Delegates to the Republican Convention have been pouring into Tampa for the last several days. The delegates have been pouring in, but thus far, despite predictions that Hurricane Isaac might bring with it heavy rain and driving winds, there has been ‘nary a cloud in the sky.
Lynne Kessler Lechter serves on the National Women’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Lechter told The Jewish Press that on Saturday night she attended a dinner for Republican Jewish Coalition leadership at the home of Ambassador Mel and Betty Semble. Semble, a co-chair of the Florida Finance Committee for Mitt Romney, served as US ambassador to both Italy (2001 – 05) and Australia (1989-93).
The Academy Award-winner Jon Voight was one of the speakers at Saturday night’s dinner. Lechter, who serves on the National Women’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition, was delighted. Voight explained to the RJC leadership that in part, his strong support for Israel was based on the fact that “his dad worked hard all his life and taught him to love and respect Jews because they have similar values.”
Marion Taxin is a delegate to the Republican Convention, representing Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, located in suburban Philadelphia. This will be Taxin’s second Republican Convention, having attended as an alternate in 2008.
The Jewish Press caught up with Taxin as she traveled by bus from the West Shore Doubletree Hotel on her way to the Convention site. Although Taxin had not yet heard the news that Rabbi Meir Soloveichik was going to be giving the Convention invocation, she already knew, she said, that “Mitt Romney was truly committed to the Jewish State.”
“Josh Romney spoke to our delegation at a breakfast this morning,” said Taxin. “He told us with such great pride that when he and his parents were recently in Israel, the response from the Israelis was incredibly enthusiastic,” she continued.
“He told us that so many people came up to him, when he was in Jerusalem, and said, ‘we need your dad, we have to have your dad win.’” Taxin said that “Romney’s son understood that his father needs to win because Israel’s future is at stake.”
And not only two Jews, but two Jewish organizations, one representing Jewish Democrats and one representing Jewish Republicans, and there is still only one opinion.
Who accomplished this miracle? None other than former US president Jimmy Carter.
In what may be a first, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council agree on something, and it is something important. They agree that former US president Jimmy Carter should not be speaking at the upcoming Democratic Convention which will take place September 3 – 6 at the Time-Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Democratic National Committee announced this week that Carter will be appearing via videolink in a prime time slot during the upcoming convention. The announcement included a quote from Carter who expressed his “steadfast” support for President Obama and who looks forward to “the progress he will make in the next four years.”
Given President Obama’s recent outreach efforts to assure Jews they still have a comfortable berth in the Democratic party, it is hard to understand why a platform would be given to Carter. Jimmy Carter is the only Democrat to have garnered fewer than fifty percent of the American Jewish vote in any presidential election since 1924. In 1980, when Carter ran against Ronald Reagan, Carter received only 45 percent of the Jewish vote.
In the press release announcing Carter’s participation in the convention, the 2012 Democratic National Convention Chair, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, described Carter as “one of the greatest humanitarian leaders of our time and a champion of democracy around the globe,” and a “lifelong champion of human rights.” However, not everyone — even within the Democratic party — was quite so enthusiastic.
NJDC chair and CEO David Harris called Carter’s record on Israel and the Middle East an embarrassment. Harris also described former President Carter as “harmful to the peace process.”
Speaking from the same page as his Democrat Party colleague, Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, responded to the news of Carter being headlined at the Democratic convention in only a slightly more hostile tone. In an email to Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, Brooks described Carter as “openly hostile to Israel,” and having publicly equated the Jewish Homeland to the South African Apartheid regime. In 2006 Carter published a book about the Middle East peace process which largely blamed Israel for the conflict. The title of Carter’s book is Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
The Jewish Republicans also took the opportunity to blast the Democratic party for showcasing someone who is widely seen as anti-Israel.
But the NJDC’s Harris was still hoping to minimize the fallout from Carter being showcased at the Democratic convention. While clearly distancing himself from Carter, Harris said he was “confident” that the former president would not be using his speech to talk about Middle East policy.
Perhaps Harris has not read the Democratic National Committee press release announcing Carter’s slot at the convention. It promises Carter will be providing “his unique insights about President Obama as a global leader,” and lauds Carter for being “a champion of democracy around the globe.” It is hard to imagine that Carter will not devote at least some air time to promoting his version of peace in the Middle East.
Nonetheless, perhaps Jimmy Carter deserves another peace prize – forget about the enmity between Israel and Egypt, now he is the impetus for two sets of many Jews to have the same opinion. That opinion: Jimmy Carter should not be speaking at the Democratic Convention.
Carter will give his videolinked convention speech on Tuesday night, September 4th.
The election season is heating up early, and the video warfare is already sizzling. The Republican Jewish Coalition has initiated a new campaign in ‘battleground states’ aimed at persuading lifelong Jewish Democrats dissatisfied with President Barack Obama to vote instead for Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, titled “My Buyer’s Remorse,” will be aired in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and is slated to begin in the coming weeks.
“For the past three years we’ve been hearing from people who were deeply disappointed and who wish they could have their vote back,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks told The Jewish Press. “It became self-evident to us that we should take those testimonials and share them with everyone.”
Brooks said the people featured in what he said will be a “significant number” of ads were found through the RJC local offices. The ad campaign uses testimonials from Jews who voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign and now express regret over that decision, citing what they see as his poor treatment of Israel, and his ineffective economic policies.
The first ad can be previewed on the RJC website. It features Michael Goldstein, a 40-something community college administrator and lifelong democrat from New Jersey who voted for Obama in 2008 because he “believed in what Obama stood for.” Goldstein became disillusioned when he started hearing and seeing things he did not like from Obama once the election was over. What kind of things?
“That speech about the ’67 borders,” Goldstein explained, “that really changed my mind.” Also very troublesome for Goldstein was the way the president treated the Israeli Prime Minister when Netanyahu visited the White House. “He’s not just the Prime Minister of Israel, he represents all of us, Jews, Israelis, people throughout the world who believe in the State of Israel.” Goldstein was turned off by what he says was Obama’s incredible disrespect towards Netanyahu.
In a motif the RJC clearly wants to emphasize throughout the remainder of the campaign, the ad hones in on the concern that Jewish American voter has about what will be different if President Obama is elected for a second term.
“I think in the second term we’ll see the real Barack Obama,” Goldstein says, as the video pans over Jerusalem, “when he has no voters to deal with, I think he will change the game when it comes to Israel. He’s going to put Israel in a position where they’re in danger.”
The RJC appears convinced that, despite the long and largely monogamous relationship between Jews and the Democratic party, there are certain strategic moves it can make that will be sufficient to have Jewish voters be the decisive factor in electing Mitt Romney.
Recent polls suggest that Jewish support for Obama has diminished, with him receiving 67 percent to Romney’s 25 percent – which would be the highest level of support for a republican candidate since George Bush received 35 percent of the vote in the 1988 contest against Democrat Michael Dukakis.
By following RJC polling calculations and concentrating on Jews in certain areas of three key states – Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, the RJC is banking on Jewish votes determining the outcome in those swing states.
Featured prominently in a New York Times story about the “My Buyer’s Remorse” campaign was the role allegedly played by casino magnate and staunchly pro-Israel Sheldon Adelson’s involvement. When asked about Adelson’s role in this effort, Brooks told The Jewish Press that while Adelson has been an active supporter and member of the RJC board for a number of years, the organization is the form of non-profit that does not have to – and does not – disclose confidential information about donors, so “any stories about Mr. Adelson’s involvement is purely conjecture.” What Brooks was willing to say is that “there is a large number of people involved in this effort.”
Whether or not Adelson was directly involved in this RJC campaign effort, he has been a strong presence in this year’s presidential campaign on behalf of the Republican party. In the Republican primaries earlier this year, he and his family donated $16.5 million to Newt Gingrich’s campaign, and when Romney came out the victor in the primaries, Adelson gave a $10 million donation to a Super PAC that supports Romney.
A Philadelphia-area Reform temple will feature a Republican speaker to balance an appearance by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is set to speak Monday at the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pa., on behalf of President Obama.
The synagogue’s senior rabbi, Lance Sussman, told JTA that he is now working with the Republican Jewish Coalition to set up an alternative event.
Sussman said the synagogue had reached out to multiple Republican officials, including at the Romney campaign, at the office of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Jewish U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, and Republican state lawmakers before announcing the Wasserman Schulz event.
In the absence of a speaker, and with Wasserman Schultz’s appearance approaching, Sussman said the temple had no choice but to go ahead with her event, while noting in the literature that a Republican speaker would also appear at another date.
The RJC’s Philadelphia-area chapter then objected through social media to what it called a one-sided program.
“The RJC presumed – and didn’t check with us – that we are not having another evening with a Republican speaker, which is something we are committed to and announced in our publicity,” Sussman told JTA.
Sussman ackowledged that the RJC had not been “on my radar,” although it has a high profile among political Jewish groups. But he also noted that his other Republican interlocutors had not referred him to the group. He said he would now establish a relationship with the group.
JTA left a message late Sunday with Matthew Brooks, the national RJC director, seeking further comment.
When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the passionately pro-Israel members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition that he would “do the opposite” of the things that President Obama has done regarding Israel, the room erupted in applause. They understood exactly what he meant because they know the Obama administration has not strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship. President Obama has brought that strategic alliance to its lowest point in decades.
Let’s review a little history.
Obama began his presidency with a Middle East outreach tour that excluded Israel and had as its high point his major speech in Cairo. He told the Muslim world that Israel’s creation was the result of the tragedy in Europe (meaning the Holocaust) – echoing Muslim language that delegitimizes the Jewish state as a European implant in the region – and said that Israeli settlements were illegitimate.
The president followed up with a sustained public attack on Israeli settlement policy that was much harsher than we’d seen since the days of Jimmy Carter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that even “natural growth” should not be permitted within Israeli towns beyond the Green Line, even in areas within or just outside of Jerusalem.
The 2004 Bush-Sharon letter said that certain areas outside the 1949 armistice lines should become part of Israel in a future negotiated settlement because of “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers.” The Obama administration rejected the plain meaning of that letter.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to an unprecedented ten-month freeze on settlement construction, the Obama administration put no pressure on the Palestinians to respond and they never came to the negotiating table during that time. At the end of the ten months, the Palestinians insisted that the freeze continue before they would join in negotiations, and the Obama administration fully backed their demand without making any demands on the Palestinians or holding them accountable for commitments they had already made.
In March 2010, the Israeli government made a routine announcement of one step in the planning process for new homes in a Jerusalem neighborhood while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Jerusalem. It was an indelicate slip-up, given the Obama administration’s stance on settlements.
In response, the Obama administration went full bore in condemning Israel in the strongest diplomatic terms possible. Clinton read the riot act to Netanyahu in a scathing 45-minute phone call made public by her office. Obama political adviser David Axelrod went on the weekend talk shows to call the settlements announcement an “insult.”
The heated condemnation of Israel came as Palestinians were working toward a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The Obama administration said nothing about that, saving all its venom and vitriol for Israel.
In the spring of 2011, Obama made a speech that blindsided Netanyahu just hours before the prime minister arrived in the United States for another summit meeting. The president fundamentally changed U.S. policy by saying, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
By setting the armistice lines as the baseline for negotiations and implying that both Israel and the Palestinians would have to “swap” land tit for tat, Obama made the Palestinians’ intransigent, revisionist position into U.S. policy. Even leading Democrats in Congress protested the president’s words.
At the United Nations, where the United States has long defended Israel, the Obama administration has sharply criticized Israel to the international community. When the Security Council has considered anti-Israel resolutions, Obama often has refused to defend Israel during the debate. When he has ordered a U.S. veto, his UN ambassador has used it as an opportunity to publicly criticize Israeli settlement policy in the sharpest of terms.
In the first three years of his term, Obama inserted plenty of “daylight” between the United States and Israel. Only recently, when the president’s Jewish support began eroding dramatically in the polls, has the administration backed away from its cold, often belligerent treatment of Israel.
The military assistance and cooperation, the diplomatic words and the other things that President Obama’s publicists are now touting are the very least one would expect from an American president, given that the American people and Congress are such unwavering, staunch supporters of a strong Israel and a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.