``I'll be happy if he gets 62 percent,'' New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind said. An Orthodox Jew and harsh critic of the Palestinians and the Middle East peace process, Hikind noted that capturing such a majority would be a ``powerful statement.''
But Hikind's view was the exception among leaders of several American Jewish organizations in the hours leading up to Tuesday's election in which Sharon was challenging Prime Minister Ehud Barak. American Jews have been strong supporters of the peace process and have generally backed Barak's leftist Labor party over Sharon's right-wing Likud movement.
Mindful of the violent turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has taken in recent months, many Jewish leaders were approaching the vote with circumspection. They said they will reserve judgment on a likely Sharon administration until a new government begins to take shape.
``The story won't be written on Feb. 6,'' said Thomas Smerling, director of the Israel Policy Forum, a Washington think tank that was created to support the peace process. ``It'll be told over the next two or three weeks as they try to form a government.''
Despite some apprehension over Sharon's hard-line past, Smerling said, ``most American Jews will give any Israeli prime minister the benefit of the doubt.''
Efforts to revive the stalled peace process have been marred by more than four months of fighting that has killed at least 385 people, including 323 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs and 48 other Israelis. Both sides blame the other for the violence.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations -- another strong peace process -- said the roughly 6 million American Jews ``have been taken aback and are upset and angered'' by the recent violence, which has included sniper attacks against Jewish targets and car bombings in Israel's cities.
That, in turn, has led some Jewish leaders to look less at the election results - which many considerd a foregone conclusion - and more at what the ensuing weeks will hold.
``We are concerned about the peace process no matter who wins,'' said Phil Baum, executive director of the liberal American Jewish Congress.
Hikind foresees only a positive turn for Israel. He noted the sharp drop in support over the past years for Barak, who he said had ``managed to turn off almost everyone.''
``The situation in Israel right now is intolerable,'' Hikind said. ``People today don't feel that there is security.''