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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Blacks, Jews 'Must Stand Together' on Tally, Jackson Says

November 13, 2000|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Before the carved wooden ark of the Torah at Temple Israel of Greater Miami, the Rev. Jesse Jackson charged Sunday that black immigrants and elderly Jews in Palm Beach County were "targeted" for disenfranchisement in last week's presidential election, and he called on the two minorities to join forces to fight for an accurate vote count.

Standing next to Woodland Hills Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, Jackson declared: "Once again, sons and daughters of slavery and Holocaust survivors are bound together with a shared agenda, bound by their hopes and their fears about national public policy."

In his own remarks to a packed assemblage that mixed yarmulkes and ceremonial African caps, Jacobs added: "Now, we blacks and Jews find ourselves fighting old battles we thought we had won. . . . We must stand together or we will perish alone."

Sunday's gathering at the large temple just north of downtown Miami was designed to resurrect the black-Jewish civil rights coalition of the 1960s to mobilize around the ballot battle in overwhelmingly Democratic Palm Beach County, where both groups feel they were wronged. It was sponsored by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and People for the American Way.

As election officials decided Sunday to hand count the votes cast in the entire county, where hundreds of Jewish retirees and Haitian immigrants have said the unique, two-page ballot confused them into voting for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan rather than the Democratic candidate, Vice President Al Gore, Jackson and Jacobs announced that they will lead a vigil and march there later today.

For the rabbi and reverend, the high drama in the Florida county has become a moral mission.

"It seems that in West Palm [Beach], the African Americans and the Jewish senior citizens were targeted," Jackson said after his sermon. Later he added: "Something systematic was at work here. . . . It was large and systematic."

Pressed to say who was to blame, Jackson said: "I don't know. Whoever was in charge of the election." County officials flatly deny that anyone was intentionally disenfranchised by its "butterfly" ballot.

Jackson, who campaigned nationwide to get out the vote for Gore before election day, said in his sermon that Gore should "give in magnanimously" if he loses Florida's final count. "But to surrender without a count would be unpatriotic; it would be treasonous," he added. The minister-politician also called for patience. Likening the tedious hand count and the wait for absentee ballots here to an overtime quarter in a Miami Dolphins-Jacksonville Jaguars football game, he said: "Overtime is not a crisis. It is exciting."

And he argued that Florida is now "a testing ground" for both Gore and the Republican candidate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush: "Are you calm under pressure? Are you fair? Can you reconcile warring factions? Can you choose national interests over personal pride?

"Today, it would be well if both candidates would agree to ask for at least one thing: We want a fair count. . . . The moral issue is not who will be president. It is the integrity and sanctity of the vote that is at the heart of this debate."

But it was the mission of reuniting blacks and Jews into a political force that predominated at Temple Israel, whose rabbi, Jeffrey Kahn, opened the public forum by declaring: "Some people say what is happening here in Florida is hysterical. It's not hysterical, it's historical.

"And it's especially historical for us Jews and blacks as we come back together."

Jackson noted the historical irony that the two communities claiming the largest concentrations of mistaken votes for Buchanan were the county's Jewish retirement villages, home to many Holocaust survivors; and the enclaves of Haitian migrants who risked their lives to reach Florida on rickety boats.

"All of these people have known the pain of leaving tyranny and suffering and the joy of arriving on these shores," he said. "Suffering breeds character; character breeds faith. In the end, faith will prevail."

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