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Jewish Americans wary of Bush evangelical base

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The American Jewish community's focus has shifted from concern about Israel to what it sees as growing anti-Semitism worldwide since the September 11 attacks, a mood swing that carries implications for the upcoming presidential election, several Jewish leaders say.

The Jewish leaders say President Bush's gains among heavily Democratic Jewish voters for his support of Israel and the Iraq war could be offset by policy initiatives influenced by evangelical Christians, who many Jews think are anti-Semitic despite their support of Israel.

"Jews are generally turned off by the views that his administration has taken on a host of issues -- including stem cell research, the faith-based initiative, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, abortion rights -- that are very popular with the president's evangelical base," said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which raises money and support for Democratic candidates.

Christian conservatives have been especially supportive of Israel, but many Jewish Americans think the majority of Israel's supporters on the religious right are anti-Semitic, said David Twersky, international affairs director of the American Jewish Congress.

A January poll sponsored by the American Jewish Committee shows that 20 percent of Jewish Americans think most Christian conservatives are anti-Semitic and another 21 percent say many are. Even though those numbers have dipped, nearly 50 percent predict bias against Jews will grow in America.

The Jewish leaders suspect anti-Semitism, which several polls say is on the rise in Europe, has been fueled by the deteriorating Israeli-Arab situation and hostility in many quarters toward the war in Iraq, and is increasing insecurity and fear among Jewish Americans.

Mr. Forman thinks Mr. Bush has made marginal gains "over his abysmal 2000 showing among Jews, because of his policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

"But given the effort the White House has made to court the Jewish vote, I have to imagine that [White House strategist] Karl Rove has got to be upset about the small size of those gains," Mr. Forman said.

Mr. Twersky said Mr. Bush has been "everything we could have wanted on Israel and anti-Semitism," but noted that the AJC poll showed Mr. Bush with 31 percent of the Jewish vote this year, an 11 percentage-point gain since 2000.

Still, even a relatively small boost in Jewish support could make the difference in a tight election.

"The Jewish vote will be very much in play in key states like Florida, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and can help tip the scales," said David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

"Jews vote rain or shine. Even though they are just over 2 percent of the general population, they are between 3 percent or 4 percent of the total vote -- and much more in states like Florida."

The leaders say Jewish support for Mr. Bush is limited because Jewish Americans are basically pro-choice, pro-gun-control, liberal Democrats who frown on religion in public places and even on going to war with an enemy of Israel.

"In recent months, the fallout over weapons of mass destruction, budget deficits, and even gay marriage and the controversy over 'The Passion of [the] Christ' movie have further weakened the president's position within the Jewish community," Mr. Forman said.

Christian evangelicals, strongly linked in the minds of many Jews with Mr. Bush, a born-again Christian, have shown exceptional affinity for the "Passion" and its producer, Mel Gibson, often becoming volunteer salesmen for the film.

The movie's depiction of Christ's crucifixion has added to Jewish fears of anti-Semitism and the link between evangelicals and Mr. Bush, Jewish spokesmen say.

Jim Hutchens, president of Christians for Israel, a Washington-based organization with a mailing list of 25,000, says it is "a red herring" to suggest evangelicals are anti-Semitic.

"Evangelical Christians who take seriously the promises of God are pro-Israel," Mr. Hutchens said. "Only those who hold a replacement theology -- which denies the original recipients the benefits of God's promises in regards to Israel's modern boundaries -- would suggest the Israel of today is not a fulfillment of God's promises.

"Evangelical Christians are the best friends Israel has, and those in the know among Orthodox Jews and in the Israeli government know that."

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