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Split decision

Jewish GOPers in South Carolina mull vote

Henry Goldberg loves this country. The businessman’s Polish-Jewish parents escaped Nazi Germany and made their home in South Carolina. His father began work as a janitor and eventually became a business owner. These were the opportunities that America offered, and not a moment went by when the elder Goldberg was not thankful for his survival.

This is the background that shaped Goldberg’s Republican views. As the years went by, he and his brother expanded their father’s company, Palmetto Tile Distributors, in Columbia. In the 1950s and 1960s, this was a truly wonderful country, Goldberg said. Doors were left open at night, keys were left in the car, the country was strong militarily, and it was not in debt. Since then, he has seen the country decline into what he views as a welfare state that gives too much of its dollars to such programs as Medicare and Medicaid.

“I want my country back….My children do not live currently as good as I did, nor will they, and I strongly believe my grandchildren will not,” he said.

As South Carolina prepares to hold its Republican primary this Saturday (Jan. 21), Goldberg’s views represent those of some of the members of the Jewish community in the state. Jewish opinions vary between fiscally and socially conservative views and generally liberal beliefs, yet all of them tend to coincide on the support of uniquely Jewish issues (such as Israel).

These views also reflect how Jews in the state may ultimately vote, although that vote may not mean much. The Jewish population of the state is small, just under 13,000 in 2011 according to some estimates. While their own political views vary, South Carolina Jews are also encapsulated within a traditionally conservative-voting general population. The state even made the list of the top Republican states in a 2009 Gallup poll.

“To a large degree, South Carolina is a very critical state for the Republican nomination because it is voting along Republican lines almost every single time. I am sure pollsters are watching South Carolina very closely,” said Rabbi Jonathan Case of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Columbia.

Nonetheless, South Carolina’s Jewish voters still have an impact and have managed to send several Jewish officials to public office, including Democratic State Sen. Joel Lourie and Inez Tenenbaum, who heads the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The son of Shoah survivors, Goldberg was naturally irked when Rep. Ron Paul, appearing on Fox News, defended the Holocaust-denying proclivity of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “They’re just defending themselves,” Paul told interviewer Sean Hannity.

“You’re a crazy person if you believe that,” Goldberg said, adding that how the candidates feel about Israel is very important. Other than Paul, “generally the Republicans stand up so much stronger for Israel” than President Barack Obama, he said. Romney, who narrowly leads over the other candidates since the New Hampshire primary, is the most electable candidate, but ultimately it would be hard for any of the contenders to beat the president, Goldberg said.

South Carolina allows crossover voting in its primaries, which means residents may vote in Saturday’s primary even if they are not Republicans. For instance, a Democrat might vote for the more progressive GOP candidate in order to skew the election towards the center, said Stanley Dubinsky, the director of Jewish studies at the University of South Carolina, who classifies himself as an independent. “I’m neither an Occupy-Wall-Streeter nor a Tea-Partier,” he said.

Case tells a similar story. While he typically views himself as Democrat, a candidate’s positions do matter. Within Case’s congregation and community, some favor Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich for their ardent support of Israel, while others consider Gingrich too volatile and fear that Perry is too religiously conservative. While people tend to like former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, few express support for Ron Paul.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is more palatable for many because he is more moderate and very pro-Israel, Case said. On the other hand, Dubinsky said he finds most of the Republican candidates to be a little too extreme – with the exception of Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the race earlier this week. Case also said that some of the candidates go too far when they seek to dictate morality to the public “as if God spoke to them personally.” It is not a Jewish thing to “tell people they’re going to hell,” he said.

Dubinsky, however, believes Obama is an incompetent leader who has also backpedaled on Israel. “As a Jew who is committed to Israel and doesn’t want to see the U.S. let Israel be harmed,” he said he would be satisfied with any of the GOP contenders except Ron Paul.

Perhaps the biggest question is how many Jews actually will get to the polls on Saturday, which is Shabbat. While not everyone is observant here, the fact that an election of any kind is held on a Saturday troubles many. On the other hand, it was noted, the state does allow absentee voting.

JointMedia News Service

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