The top Republican leaders of the new Congress met with the heads of a Jewish political group last week to discuss relations between the Grand Old Party and the American Jewish community.
Following the meetings, leaders of the GOP-linked National Jewish Coalition spoke with reporters.
Short on detail, the meetings were rich in nuance. That the Republican leadership chose to meet with Jewish allies within days of taking over the Congress was hailed by NJC director Matthew Brooks as “a signal that Republicans have not written off the Jewish community.”
In last November’s midterm congressional elections, American Jews were among the few groups to buck the Republican tide, giving an estimated 80 percent of their votes to Democratic candidates.
NJC leaders met separately on Monday, Jan. 9, with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
The meetings were held just hours before Gingrich fired Christina Jeffrey, the academic he had appointed as House historian, after learning she had opposed federal funding of a Holocaust course that omitted Nazi and Ku Klux Klan views.
Jeffrey served on a 1986 review panel that successfully advised the Education Department to decline a federal grant for a course aimed at eighth and ninth graders because it “gives no evidence of balance or objectivity. The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented, nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Participants in the Jan. 9 meetings included NJC national chair Cheryl Halpern of Livingston, NJC honorary chair Richard Fox of Philadelphia, Joseph Gildenhorn of Washington, D.C. and George Klein of N.Y.
Also at the meeting were Jeffrey Altman, Robert Snyder and Michael David Epstein of Washington, D.C., Herbert Linsenberg of Philadelphia, Melvin Sembler of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Arnold Thaler of N.Y. They were accompanied by Brooks. According to Fox, the group did not discuss the Jeffrey issue with Gingrich.
But Fox insisted the speaker had acted correctly.
“Knowledge of that piece of her past record was not known to Gingrich” when he appointed Jeffrey, Fox said. “As soon as he knew, he fired her.”
The NJC leaders said Gingrich, Dole and Lott had reassured them about their support for continued aid to Israel, reaffirming their view of the Jewish state as a “strategic ally.”
“We received assurances from each that Israel is a strategic ally and an important ally and there is no reason to cut aid to Israel,” Gildenhorn said.
But they avoided going into operational details, including the controversy over whether the United States should commit troops to a peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights.
According to Gildenhorn, “Dole said that he would like to see results [of negotiations with Syria] before making any decisions” on the Golan issue.
The NJC leaders also stayed away from school prayer during their meetings with Gingrich, Dole and Lott.
According to Brooks, the school prayer amendment is on “the back burner” and will not surface during the first 100 days. While NJC has no position on school prayer, Gildenhorn said, “I think we all feel a moment of silence would be satisfactory.
The meetings with Republican leaders mark a turning point for NJC, which hopes to position itself as the key “interface” between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Jewish community, Gildenhorn said.
“Our organization is looking forward to playing a key role in maximizing the communication between the new Republican leadership of the Congress and the American Jewish community,” said Halpern.
Fox disputed the notion that, for Republicans, Jews are a lost cause.
“There is no monolithic Jewish community,” he said. “Under age 30, Jews are much more conservative in their voting.”
Jews, Fox and Gildenhorn said, would be increasingly attracted by the GOP’s fiscal conservatism. “We have now a unique revolution that goes beyond anything we’ve seen before.
“There are opportunities for realignment,” Fox said, “and we intend to take advantage of it.”
Among those opportunities is the chance to have an effect on legislation, NJC officials said. The congressional leaders will turn to NJC for support during hearings on the bill.
Halpern said an NJC witness, conservative writer Midge Dector, would testify Jan. 17 before the House Ways and Means Committee on the Family Tax Relief act.
Looking ahead to the 1996 presidential elections, the NJC leaders said they could live with any of the names now circulating as possible presidential nominees.
While some of the Jewish activists have ties to Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Lamar Alexander, Jack Kemp and Dole, none presents the problem that was posed by Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 challenge to George Bush. “All the names are acceptable,” Klein said.