NEW YORK , Aug. 31 (JTA) — Republicans say this year’s detailed, tough party platform presents Jewish voters with a sharp contrast to the relatively scrawny Democratic document — but they may find that delving into details could prove devilish. At 101 pages, the GOP’s 2004 platform is of a more traditional length and makes the Democrats 37 pages seem svelte in comparison. “While this year’s Democratic Platform devoted just 233 words to the Middle East and totally ignored the growing global crisis of anti-Semitism, the Republican platform is not only more specific but more comprehensive in its support for Israel’s security and the safety of the Jewish community,” Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in a statement. The Republican platform’s main Israel section is 521 words. The parties’ platforms coincide on a number of Israel-related areas, including a rejection of any Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel and a recognition that Israel cannot return to its pre-1967 borders. However, the luxury of space allows the Republicans to tout some of the Bush administration’s lesser-known accomplishments — including having Israel’s membership at the U.N.’s Western European and Others Group extended indefinitely — and commends President Bush’s efforts to get European allies to confront a surge in anti-Semitism. “We are very concerned about the escalation of anti-Semitic violence worldwide, including in Europe. This violence has included physical assaults, use of weapons, arson of synagogues, and desecration of Jewish cemeteries and statues,” the platform says. Going into detail will help reinforce Bush’s reputation as a friend to Israel, but it carries risks for the president on domestic issues where Republican views are less in line with those of many American Jews. For instance, the Democratic platform mentions abortion only once, saying that “abortion should be safe, legal and rare.” By contrast, the Republican platform mentions the topic 12 times, using words like “brutal,” “violent”and “inhumane.” It describes expanded stem cell research as “the destruction of human embryos,” and supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage. The amount of detail in the platform is reflective of the general Republican strategy to contrast Democratic style with Republican substance, said Ginny Wolfe, a top staffer on the platform-drafting committee. “The difference between the Republican platform and Democratic platform is that ours is both broad and substantive,” Wolfe said last week, before the platform was released. “It reflects the principles and polices, it will very much reflect our party and presidential candidate.” Stung in the past by Republican accusations that the party is divided and weak, Democrats wanted to avoid the raucousness often associated with platform drafting. They therefore sought to avoid issues that divide the party base, focusing instead on unifying issues such as job creation, health care and promotion of alternative forms of energy. Wolfe complained that the Democratic platform tries to be all things to all people. “Lay them side by side, you’ll see a huge difference,” she said. That’s what Republicans did repeatedly this week at their convention. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate majority leader and chairman of the platform committee, urged Jews to read the platform in his address to a community event Sunday evening. Holding the platform, Frist said that for the Republican Party, Israel “is the national homeland of the Jewish people and it must remain a Jewish state.” William Daroff, deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, described it a day later as “the most stridently Zionist set of statements of support for Israel.” Democrats said their platform was shorter but got to the point faster. Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Committee, contrasted the two platforms’ positions on Palestinian refugees: • Democrats: “The creation of a Palestinian State should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel.” • Republicans: “Republicans agree with President Bush’s assessment that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issues, as part of its final status agreement, will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.” “Theirs is so mealy-mouthed,” Forman said. Democrats also contrasted the two platforms’ treatment of Saudi Arabia: Democrats called for an end to Bush’s “kid-glove” treatment of the monarchy for allowing fund raising for terrorists; Republicans praise the Saudis for “working hard” to shut down terrorist financing. Ultimately, Democrats said, the Republican platform would do the party more harm than good because of the gap with the Jewish community on domestic issues. “On the issue of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship there is a bipartisan consensus reflected in both parties’ platforms,” said Anne Lewis, a top Democratic strategist. “On every other issue of concern to the American Jewish community, the Democratic party platform is far closer to the values of American Jews.”
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Ron Kampeas is JTA's Washington bureau chief, responsible for coordinating coverage in the U.S. capital and analyzing political developments that affect the Jewish world. He comes to JTA from The Associated Press, where he worked for more than a decade in its bureaus in Jerusalem, New York, London and, most recently, Washington. He has reported from Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia and West Africa. While living in Israel, he also worked for the Jerusalem Post and several Jewish organizations.
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