Brooklyn Rabbi No Longer Standing Pat

Brooklyn Rabbi No Longer Standing Pat

A Brooklyn rabbi who supported Patrick Buchanan for president in 1989 is turning his back on the arch-conservative commentator because of his refusal to mend fences with Jews.

"It was counterproductive for me to spend my time putting out his fires," says Rabbi Yehuda Levin. "He stands for a lot of things that irritate my community."

Rabbi Levin, who made national headlines for defending Buchanan against charges of anti-Semitism four years ago, says he was recruited to help with Buchanan’s ’96 campaign and, when Buchanan failed to win the GOP nomination, urged him to schedule low-profile meetings with Jewish leaders. But his advice was disregarded.

"I was hopeful that I would be able to act as a mediating factor [but] I came to realize this was not at all a priority of his," says Rabbi Levin, an Orthodox crusader against gay rights and abortion who has run for Congress, mayor and City Council and was one of 25 Jewish leaders who had an audience with the pope in October, 1995. "I think he felt that with all the water under the bridge it would be perceived as buckling under to Jewish pressure." Buchanan has been blasted by Jewish leaders and other politicians for calling Capitol Hill "Israeli-occupied territory" and expressing doubts that Jews were gassed by the Nazis. More recently, he suggested in a book that Hitler’s Germany posed no threat to the American interests during World War II.

Rabbi Levin says he has not spoken to Buchanan (who bolted from the GOP this week and announced a bid for the eclectic Reform Party nomination) since 1996.He says he now supports long shot Republican Gary Bauer, the former head of the Family Defense Council, for president. "He doesn’t have this kind of baggage that clouds the issues," says Rabbi Levin. The rabbi still insists Buchanan is not an anti-Semite. "He’s not someone who has a constant goal of making trouble and perpetrating bad things on Jews," says Rabbi Levin. "But his style is garrulous and cantankerous. He needs to be educated."

Last May, the Buchanan campaign named another Orthodox rabbi, Aryeh Spero, as a senior advisor. Rabbi Spero, who divides his time between Canton, Ohio and Great Neck, L.I., heads Quality Kosher Supervision in Ohio and is an outspoken abortion foe.

Rabbi Spero has denied repeated requests for interviews, and this week two phone numbers under which he had been listed were not in service.

Buchanan’s spokesman, Neil Bernstein, did not return calls.

Good government groups are slamming the proposed changes in New York’s charter to be voted on next week as harmful to the long-term health of the city.

"It would make the budget process worse, not better, and would work in a way that would be counterproductive," says Diana Fortuna, president of the Citizens Budget Commission.

But Jewish groups are taking no position on the changes, which Mayor Rudolph Giuliani considers crucial to extending his policies beyond his term-limited administration. Although there are 14 disparate items in the revision, it must be voted for or against as a whole. Thus, someone voting in favor of increasing immigrants’ access to city services through creation of a new city agency, or establishing a commission on human rights would also have to vote in favor of requiring a two-thirds City Council majority to raise taxes and changing the line of succession to the mayoralty.

No Jewish leader contacted for this column would comment on the proposals, and many said they were unfamiliar with the recommendations of the Charter Revision Commission, packed with 15 Giuliani allies. Some said on background that they hoped the measure would fail.

"The proposed charter changes suck," said one.

Non-profit organizations are permitted to take an open stand on issues, as opposed to endorsing a political candidate. In 1993, the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty took a public stand, unsuccessfully, against the imposition of term limits on New York offices. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York opposed the last major charter revision in 1996 because of a measure that had the effect of making it easier to declare religious structures landmarks, impeding possible growth plans.

But no Jewish groups are opposing this year’s amendments because there aren’t any specifically Jewish issues at stake.

"It affects them only as citizens of the larger community," says Abraham Biederman, a member of the charter commission who is also the JCRC’s government affairs liaison. "There is nothing in the proposal that has a unique impact on the Jewish community."

Public Advocate Mark Green, who has mobilized a grassroots movement against the changes, said more Jewish groups would speak against the changes if not for fear of Giuliani. "The mayor governs by enemies list, and many groups are anxious about offending him," he said, noting that the Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause New York are opposing the measure. "Since the Jewish community especially cares about fairness, this referendum is treif when it comes to fairness." He said the mayor was counting on low turnout on Election Day, since there are only a handful of serious contests for local office, to push the measure through.

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Sen. Charles Schumer joined with the Anti-Defamation League last week to call on New Yorkers to "turn lemons into lemonade" by supporting pro-tolerance organizations with one dollar for every minute Ku Klux Klan leaders spoke during Saturday’s rally.

Surrounded by some 6,000 angry protestors outside a Manhattan courthouse, however, none of the 18 Klansmen made any kind of speech.

Neither Schumer nor Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was among the New York members of Congress selected by Congressional Quarterly for its list of the 50 most effective legislators. Among those who made the cut were Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), lumped in the "liberal stalwarts" category; Reps. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester), a "dealer"; Sherwood Boehlert (R-Utica), a "centrist"; Michael Forbes (D-L.I.) a "majority of one," and Carolyn McCarthy (D-L.I.), a "niche player."

Two Brooklyn Democrats are calling on the New York Marathon to ban Austrian right-wing leader Joerg Haider from participating in the New York Marathon on Nov. 7. Crown Heights Councilwoman Una Clarke and Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind have called on the New York Road Runners club to ban Haider in deference to Holocaust survivors living in Williamsburg, where a leg of the race takes place. "I feel we are making the city too comfortable for hate mongers," says Clarke.

Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel said the mayor rejected Haider’s ideology, but "the decision is up to the Road Runners Club." The club said Monday it would not ban Haider.

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