PHILADELPHIA (JTA) — The Democratic convention’s last night was all about the first woman to walk out onto a major party convention stage to accept its nomination.
“The next president – and her husband,” is how Hillary Clinton put it in a tweet attached to a picture of her hugging Bill Clinton.
On this breakthrough night for women there were at least six Jewish moments that, if not as newsworthy, were noteworthy in their own right, and in how they represented the range of Jewish experience and ideologies gathered under the Democratic umbrella.
The establishment Jew
Rep Ted Deutch, D-Fla, is the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee. He is also an emblem of how Washington conceives the typical American Jew: liberal on domestic policy, hawkish on foreign policy (he was among the Democratic minority who voted against last year’s Iran nuclear deal.)
His brief appearance early in the evening encapsulated exactly that outlook. He spoke about how inspiring Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has been to his daughters, and then he listed four reasons why she was the candidate he favored: She would preserve the social safety net, control guns, get money out of politics and this: “Always stand by Israel and the Jewish community and not offend it.”
Deutch got at what Democrats hope Jewish voters will accept is a double whammy against Trump: His equivocation on whether he would maintain traditional U.S. avenues of support for Israel (defense assistance, taking Israel’s side in its disputes with Arab states) and his embrace of themes associated with the anti-Semitic far right, including the tweet that coupled a six-pointed star with corruption and cash.
That ’70s Jew
Carole King, 74, voice caulked with experience, but also lithe and energetic, led the audience in singing “You’ve Got A Friend.”
She may have been the first Jew on a convention stage to give a shout-out to Idaho, where she currently lives. Her performance represented the 1970s, the age of the introspective singer-songwriter, including not a few Jews, including King, Carly Simon, Paul Simon and Janis Ian.
The audience immediately understood it. Standing, arms around shoulders, folks who were coming of age in the ’70s swaying with folks who you suspect kind of wish they did.
A nod to neoconservatives
Retired Gen. John Allen was touted in the program for his leadership combating terrorism; he was also deeply involved in recent attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace.
His fire-breathing speech, describing the United States as an “indispensable, transformational power in the world,” was all about American exceptionalism. Save for the nominee’s name, his remarks could easily have been slotted into any Republican convention — before this year, that is, when Trump nudged (or maybe shoved) the party toward a more insular posture in the United States. Said Allen:
“We will oppose and resist tyranny as we defeat evil. America will defeat ISIS and protect the homeland. America will honor our treaty obligations. We will lead and strengthen NATO, the Atlantic Alliance, and our allies in East Asia and around the world whom we have solemnly sworn to defend. America will stop the spread of nuclear weapons and keep them from dangerous states and groups. Our armed forces will be stronger. They will have the finest weapons and equipment. They will have the support of the American people, and the American military will continue to be THE shining example of America at our very best. Our veterans will be thanked by a grateful nation, and they will be cared for in the manner they deserve for the sacrifices they have made for all of us, for this great country, and for world peace.”
It was the laundry list bound to further reassure the security hawks in the Jewish community who are already on record saying they will never vote for Trump – and it may nudge them to embrace Clinton.
They also serve
Allen appeared backed by an array of retired troops, some obvious in their differences – the turbaned Sikh, notably, was positioned just behind him for the cameras – and others less so. The message – like that delivered by Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq protecting his troops – is that Trump’s broadsides against minorities is not consistent with a military that embraces all comers.
It’s a message that Jewish troops know well; a myth persists that Jews underserve in the military, although statistics showed that through World War II Jews were overrepresented. I’ve been told by Jewish veterans that the military stopped breaking down numbers according to faith sometime in the 1960s, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Jewish troops are represented at about the same rate as Jews are in the population.
Khizr’s fierce challenge to Trump would have resonated with any Jewish veteran who had to defend his community’s service: “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.”
The Bernie Jew
Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, has been full-throated this week in endorsing Clinton, who bested him.
His followers, not so much. Some of them were Jewish, and some of these included Israel-critical messaging in their protests. Twice at least, Jewish members of Code Pink, the militantly pro-Palestinian group, disrupted Jewish Democratic events at the conventions.
Anti-Clinton protests persisted throughout the convention, and the protesters were in evidence Thursday night, wearing bright yellow t-shirts and crying out “No More War!” during speeches by former military and defense officials. The counter tactic among Clinton supporters was to chant “Hillary!”
One such occasion on Thursday night was when Clinton pledged to “keep supporting Israel’s security.” There was a round of applause at the line – not huge applause – and then there were the chants of “Hillary!” suggesting a pre-emptive effort to drown out cries of protest against her pro-Israel message.
Sanders’ delegates to the Democratic platform committee wanted to include a critical reference to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank; they failed, but another one of their arguments got a sympathetic hearing from the Clinton-backed delegates, and the platform changed to reflect it: Instead of casting Middle East policy as one purely in defense of Israel, the new platform also upholds Palestinian “dignity and sovereignty.”
The Christian, Palestinian, brown Jew
Rev. William Barber of Greensboro, North Carolina, delivered one of the most rousing speeches of the convention, delivering a liberation theology message repudiating the use of religion to segregate people and celebrating its ability to rescue and to bring communities together.
“Jesus!” he intoned, “Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew called us to preach goodness to the poor, the broken, and the bruised, and all those who are made to feel unaccepted.”
His description of Jesus as a “brown-skinned Palestinian Jew” stirred one of the biggest cheers of the evening, but who knows which descriptor – or which combination – stirred the deepest passions.
The wild cheering occurred at his next reference to Jews, listing paths to reconciliation:
“When we love the Jewish child and the Palestinian child,” he said – and the cheers swelled here — “the Muslim and the Christian and the Hindu and the Buddhist and those who have no faith but they love this nation, we are fighting for the heart of our democracy.”