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GOP upset in Mass. raises questions for health reform

WASHINGTON – The election of Scott Brown to replace the late Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate has thrown the future of health-care reform into doubt.

With the Republican’s upset victory Tuesday in Massachusetts, Jewish groups backing comprehensive reform must figure out how to respond. One organization said that passing the Senate version of the legislation is the best possible outcome at this point, but others are undecided.

Brown has vowed to be the crucial 41st vote against ending the filibuster on any reform of the U.S. health-care system, dimming the prospects for passage of any kind of conference committee deal between the Senate and House of Representatives. That has led some to suggest that the only hope for health-care reform is if the House passes the Senate bill without amendments, so the Senate does not have to take another vote on the issue.

The associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Mark Pelavin, said that such a step would eliminate important provisions that his group backs in the House legislation — such as the “public option” — but “is something we could live with.”

Pelavin said that while it may not be the best possible outcome, considering the political landscape it would be an “incredibly significant step” in expanding the access to and lowering the cost of health care because it would cover two-thirds of those now without insurance.

Pelavin also said the Senate bill’s controversial language restricting the health-insurance coverage of abortion, which a number of Jewish groups have spoken out against, is “troubling.” But, he added, it’s not nearly as restrictive as the provision in the House version that would not allow anyone receiving federal subsidies to buy a plan covering abortion and would not permit plans on the “insurance exchange” formed by the bill to include abortion coverage.

Sammie Moshenberg, the director of Washington operations at the National Council of Jewish Women, said the Senate language on reproductive rights is still “pretty bad” because it would allow states to decide whether abortion is covered in insurance plans and force women to write a separate check for the portion of their health coverage that covered abortion.

As for the overall legislation, Moshenberg said her organization is waiting to see how the negotiations between the House and Senate play out.

“Obviously the political dynamics on the ground have changed” and congressional leadership is “going to have to develop a strategy,” she said. “It wouldn’t make any sense for us to decide right now.

“There are things in the Senate bill that we like, and things that we don’t like.”

B’nai B’rith International also has concerns about the Senate legislation. The organization believes that the subsidies for middle-income Americans are not large enough. Also, the bill allows insurance companies to charge older consumers up to three times as much as younger customers. The House bill’s “age rating” is 2 to 1.

“It would be very difficult for the aging community” if the House decided to pass the Senate bill as is, said B’nai B’rith’s director of aging policy, Rachel Goldberg. She also expressed concern about the independent commission that the Senate bill would establish to have authority over Medicare and Medicaid spending.

William Daroff, vice president for public policy and head of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, said his organization would continue to work with the Congress and Senate “in favor of the parts of the legislation we’re supportive of and oppose the parts we’re opposed to.”

The umbrella group Jewish Federations of North America has declined to take a position on the legislation as a whole, instead focusing on its priorities, which include the CLASS Act — a government long-term care insurance program that is included in the Senate bill — as well as increasing coverage for the most vulnerable and protecting Medicare and Medicaid.

Daroff was one of a number of Jewish organizational representatives who suggested that Democrats might still be able to sway a liberal Republican — such as Maine’s Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins — to vote to end a Senate filibuster and thus be able to reopen negotiations with the House.

Whatever the case, Pelavin said his Reform movement constituency is still solidly behind comprehensive reform that makes health care more affordable and accessible.

“I don’t think there’s any diminution in the commitment in our community,” he said.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, though, said in a statement that Brown’s election demonstrated the electorate as a whole has “serious concerns” about Obama’s health-care proposals.

JTA

 
 

Health-care vote could mean tough campaign for some Dems

WASHINGTON – A window was shattered by a pellet gun in an apparent vandalism attack at her Tucson district office. Sarah Palin has put her on the list of Democratic lawmakers she is targeting this fall. Arizona Tea Party activists are pledging to help defeat her bid for re-election.

All this because Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) voted for health-care reform.

Giffords is one of a few Jewish Democrats political observers say could have a difficult re-election campaign because of her vote for the controversial Democratic-backed health-care bill.

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A glass door at the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shattered in an apparent vandalism attack just hours after Giffords voted for the health-care reform bill in Congress. Gary Jones

The bill passed March 21 would provide access to insurance for more than 30 million uninsured Americans, provide subsidies for those who cannot afford it, eliminate the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and require all Americans to buy insurance or pay a tax. Republicans have attacked the bill as too costly and portray it as government takeover of the health-care industry.

While support for the health-care bill represents a potential political liability if disaffection with the president runs high on Election Day, November is still far enough away that it’s not clear how much influence it will have.

The general mood of the country, which probably will depend on the state of the economy, will likely be the determining factor, said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. If the mood is sour, he said, voters “are going to evaluate health care in that light.”

Two-term congresswoman Giffords is in a more vulnerable spot than most. She hasn’t been in office long, and her district is not solidly Democratic. John McCain won it in the 2008 presidential election, with 52 percent of the district vote.

Helping those who cannot afford health insurance, rather than focusing on re-election, was Gifford’s paramount concern in deciding which way to vote, her spokesman said.

“The congresswoman is convinced it was the right thing to do, and good for the country,” said her communications director, C.J. Karamargin.

Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who has been particularly outspoken on health-care issues, is another potentially vulnerable Jewish Democrat. Grayson has called the U.S. health-care system a “holocaust” — making him a darling of the left but a target of the right.

Grayson unseated a four-term Republican in 2008 to win the 8th congressional district in Florida, which includes part of Orlando. While President Obama carried the district in 2008, George W. Bush carried it in the prior two presidential races.

National Jewish Democratic Council CEO Ira Forman acknowledged that votes in favor of health-care reform could be problematic for Jewish Democrats like Giffords and Grayson, but he is “doubtful it will be the determinative vote” for an incumbent’s prospects of survival this fall.

Victory on a historic reform of health care “is much better for Democrats in general” than a defeat, Forman said. However, the larger issues of the economy and the unemployment rate are likely to be greater factors for vulnerable Democrats come election time, he said.

The only Jewish Democrat to vote against the health-care bill was New Jersey first-termer John Adler, who also is likely to face a tough battle in November. Hailing from a district in the Philadelphia suburbs, Adler will be facing off against former Philadelphia Eagles lineman John Runyan.

Adler said he did not back the legislation because it didn’t do enough to control costs and make health care affordable for his constituents. He also reportedly had encountered strong opposition to the bill at meetings throughout his district.

Obama carried Adler’s district by five points in 2008, but Bush eked out a slight win in 2004. Before Adler, the district’s congressional seat was held by a Republican for 16 years.

Adler’s vote will make it easier for him to argue that he is “not a rubber stamp” for the president.

The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, agreed that the health-care bill is likely to be a big issue in the 2010 election. The RJC has called for repealing the bill.

More upsetting than the bill itself, Brooks said, is that, “with an exploding debt and deficit, the president is focusing not on jobs but on health care.”

Meanwhile, at least one Jewish Republican challenger is hoping that his opposition to the health-care reform legislation will help him knock off a Democratic incumbent. Randy Altschuler, a contender for the GOP nomination in New York’s 1st congressional district, which includes much of Suffolk County on Long Island, said he backs repealing the health-care legislation and replacing it with a different type of reform because the “spending, tax increases, and heavy government intervention” outweigh its “marginal benefits.”

Altschuler first must win a tough primary race against Chris Cox, Richard Nixon’s grandson, before being able to square off against incumbent Democrat Tim Bishop.

“That’s a race where these kinds of issues are going to resonate,” Brooks said of the brouhaha over health care.

JTA

 
 

Poll: Obama struggling with Jews, but not on Israel

WASHINGTON – A new survey shows President Obama struggling with American Jews — but not on Israel-related matters.

The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That’s down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. The AJC poll was conducted March 2 to 23 and surveyed 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from a consumer mail panel.

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This question, in the American Jewish Committee’s new survey, asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue?” AJC

Obama’s advantage among Jews versus the rest of the population appears to be eroding. The latest Gallup polling shows Obama with a national approval rating of 48, nine points below Jewish polling. Last May, general polling earned him 63 percent approval, 16 points below Jewish polling.

Despite the drop — and weeks of tensions with the Netanyahu government — Obama still polls solidly on foreign policy, with a steady majority backing his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the AJC poll.

It is on domestic issues that the president appears to be facing more unhappiness.

Jewish voters are statistically split on how Obama has handled health-care reform, with 50 percent approving and 48 disapproving. On the economy he fares slightly better. Jewish voters who favor his policies stand at 55 percent, while 42 percent disapprove.

The last AJC poll on the views of American Jews, released in September, did not address domestic issues, so there’s no measure to assess any change in support on the specific issues of health and the economy. Indeed, this is the first poll in at least 10 years in which the AJC has attempted to assess views on the economy and health care. However, Jewish voters in solid majorities describe themselves as Democrats and as liberal to moderate in their views, and traditionally list the economy and health care as their two top concerns in the voting booth.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the relatively low score on domestic issues underscored what he said was a steady decline in Democratic support among Jewish voters.

“This indicates a serious erosion of support,” he said. “It’s a huge drop. There’s no silver lining” for Democrats.

Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, countered that the poll did not account for Jewish voters who might be disappointed with Obama from a more liberal perspective — for instance, over his dropping from the reform bill of the so-called public option, which would have allowed for government-run health care.

Additionally, much of the AJC polling took place before Obama’s come-from-behind victory on March 21, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed health-care reform, Forman said. Since then, Democrats have said they see a turnaround in the president’s political fortunes. “The narrative was the president was in the tank,” Forman said. “This was when it was thought his initiative was dead.”

Obama fares strongly with Jews on homeland security, with 62 percent approving and 33 percent disapproving — a sign that Republican attempts to cast Obama as weak on protecting the nation have had little impact in the Jewish community.

He also scores 55 percent approval on how he handles U.S.-Israel relations, which is virtually unchanged since last September, when his handling of the relationship scored 54 percent approval. At that juncture, the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem were kept at a low bubble and were confined to U.S. insistence on a total freeze of Israeli settlement and the Netanyahu administration’s reluctance to concede.

The latest questions, however, coincided almost exactly with the period when U.S. officials accused the Netanyahu government of “insulting” the United States by announcing a new building start in eastern Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, and when the president refused to make public gestures of friendship during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s subsequent visit to Washington.

A question on Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear capability showed a statistical dead heat on the approval side between last September — 49 percent — and now, at 47 percent. However, disapproval ratings rose moderately, apparently borrowing from the “uncertain” column: Back in September 35 percent disapproved; now 42 percent give a thumbs down.

The marks compared favorably, however, with Bush administration figures. Bush scored 33 percent approval ratings on Iran in 2006, the most recent year that AJC asked the question.

Support for U.S. and Israeli attacks on Iran to keep it from making a nuclear bomb appeared to drop slightly. Asked about a U.S. strike, 53 percent said they would support one and 42 percent were opposed, as opposed to 56 percent and 36 percent in September. On an Israeli strike, 62 percent supported and 33 percent opposed, as opposed to 66 and 28 percent in September.

The only other question in the most recent survey directly addressing Obama’s foreign policy also showed strong support for the president: 62 percent of respondents agreed with Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. This contrasts with the consistently negative Jewish assessments of Bush’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, except in the period immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Approval of Obama’s foreign policies contrasts with increasing uneasiness in the Jewish establishment with the administration’s approach. Several influential pro-Israel organizations have spent months, to little avail, pleading with the administration to confine its disagreements to back rooms.

A handful of prominent Jewish backers of candidate Obama also appear to have had second thoughts. Most pointedly, in a New York Daily News column Monday, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor and a supporter of Obama during the 2008 general election, said he was “weeping” because the president had “abandoned” Israel.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most influential member of the Senate’s Jewish caucus, on Sunday pointedly avoided answering a question on ABC’s “This Week” about whether he agreed with a Netanyahu confidante who said Obama was a “strategic disaster” for Israel. Brooks, the Republican, predicted a tide of defections. “You’ll have a number of candidates” in areas with a strong Jewish presence “asking him not to campaign for them,” he said.

David Harris, AJC’s executive director, cautioned that low approval ratings did not necessarily translate into electoral losses.

Brooks said that he would advise GOP candidates to hammer Democrats hard on foreign policy, particularly in tight races in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida, where Jewish voters trended less liberal than on the coasts. “If Republican candidates are smart, they will make Democratic candidates in these races answerable to whether they support Obama’s policies of pressuring Israel,” the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition said.

Jewish Democrats are already preparing a response strategy of arguing that the relationship remains close on defense cooperation and other matters, despite heightened rhetoric on settlement differences.

Harris suggested that the polling showed that the American Jewish public would prefer to imagine a closeness rather than deal with tensions. Obama and Netanyahu scored similar solid majorities — 55 percent and 57 percent, respectively — on how they handled the relationship.

American Jews “don’t want to be forced to choose,” Harris said. “They would rather say a blessing on both your houses than a plague on both your houses.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of Jews think Israel should, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, be willing to remove at least some of the settlements in the west bank. But 61 percent rejected the idea that Israel should be willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”

The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted by the firm Synovate, formerly Market Facts.

 
 

Jewish groups call for civility

WASHINGTON – Americans have witnessed racist epithets, homophobic slurs, and spitting on a congressman in the realm of public discourse. Now a number of Jewish groups are saying enough is enough.

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League issued a call for civility.

The “Statement on Civility in National Public Discourse” was unveiled during a panel discussion on “Restoring Civility to Passionate, Partisan, Political Debate” at the ADL’s National Leadership conference in Washington.

“We stand together today to call for civility in our national public discourse,” the statement says. “Let our debate on the issues of the moment be thoughtful and reasoned. Let us look to our elected leaders for leadership, whether or not we support their policies. Let all of us, across the political spectrum, encourage advocacy that is vigorous; pointed but not personal or hostile. We reject appeals to bigotry, racism, and prejudice. We reject calls to violence. In our national discourse in 2010, let us cast American democracy in the best possible light.”

The ADL call for civility comes on the heels of a similar measure adopted in February focused on combating incivility among Jewish groups, particularly those with differing views on the Israeli-Palestinian debate. It was passed in Dallas as part of a resolution at the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group bringing together the synagogue movements, local Jewish communities, and several national organizations, including the ADL.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, recounted the events that led to his organization’s declaration.

“The level of incivility and debate relating first to the health-care bill and now the immigration debate, the Arizona legislation — it has been a crescendo, a back-and-forth of not discussing things civilly,” he said.

The ADL plans to reach out to its 30 regional offices to bring the pledge to elected leaders to sign in an effort to “lessen hostility in the language of debates,” Foxman said.

The first to sign were Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, and Matt Brooks, his counterpart at the Republican Jewish Coalition — two groups that have not enjoyed the most cordial of relationships.

The groups even argued as to the wording of the pledge, with Forman not entirely pleased with what he described as the final “watered-down” version. Brooks requested the removal of “mean-spirited” before he would sign, Forman said. Brooks replied that neither the ADL nor the NJDC pushed back over the changes and that his edits “made for a tighter, cleaner, neater document.”

Foxman brushed off the quibble saying, “Yes, people gave input, but ultimately they were signing on to our statement.”

Forman also was willing to shift into a conciliatory mode.

“Congratulations are due to the ADL, all of us, Democrats and Republicans, for we start with this minimal statement and build on it,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of the health of democracy and Judaism that we bring back civility in discourse.”

Brooks agreed, saying, “I believe very strongly that we need to vigorously debate issues of the day, but in a way that’s respectful of the political process, that doesn’t engage in racial or religious or ad hominem attacks.”

With most forms of incivility happening in the public eye — at town hall meetings, on the Senate floor — the ADL believes that the media and the public are the best-positioned to police the matter.

Foxman said, “People can argue strongly and passionately about what they believe, and when they realize being uncivil is counterproductive to them and their cause, there will be a positive response.”

The JCPA has particularly focused on the increased heat in recent years among Jewish groups when dealing with Israel, with the rise of pro-Israel groups like J Street that perform open criticism of the Jewish state.

J Street has taken shots at Jews who associate with right-wing Christian evangelicals, saying that they are abetting a movement that imagines Israel’s destruction. More conservative groups have accused J Street of consorting with Israel’s mortal enemies.

“We are experiencing a level of incivility, particularly over issues pertaining to Israel, that has not been witnessed in recent memory,” the JCPA resolution said. “Where such polarization occurs within the Jewish community, it tears at the fabric of Klal Yisrael —our very sense of peoplehood — and is a cause for profound concern.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of JCPA, said that though the details are not yet firm, a committee representing Jews from “left to right” will be put in place by June and will be charged with designing a multi-year plan to combat incivility and teach proper discourse.

“We need to know how to show respect when we agree,” Gutow said, “and when we do not.”

JTA

 
 

Romney, Thune make pitch at RJC retreat

At the Republican Jewish Coalition’s winter leadership retreat in Las Vegas, it was the absence of certain likely candidates for president that had the crowd most excited.

While names like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann generate enthusiasm at some other conservative gatherings, their absence over the weekend here had the Jewish crowd giddy that ahead of the 2012 race, the Republican Party may be retreating from the divisive hyper-conservatives who have frustrated Jewish attraction to the party in recent years.

At this GOP gathering the heroes were probable presidential hopefuls who are likelier to sway Jews from their traditional Democratic home and toward Republican candidates with positions on issues like the economy and foreign policy.

Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, told a questioner that the social issues that have driven Jews away from the Republican Party in the past — abortion, gay rights, church-state separation — were hardly registering now.

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From left, potential GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney chats with Mel Sembler and Sheldon Adelson, major backers of the Republican Jewish Coalition, at the RJC’s winter leadership conference at the Adelson-owned Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas on April 2. Ron Kampeas

“Social issues get a large role in campaigns when there’s not a lot of other issues at the forefront,” he said. Instead, the issues now are America’s economic health and job loss, Brooks said. “That’s what will drive the narrative,” he said.

The economy — and foreign policy, particularly Israel — certainly were the issues driving the narrative at the RJC event.

The two likely candidates to address the audience in the open forum, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, wove both the economy and foreign policy into their challenges to President Obama, whom they and just about everyone else pledged to make a one-term president. Notably, neither man mentioned social issues.

Both lambasted Obama for what they said was the distance he had established between the United States and Israel, breaking with a tradition of decades of closeness.

Romney said Obama’s attempt to appear evenhanded in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations led him to “castigate Israel while having nothing to say about thousands of rockets being launched into Israel.”

The Obama administration has, in fact, condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, although its tense exchanges with Netanyahu’s government over settlement-building have received much greater attention in the Jewish community.

Thune said the administration’s emphasis on settlements made it appear that they were the reason peace talks were not advancing while ignoring Arab recalcitrance and the Iranian nuclear threat.

“America’s ally is now and always will be the State of Israel,” he said. “I think the Obama administration sometimes forgets that fundamental fact.”

Thune has said he is not running, but his supporters will not count him out and his appearance at this event and others like it fuels speculation that he may return to the race. Dan Lederman, a Jewish state senator from South Dakota, joked that he had already reserved the VP spot on the Thune ticket.

Romney seemed transformed from his failed 2008 bid for the GOP nomination, when he was faulted for appearing scripted and uncertain in his opinions. He barely consulted a single sheet of notes, and spoke in detail not only on his strengths — health care and budget management — but about the threats facing Israel from Iran and about the peace process.

He subtly cast what he undoubtedly will play as his strength — business and executive experience — into every topic. Obama, he said, does not understand negotiations, a lack that led him to concede too much at the outset to the Russians in negotiating a missile drawdown in Europe.

“He could have gotten a commitment on their part, ‘We will not veto crippling sanctions on Iran,’” a reference to the Republican critique that U.N. sanctions approved last year on Iran were not sufficiently far-reaching. Instead, Romney said, Obama made it clear from the outset that he was willing to end missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic, a key Russian demand.

“The consequence of not understanding negotiations has been extraordinarily difficult,” Romney said.

Romney was relaxed and jokey. Insisting that the tax cuts he would advocate targeted the middle class, he said, “I’m not looking for ways to make rich people richer” — and then added, glancing over at Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and RJC mainstay sitting in the front row, “Sorry, Sheldon.”

He also had a practiced answer on health care, facing a vulnerability that has dogged him until now: The plan he championed in Massachusetts, which reduced emergency room-generated costs by mandating health care, was a model for the plan passed last year by Obama and which Republicans want to repeal.

“Romneycare” was good for Massachusetts, he said, but as president he would not impose it on all 50 states. Later he added, to laughter, addressing Obama: If the president truly modeled his plan on Romney’s, “Why didn’t you call me?”

One questioner asked Romney if, like Donald Trump — another putative GOP candidate — he would fight “scrappy” and not behave as a “gentleman” as he had done in previous campaigns. The reference appeared to be to Trump’s adoption of arguments questioning Obama’s citizenship credentials. Romney was adamant he would not stoop to “innuendo” in a campaign.

The most telling moment in Romney’s appearance was when he called his wife, Ann, to the stage.

“Mitt and I can appreciate coming from another heritage,” she said, referring to their Mormon background. That “another” was a sign of the difficulties that minorities have in assimilating into a party that is still perceived as predominantly white and Christian.

The perception that “Republican and Jewish” is an oxymoron continues to dog the RJC, despite its successes, including upping the Jewish Republican vote from barely 20 percent in 2008 to more than 30 percent in November’s midterms. Much was made of a show of hands of first-timers at the confab — about a third of the room — and speaker after speaker urged them to bring friends and family.

The event was held at Adelson’s palatial Venetian casino hotel, much of it taking place on Shabbat. Observant Jews who attended rushed from services, prayer shawls over their shoulders to events during the day Saturday, dodging oblivious, skimpily dressed cocktail waitresses attending to the crowds.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Palin, Trump may be media darlings, but they don’t excite Jewish Republicans

WASHINGTON – Republican Jews to Donald Trump: You’re not hired. That is, not until you at least show up to an interview with a résumé.

And the same goes for Sarah Palin, another media favorite who keeps flirting with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination but never commits.

Leading Jewish Republicans, many speaking off the record, confirm what the rank and file is happy to say on the record: These two GOP “likelys” consuming so much publicity are not likely to last.

“All politicians enjoy the title ‘likely’ — it gives them relevance on the national scene,” said Jay Zeidman, a former White House Jewish liaison and now a Houston businessman who heads the Republican Jewish Coalition’s local chapter. “It allows them to have a pulpit to speak from. But when you look at who’s putting the infrastructure together, who has the money to sustain themselves through the primaries, I don’t see Sarah Palin and Donald Trump putting it together.”

Trump, who has generated much buzz with his personal attacks on President Obama — questioning where he was born and whether he has the smarts or the integrity to do the job — does not resonate as serious, said Alan Joel Steinberg, a conservative New Jersey political analyst.

“A serious candidate does not use the kind of language he used,” he said.

Republican Jews, with a substantial base among the Orthodox, are turned off by the real estate magnate’s grandstanding, Steinberg said — for instance, in attacking the president’s China policy in a recent speech in Las Vegas laced with profanity.

“That’s bathroom language,” he said.

Trump, of course, has a familial tie to the Jewish community: His daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism before marrying fellow real estate empire heir Jared Kushner.

Yet Trump has said little thus far in his presidential flirtation about Israel policy, a key component of any candidate’s appeal to Jewish Republicans, Zeidman said. That’s especially a concern now that the party is dedicated to slashing budgets and with Jewish Republicans wanting assurances from candidates that aid to Israel is sacrosanct, he said.

“We have to call our community and members and say, ‘It’s important we make tough cuts, but not to Israel,’” Zeidman said. “That’s the issue that resonates most with us.”

A number of Jewish Republican leaders who have had dealings with Trump say they don’t think his colorful financial history — peppered with triumphs and bankruptcies — could bear the intense scrutiny that all modern candidates must bear.

Fred Taub, a Jewish radio host in Cleveland who has been active on a number of campaigns, said Trump is never going to want to open up his books to the press.

“He has a lot of issues,” said Taub, who recently wrote “Boycotting Peace,” a book about the Israel divestment movement. “Is he a serious campaigner? Not really. Is he going to disclose his entire finances? I don’t think so.”

Palin, at least, is adding substance to her thin governmental résumé, most recently in a speech on foreign policy, Steinberg said. But she has yet to demonstrate that she is willing to make the commitment to a run, although Steinberg said he has heard from those around her that she is seriously looking at a presidential bid.

“I think if she ran, she would get substantial Orthodox Jewish support and among right-wing Zionists,” he said. “The problem is it’s not clear whether she’s running or not. Her followers tell me she is, but she’s not raising money or having events in Iowa,” the first caucus state. “She has to make a decision.”

The former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate recently stopped in Israel on her way back from giving a speech in India and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But she has also confused Jewish neoconservatives who admired her outspoken embrace of American exceptionalism and a strong U.S. role overseas with her May 2 speech in Colorado advocating a lower international profile for the United States.

“We can’t fight every war, we can’t undo every injustice in the world,” she said in that speech, which was first reported by Politico.

That incensed Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist who had been one of Palin’s earliest champions among Jews. Rubin wrote that Palin’s fecklessness suggested superficiality.

“Her views then and perhaps now don’t spring from a well-grounded understanding of foreign policy but from briefing cards,” Rubin wrote. “Change the cards, and presto, a new foreign policy! To the dismay of many who saw great potential in her, she chose not to immerse herself in issues and put meat on the bones of her intuitive policy positions.”

Her speech also drew expressions of concern from William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, previously a strong backer of Palin.

But policy positions aside, Jewish Republicans question Palin’s seriousness in part because she has not vigorously reached out to Jewish Republican activists and donors. When visiting Israel, Palin snubbed the Republican Jewish Coalition’s well-oiled Israel program for candidates thinking of a run for office.

George W. Bush’s 1998 trip, before running for president, was considered critical to formulating his adamant pro-Israel views while he was in office. In more recent years, the RJC has hosted former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Steinberg said that assessing the seriousness of Republican candidates when it comes to Jews comes down to “Show me the donors.”

By that measure, he said, count Romney as a contender. He has at his side Lewis Eisenberg, a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a close ally of Netanyahu’s, and Mel Sembler, a leader in the RJC and a major donor to the Bush campaigns.

“The real Jewish impact on the Republican Party is on the fundraising side,” said Steinberg, who noted also that Romney has become deeply conversant with Middle East policy. “And now Romney has recruited the best fund-raisers in the Republican Party.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Democrats launch major pro-Obama pushback among Jews

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Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, right, shown speaking at Obama inauguration festivities in January 2009 with former Jewish War Veterans chief Ed Goldwasser, is among Democrats speaking out forcefully now on President Obama’s Israel policies. Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON – President Obama is a stalwart friend of Israel.

That’s the message some top Democratic Jewish figures are promoting to push back against the notion that Obama is out of step with the pro-Israel and Jewish communities.

Within the next two weeks, two figures associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — past AIPAC president Amy Friedkin and board member Howard Green — will be among the hosts for a major fundraising event for the president, charging $25,000 per couple. The target of 40 couples — bringing in $1 million — is close to being met, insiders say. Notably, the organizers have received a nod from the AIPAC board’s inner circle to solicit donations.

Last week, top Jewish Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), blitzed the media with Op-Eds denying any split with the president in the wake of his call last month to base Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.

And the White House has taken the unusual step of posting a lengthy defense of Obama’s Israel record on its website.

Some of the Op-Eds were coordinated, insiders said, and meetings will take place over the coming weeks to hammer home the message.

“The White House has a very strong record to defend, and the objectives are misrepresented and in some cases maligned, so yes the White house is pushing back,” said Robert Wexler, the former Florida congressman who was Obama’s chief Jewish proxy during the 2008 campaign.

Wexler wrote one of two pro-Obama Op-Eds in the South Florida Sun Sentinel in recent days. Florida, a swing state with a substantual Jewish population, has been a key Jewish battleground in recent years.

Republicans have taken notice, and they have attributed the pushback in part to the success of attacks on the president by conservative groups. The Republican Jewish Coalition has targeted Jewish voters with automated phone calls, and a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel is running an ad thanking congressional Democrats it claims have split with Obama over his Israel policy.

“Clearly, the White House is playing defense after President Obama inserted himself into Middle East policy that put him at odds with Americans who support a strong Israel,” Reince Preibus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an e-mail to JTA.

Democrats say two distortions have fueled their fury: the notions that Obama broke with U.S. policy to force Israel back to the pre-1967 lines and, as a result, that Jewish voters, a key base, are slipping away from the Democrats. A flurry of media stories in recent weeks have suggested that Obama is losing Jewish donor support, although few past donors to the president are reported to be reconsidering their support.

Where the Jews stand on Obama matters not just because of the Jewish vote, which is significant in key swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but also because of Jewish money. The 2012 presidential election will be the first since a Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited corporate giving to candidates. The Obama campaign has said it will need more money than ever because big business tends to lean Republican.

Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and estimates over the years have reckoned that Jewish donors provide between one-third and two-thirds of the party’s money.

“Every two or four years Republicans say, ‘This is the year Jewish voters, or donors, or activists, are going to trend Republican,’” said Steve Rabinowitz, a strategist who advises Democrats and Jewish groups. “Every November it turns out not to be true.”

Republicans made clear that they see a new opening, given the “1967 lines” brouhaha.

“We’re stepping up our game with Jewish donors and other potential Jewish supporters that feel like Obama turned his back on them,” an RNC official who is not authorized to speak on the record told JTA.

Obama’s appointment earlier this year of Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee came in part in response to concerns that Republicans were making headway among Jews. Wasserman Schultz also contributed an Obama defense to the South Florida Sun Sentinel over the weekend.

“They’re taking proactive steps that ensure they get in front of this,” said a Democratic operative close to the Jewish community who requested anonymity. “They’re explaining to the Jewish audience what’s going on so it doesn’t become a problem down the road. It’s better to get ahead of this and tell people what’s actually been said than play catch-up.”

The White House posting begins by addressing the “1967 lines” controversy.

“This territorial formula, which has been used in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for decades, means that the parties themselves will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years,” it said, adding that the formula “is fully consistent with the positions of earlier U.S. Administrations, including the 2004 Bush-Sharon letters.”

In fact, while previous administrations — including President George W. Bush in his letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — have acknowledged the 1967 lines as an aspiration for the Palestinians, Obama has gone further in embracing them as a basis for talks. That frustrated Israelis who say it narrows their options by setting parameters.

In the same May 19 Middle East policy speech, Obama also set restrictive parameters for Palestinians, for instance, in declaring that their state would not be militarized.

The difference between Obama and his predecessors is not as drastic as Republicans have portrayed, however, especially in statements like the one recently from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus that refer only to the “1967 lines” without noting “mutually agreed swaps.”

The White House is convening meetings of top Democrats in the coming weeks and months to coordinate message discipline.

Jewish Democrats are frustrated with their inability to bury perceptions that Obama has distanced himself from Israel, noting especially that officials in both countries agree that the defense relationship is closer than ever.

Democrats say their concerns extend to the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which for decades has been predicated on bipartisan support. Wasserman Schultz forcefully raised the issue in a meeting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held with top Jewish representatives of both parties last month.

Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, shot back with a public letter accusing Wasserman Schultz of trying to gag debate by suppressing legitimate criticism of Obama.

Mark Mellman, a top Democratic pollster, dismissed talk of a “gag order.”

“They have the right to say whatever they want, but Democrats have the right to say it’s not wise,” he said.

Noah Pollak, the director of the Executive Committee for Israel, has acknowledged that Obama’s policies are not substantially different from his predecessors.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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