Forget kabbalistic gurus, feminist authors and Orthodox revivalists. The hottest speaker on the national Jewish lecture circuit this year may be a Roman Catholic Republican from New York.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is racking up Jewish appearances in major cities as he crosses the nation to raise his national profile.
"We are getting requests from all over the country," said Bruce Teitelbaum, director of the mayor’s political action committee, Solutions America, citing recent and upcoming events in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Miami.
"The requests come from across a broad spectrum, and are not limited to Orthodox groups, which most people erroneously believe comprises the bulk of the mayor’s support in the Jewish community," he said.
Yeshiva dinners, however, seem to be a mainstay. In November, Giuliani spoke at a benefit for Yeshiva Beth Yehuda in Detroit. Last weekend, he was hoisted on a chair and carried around a banquet hall at an affair for the Lubavitch-affiliated Landow Educational Center in Miami Beach. And Teitelbaum is currently ironing out details for a May appearance at the Yavneh Educational Center dinner in Los Angeles.
But there is also the scheduled appearance before the Dallas UJA-Federation dinner. The trip was canceled last month in the wake of the racially charged police shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo. Another appearance will be scheduled, Teitelbaum said. The meeting was to coincide with a weekend visit with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who is fast emerging as the GOP frontrunner for president in 2000.
Giuliani’s Jewish appeal seems to stem from his support of Israel and opposition to Palestinian statehood, his support of tuition vouchers for parochial schools and, most of all, his law-and-order reputation.
"Jews, no matter where they live around the country, still think of New York as the center of Jewish life in America," said Mitchell Moss, director of the Taub Urban Research Center at New York University. "[Giuliani] has made New York safer for the Jews and been very sensitive to their concerns."
There are also more pragmatic reasons for Giuliani to make so many appearances before Jewish audiences.
"Jews give disproportionately to political campaigns," said Ester Fuchs of the center for Urban Policy at Columbia University. "And Jews who are Republicans are in the left wing of the party, so he doesn’t have to explain away his opinions on social issues" such as support of gay rights and abortion.
Teitelbaum said he has received promises of "support for the campaign" from Jews across the country. But he declined to say which campaign. "He has no intention of declaring his candidacy for any office," said Teitelbaum. "He’s keeping his options open."
While Giuliani is likely to run for retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Senate seat, he has also been courting national Republican stars such as Gov. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who recently visited City Hall. Pundits believe he is angling for a top cabinet appointment, such as attorney general, if Republicans capture the White House in 2000.
Fuchs believes Giuliani is viewed by the Republican Party as a key fund raiser, particularly if he is matched in a Senate race against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. But because he is out of favor with the party’s right wing, she said, "it won’t translate into anything. They don’t view him as a viable [national] candidate. He’s raising money for a party that will ultimately reject him."
Speculation that the first lady will enter the Senate race continues to proliferate. Democratic sources say Clinton is testing the waters and hoping to find enough support for a viable run.
But the thought of such a campaign has at least one right-wing Jewish activist chomping at the bit.
"I would definitely do anything I could to defeat her," said Dr. Joseph Frager, president of the Jerusalem Reclamation Project/Ateret Cohanim. Frager dismisses Clinton’s recent remarks to a rabbinical group that the issue of Palestinian statehood should be left to Israel and the Palestinians, a shift from an earlier call for statehood. "She’s just saying it to pacify the Jewish constituency," said Frager. "She has been touting the PLO position from as far back as 1992." Nearly 70 percent of Jews nationwide favor a Palestinian state, according to polls.
Last November, Frager played a role in the re-election campaign of Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, taking out ads attacking Democratic Charles Schumer for his support from the first lady, whom he termed "good for the PLO." The ad backfired, with Schumer winning with 70 percent of the Jewish vote and D’Amato 23 percent.
Frager dismisses polls that show widespread support for Clinton, particularly among Jews. "Polls are notoriously wrong this far ahead."
Despite requests from both of New York’s senators, federal officials have declined to renew their investigation into the fatal shooting of yeshiva student Ari Halberstam on the Brooklyn Bridge, five years ago this week.
The senators had called for a probe of whether gunman Rashid Baz had ties with any terrorist groups.
In a letter to Sen. Moynihan, A. Robert Walsh, legislative counsel to the Department of Justice, writes that federal agents who initially probed the killing "established that it was carried out by a single assailant without any assistance from others." Halberstam’s mother, Devorah, calls the response "a political decision. Within two hours of the murder, the state had the case. There was never a proper, thorough investigation of the motive. We’re not going to stop at this."
Moynihan’s senior aide, David Luchins, said the senator will also press on. "No one has heard the last from us on this issue," he said.
# Nassau County Democratic leaders are pushing Todd Richman, a former director of the local region of American Jewish Congress, to run for the county legislator seat now occupied by Republican Bruce Blakeman. The Democrats see Blakeman as vulnerable after his poor showing in last year’s race for state comptroller.
# Queens Borough President Claire Shulman has a new liaison to the Jewish community following the appointment of deputy counsel Michael Rogovin to the new post of general counsel of the Citizen’s Budget Commission.
The Jewish community portfolio now goes to Shulman’s chief administrative officer, Barry Grodenchik. High on the agenda is dealing with tensions between Satmar chasidim trying to start a satellite community in Far Rockaway, and local black ministers who fear their community will be displaced.
# Freshman Sen. Robert Toricelli (D-N.J.) will receive the Henry M. Jackson Senatorial Leadership Award at the annual congressional breakfast sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Sunday.