WASHINGTON – The same key words and themes will bounce around Jewish events at next week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., and at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., the week after that: “pro-Israel,” “marriage,” “Jewish vote” and “abortion.”
With the exception of “pro-Israel,” however, the content of the sessions will be as different as the cities of Tampa and Charlotte.
The presence of national and local Jewish organizations will be felt at both conventions.
The American Jewish Committee is hosting Jewish-Latino events in both cities – Florida’s substantial Cuban American community trends Republican, while the other Latino communities trend Democratic. Notably, however, the AJC’s only Jewish-African American event – aimed at a community that votes overwhelmingly Democratic – is in Charlotte.
This year there’s an AJC first for a convention: a Mormon-Jewish get-together cosponsored by the Tampa Jewish Federation, a nod to the interest in the faith of the presumptive Republican nominee, former Mass. governor Mitt Romney.
Most of the differences between the conventions have to do with an increasingly polarized polity. Leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council agree that the overriding issue is one that will play out throughout the convention, not just in the Jewish forums on the sidelines: the economy.
“American Jewish voters first and foremost are Americans,” said David Harris, NJDC president and CEO. “The things that concern American Jews are primarily the things that concern most Americans, the economy, jobs, everyday kitchen table interests.”
Jobs will also be the core of Romney’s message, said Matt Brooks, the RJC director.
“People are going to be looking to hear about his vision going forward,” he said. “Job creation, getting the economy moving.”
That said, social issues also will feature prominently, particularly among Jews at the conventions.
The Democratic convention platform committee, heeding submissions from a slew of groups that included the Anti-Defamation League and the NJDC, will endorse marriage equality.
The Republican platform frames the concept as an “assault on the foundations of our society”; language that gay Republicans sought that would have urged “respect and dignity” for gays was made vague, recommending instead “respect and dignity” for all Americans.
On abortion, according to the National Journal, the GOP will adhere to its 2008 plank. It declares that the procedure “is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life” and has no explicit exemption for rape or incest. Romney has said he favors such exemptions.
The National Council of Jewish Women, which will be present at both events, has reproductive rights high on its agenda and is allying with like-minded members of both parties to promote them.
NCJW also will promote voter registration at both events; it strongly opposes efforts by some Republican legislatures and governors to tighten voter registration, saying that requirements of photo IDs discriminate against minorities and the elderly.
Likewise, both conventions will feature sessions on the perennial question of whether this election will be the one that sees a substantive shift in the Jewish vote.
Brooks, the RJC director, will speak on the topic to reporters. In Charlotte, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) will moderate a panel on the matter; with her will be speakers from J Street, NCJW and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, which seeks to revitalize neighborhoods.
Republicans have been especially focused this year on moving Jewish votes. Speaking on background, officials in both parties have said that a showing of less than 70 percent for President Obama at the polls would represent a substantive undercutting of his support among Jews. Obama scored 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, according to exit polls.
Both parties will feature events with “pro-Israel” in the title: The RJC will have a “Salute to Pro-Israel Officials,” and NJDC will have a similar event.
“Pro-Israel” also is likely to be a theme during the prime-time speeches by the candidates and other top officials. Expect each side to depict the other as hapless in defending Israel’s interests.
Jimmy Carter, the former president who has angered Israel and U.S. Jewish groups with his criticism of Israeli policies, will have a prime-time speech at the Democratic convention, to be delivered by video. Some groups, including the ADL and the Zionist Organization of America, have criticized the slot, saying Carter is divisive.
Differences of foreign policy emphasis will come up, too. Romney has preserved the two-state option in the platform and some of his surrogates have suggested that he is interested in advancing peace talks should he become president. Still, don’t expect the issue to be front and center.
Expect, instead, to hear a lot about Iran at the GOP event. Both candidates say that an Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable, but the Romney campaign has suggested that Obama has not been assertive enough in making clear to Iran the consequences of not making transparent its nuclear program.
Finally, at the Democratic convention, J Street will join the Arab American Institute as well as Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in promoting the two-state solution as a cornerstone of U.S. policy.
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