NEW YORK -- The needle on the pander meter was quivering deep within the red zone as Jerry Brown wooed the Jews yesterday.
"I support the $10 billion loan guarantee for Israel without conditions!" he told the Jewish Community Relations Council in Manhattan.
"I have worked intimately with AIPAC [American-Israel Public Affairs Committee]! Under me California led the way in condemning compliance with the Arab boycott! I opposed the sale of the F-15s; I opposed the sale of the AWACS [to Saudi Arabia]!
"And we started a project with Israel on solar ponds, the only one in the nation!"
At this some in the audience exchanged a few glances as if to say: "We may not know exactly what a solar pond is, but if it's in Israel, how bad could it be?"
"The first time I heard about Israel, my father was going over there on behalf of the Israel Bonds committee," Brown said. "This was way back in the beginning, 1948 or '49 or '50. This was my home; this was my family!"
OK, Jerry, we get the point. And Bill Clinton made similar points when he was warmly received here on Tuesday.
Jews can make up anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the Democratic primary vote in this state, and telling people what they want to hear is part of getting elected in a democracy.
But Jerry Brown had a little problem. He had already made a major pander to the black community by announcing he wanted Jesse Jackson as his vice president.
And many Jewish leaders in New York have neither forgotten nor forgiven Jackson for calling them "Hymies" or for embracing Yasser Arafat or for refusing to repudiate Louis Farrakhan.
So as Brown rolled along in his speech, outlining his love and support for Israel, Dov Hikind, a state assemblyman from Brooklyn, rose from his seat in the front row a few feet from Brown.
"You disqualify yourself from Jewish support by placing Jesse Jackson on your ticket!" Hikind shouted in Brown's face. "He embraced Farrakhan! He embraced Arafat!"
There were cheers of support for Hikind as security guards led him away.
"Look, folks," Brown said, "we are facing a potential unraveling of the social fabric of America. We have to deal with the bitterness and hatred in this country. My support for Israel has never been questioned. We've got to make room for all God's children: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish and gentile."
Which was not precisely the point to Charlotte Jacobson, who represents Hadassah, a Jewish charitable organization. To her the point was not whether Jews and other ethnic, racial and religious groups should get along, but whether Jews and Jackson should get along.
"We are not opposed to a black vice president!" Jacobson said. )) 'We are opposed to Jesse Jackson as vice president. We think you have not chosen wisely!"
The applause for this was thunderous.
"Jesse Jackson doesn't agree with everything I say, and I don't agree with everything he says," Brown said.
"And what happens," a man shouted, "if he is vice president and you die? What happens then?"
"That," Brown said, "is a good question."
Wrong! For Jerry Brown that is a bad question, a very bad question. That is the question he does not want people to dwell upon.
"I think I've said what I want to say here," Brown said. "I honor your position. But let us open our hearts in compassion and generosity and stand together in solidarity."
In the back of the room, Dov Hikind wanted to make his position clear. "I am a Democrat," he said, "and I will campaign with Jesse Jackson on behalf of the Democratic Party to defeat George Bush. I would even march with Jesse Jackson. But as vice president? No! To pick him as a vice president is to stick a finger in the eye of the Jewish community!"
Although Brown likes vigorous dialogue, in certain ways he found the whole exchange somewhat sad. "Our only hope," he said, "is to pull these two communities together."
Or, until then, maybe we could get politicians to pander to only one of them at a time.