Deukmejian Woos Jewish Voters, Cites Links to Armenians
Gov. George Deukmejian, seeking to build support among Jewish voters, emphasized the ties between his Armenian heritage and the Jewish people in an impassioned speech Sunday night in Los Angeles to a star-studded benefit for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Deukmejian, the son of Armenian immigrants, decried human rights violations in South Africa, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union and said that Adolf Hitler hatched his plans for the slaughter of millions of Jews by studying the earlier Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Armenians.
“Many of you have grown up hearing the truly tragic stories of friends, families and loved ones who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust in the 1940s,” Deukmejian said. “Gloria and I grew up hearing those stories too--stories about our relatives who were brutally driven from their homes and massacred during the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s.
“The civilized world barely noticed, but Adolf Hitler did. In formulating his own evil and murderous plans, he surmised that he could get away with it because, as he put it, ‘Who nowadays talks about the Armenians?’ ”
Seen With Celebrities
Sunday’s Century Plaza fund-raiser, held to honor Holocaust survivors and soldiers who liberated the Nazi death camps, gave the Republican governor an opportunity to be seen and photographed with an impressive list of celebrities ranging from famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, for whom the center is named, to actors Elizabeth Taylor and Glenn Ford.
Favorable publicity aside, aides to the governor privately stressed the event’s political significance, coming on the home turf of Mayor Tom Bradley, Deukmejian’s expected Democratic opponent in next year’s election, who depends heavily on the Jewish community for political support and campaign money.
In recent months, Deukmejian has won praise from prominent Jewish leaders for publicly denouncing anti-Semitic statements of black Muslim Louis Farrakhan, for calling on President Reagan to forgo his controversial trip last May to a military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, and for approving a $5-million grant for the Wiesenthal Center’s pet project--a Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. In anticipation of Sunday’s event, the governor’s office late last week also released a letter calling on Reagan to make the plight of Soviet Jewry a topic in his upcoming summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Although Bradley always has done well among Jewish voters, his relations with the Jewish community have been strained since he rejected pleas to speak out before Farrakhan’s speech in September. The mayor’s defense, that he was trying to quietly persuade Farrakhan to temper his remarks, brought sharp criticism from most Jewish leaders.
Bradley since has tried to undo the political damage, denouncing Farrakhan in a speech before 2,000 Reform Jews earlier this month and in letters to New York Mayor Ed Koch and several Los Angeles Jewish newspapers. This week, Bradley also is leading a trade delegation to Israel, where he is scheduled to meet with top officials.
On Sunday, Deukmejian sought to resurrect the Farrakhan incident, declaring in his speech: “Mr. Farrakhan is not welcome in our state. I condemn his tactics of fear and his philosophy of hatred and I ask all leaders and peace-loving citizens to do the same.”
Later in his remarks, Deukmejian compared Farrakhan to supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. And he declared: “We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We must stand up to bigotry and intolerance wherever and whenever they occur.”
Attempts by both Bradley and Deukmejian to woo Jewish voters have been intense even though Jews account for only about 5% of California voters.
But the Jewish vote is concentrated in two of the state’s largest metropolitan areas--Los Angeles and San Francisco--where the governor’s own polls suggest that he is most vulnerable. Deukmejian won only about 25% of the Jewish vote in his 1982 race against Bradley, who received 75%.
Could Cut Fund-Raising
At the very least, Deukmejian’s strategists hope that Bradley’s recent problems will hurt his ability to raise large sums of money from Jewish sources.
A Bradley spokeswoman downplayed that scenario, saying, “The Deukmejian people are simply trying to capitalize on what they see as an area of vulnerability.
“I’m not saying there weren’t hard feelings (over the Farrakhan incident),” said Bradley aide Victoria Pipkin. “But our long-term relationship (with the Jewish community) is far greater than one controversy.”
Deukmejian shared the podium Sunday with two prominent Los Angeles Democrats, Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti of Los Angeles and Assemblyman Richard Katz of Sepulveda, who were honored for co-sponsoring the measure providing the $5-million state grant for the Museum of Tolerance.
The museum, to be housed in a $20-million complex in West Los Angeles, will be controlled by the Wiesenthal Center, whose major financial backers include Samuel and William Belzberg, owners of a vast empire of oil, gas, bank and real estate holdings.
The Legislature’s consideration of the grant earlier this year sparked opposition even from some segments of the Jewish community over claims that it violated separation of church and state and that the museum should have been financed entirely by private donations.
In his speech, Deukmejian acknowledged the controversy but strongly defended his decision, saying that his reasons lie “in the bloodstained pages of history.”
“Why must there be a Museum of Tolerance? Because mankind’s tyrants have a deadly habit of repeating their horrors and the people have a deadly habit of repeating their indifference.”