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.
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.
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
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
“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