years earlier.
Nader, the 2000 Green Party candidate who some
say took key votes away from Democratic candidate
Al Gore in a razor-tight election, again is seeking
the White House, this time as an independent.
outspoken opponent of aid to Israel and a constant
critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East, Nader for
years has been a thorn in the side of many liberal
and conservative Jews. While his domestic policy
views, which traditionally have focused on consumer
rights, align closely with those of most Jewish
voters, Jews largely have avoided Nader because of
other differences with him and his style.
As the Democratic and Republican candidates vie
to prove their pro-Israel credentials -- long a
staple of American presidential races -- Nader has
chosen to voice views harshly critical of
If he establishes
himself as a credible candidate, those views
could spark more public discussion of positions
associated with diehard critics of the Jewish
state, such as those that say Israeli interests
dictate U.S. foreign policy, and with the
Israeli peace movement, such as opposition to
the route of Israel's West Bank
Some recent controversial comments are giving
Jewish communal officials an excuse to criticize
Nader. But while there is genuine fury at what
Nader is saying, some liberal Jews may also want to
discredit Nader to minimize the Jewish vote for him
in key states, aiding the presumptive Democratic
candidate for president, Sen. John Kerry of
Massachusetts, against President Bush.
In an interview
last month, Nader told American Conservative
magazine that he believed Congress and successive
U.S. administrations, beginning with Ronald
Reagan's, have been "puppets to Israeli
In the interview with Pat Buchanan, a
critic of Israel, Nader said the United States was
ignoring the Israeli and Palestinian peace
movements and that Democrats and Republicans defer
to the pro-Israel lobby in Washington because of
Nader often has used the issue of Israel to
demonstrate his belief that both major political
parties are too similar.
Nader has some Jewish backers. Some of his most
loyal activists are Jewish, including Alan
Morrison, director of the Public Citizen
Litigation Group, the legal arm of Nader's consumer
Calls to Nader's campaign seeking comment, and
information about Jewish support for his candidacy,
were not returned.
But Nader's recent comments on Israel prompted
rebukes from several Jewish figures.
"Nader's diatribes send the wrong message,
because there are too many in the Arab world who
use any sign of weakness in the U.S.-Israel
relationship as a justification for hardening their
opposition to the Jewish state," Rep. Steve
Israel (D-N.Y.) said.
League wrote Nader a letter
calling his comments "offensive hyperbole."
"One may disagree with America's Middle East
approach, but to assert that U.S. policy in such a
complex and volatile region is the product of
wholesale manipulation by a foreign government
fails to take into account important U.S. interests
that are involved," the letter read. "Moreover, the
image of the Jewish state as a 'puppeteer,'
controlling the powerful U.S. Congress, feeds into
many age-old stereotypes which have no place in
legitimate public discourse."
As a non-profit organization, the ADL does not
endorse political candidates, and officials say the
group's rationale for coming out against Nader is
Rep. Israel, who is backing Kerry, also said he
was not motivated by partisan politics in
criticizing Nader's remarks.
"For me, this isn't about pro-Kerry or
anti-Kerry," he told JTA. "It's anti-Nader because
of Nader's castigation of U.S.-Israeli relations.
I'll let the chips fall where they may."
But Nader's comments allowed one group, the
National Jewish Democratic Council, to merge
politics with support for Israel. The group, which
is backing Kerry, is working to highlight Nader's
Middle East rhetoric in a bid to keep Democrats
from defecting to Nader's camp.
"The NJDC will be committed to making sure that
the American Jewish community knows where he stands
on Israel and other issues," David Harris,
the group's deputy executive director, said of
Certainly, Jews are not the only liberal
constituency worried about Nader's impact on the
upcoming election. Concerned that Nader would take
votes away from Kerry in key states, the Green
Party chose a different candidate for president
this year. The party's nominee, David Cobb, has
said he will not campaign in swing
© Jewish Telegraphic Agency.