Jewish groups to make presence felt at political conventions

As the Republican and Democratic parties prepare to gather for their national conventions, get set for a political double feature with similar plots but different outcomes for the issues that tend to preoccupy Jewish voters.

The same keywords and themes will bounce around Jewish events at the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla. Aug. 27-30 and at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. the following week: “pro-Israel,” “marriage,” “Jewish vote” and “abortion.”

The presence of national and local Jewish organizations will be felt at both gatherings.

The American Jewish Committee is hosting Jewish-Latino events in the two 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.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) photo/ap-chuck burton & ap-scott applewhite

This year’s there’s an AJC convention first: a Mormon-Jewish get-together co-sponsored by the Tampa Jewish Federation, in a nod to interest in the faith of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Most of the differences between the conventions have to do with an increasingly polarized polity. Leaders in the Republican Jewish Coalition and National Jewish Democratic Council agree that the overriding issue will be the economy.

That said, social issues also will feature prominently at the conventions, particularly among Jews.

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”; gay Republicans sought language that would have urged “respect and dignity” for gays, but it 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, arguing that requiring photo IDs discriminates against minorities and the elderly.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

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.

Matt 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; she will be joined by speakers from NCJW; J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby; and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, which seeks to revitalize depressed neighborhoods.

Republicans have been especially focused this year on moving Jewish votes, with the RJC running TV ads featuring three disaffected Jewish 2008 Obama voters who say they are committed to Romney. Evidence has surfaced that at least two of the three have been active in Republican politics in the past, regardless of their votes four years ago.

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 exit polls, although a deeper analysis of such polls this year by the Solomon Project, which examines the role of Jews in U.S. politics, set the result at 74 percent.

Not surprisingly, 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. (At past conventions, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has co-hosted these events; AIPAC officials did not return multiple requests for information about what they planned for this year.)

The Republican party has a paucity of national Jewish lawmakers — only House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — which may explain why the RJC tends to describe its events as “pro-Israel” rather than “Jewish.”

 “Pro-Israel” also is likely to be a theme during the prime-time speeches by candidates and other top officials. The differences will not be of substance; both parties and candidates have virtually identical positions on the Middle East peace process and confronting Iran.

Expect each side to depict the other as hapless in defending Israel’s interests.

Jimmy Carter, the former president who has angered Israel and some U.S. Jewish groups because of his warnings that Israel’s West Bank policies could lead to an apartheid state, 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 and say Carter is divisive.

Differences in foreign policy emphasis will come up, too. Romney has preserved the two-state option in the GOP platform, and some of his surrogates have suggested that he would be interested in advancing peace talks. 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 an Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable, but the Romney campaign has suggested Obama has not been assertive enough in conveying the consequences to Iran if it does not make its nuclear program transparent.