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America Decides 2004 As Democrats Converge on Boston, Jewish Groups Plan Busy Schedule

July 14, 2004
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This year’s Democratic Party convention will play to the down-home strengths of the presumptive nominees, but Jews attending the proceedings will be emphasizing foreign policy. Jewish events planned for the week, from a mass reading of the names of Israeli victims of terrorism to intimate chats with top foreign-policy makers, emphasize Israel’s role in the party’s policy.

U.S. Jews traditionally have been second only to blacks among ethnic groups in their overwhelming support for Democrats, but the party is concerned that President Bush’s perceived strong support for Israel could cut into Jewish support for Democrats.

That explains the emphasis on Israel at the convention’s Jewish events, which start in Boston the evening of July 25 and run the whole week.

The importance the party attaches to the Jewish vote was reflected in the confirmed guest list for a July 25 reception co-hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Co! mmittee and the United Jewish Communities: Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), the presumptive vice-presidential nominee, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Among other highlights of the week, celebrities will read the names of the Israeli terrorism victims, and there will be invitation-only AIPAC meetings with top party foreign-policy drafters and strategists.

“The Democratic convention will focus on their support for Israel,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director for the Anti-Defamation League, which will host several Jewish events at the convention. “They want to attempt to neutralize the credit the Bush administration has built up with the Jewish community in its support for Israel and combating anti-Semitism internationally.”

By contrast, other parts of the convention will play equally to domestic and foreign policy strengths of the candidates and the party platform, a balance reflected in the theme of the c! onvention, as enumerated Tuesday by chairman and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: “Stronger at home, respected in the world.”

Party literature suggests that if there were to be an emphasis, it would be on the domestic side: Speeches on July 26 focus on job creation and expanding health care. Highlights also will include the life stories of Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Edwards, emphasizing down-home attributes: Kerry the war hero, and Edwards the poor boy who helped the disenfranchised fight corporations.

Domestic policy is not a not hard sells to Jewish voters, Jewish Democrats said. “The Jews we lose over domestic issues — you can have that convention in a phone booth,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which has daily events planned throughout the convention.

Still, some Jewish events are planned to address domestic issues, including an ADL commemoration of Jewish-black cooperation during the civil rights era and an encounter with “Blue Dogs,” congressional Democrats who lean con! servative on fiscal and social policies.

That, Forman said, was to remind Jewish voters that their best home was with the Democrats, especially as the GOP leans more to the right.

Forman acknowledged the emphasis on Israel derived from concerns over Bush’s strength on that subject but said he felt confident that by the time of the convention, the Democratic Party would prove that its nominees were stronger on the issue.

One National Jewish Democratic Council session tentatively is titled “Are Jews becoming Republican?”

Jewish Democrats are seeking to bury memories of some of Kerry’s gaffes during the primaries, including a reference to Israel’s security fence as a “barrier to peace” and a pledge to name as peace brokers figures such as President Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker — both perceived by many Jews as anti-Israel.

Forman says he can name a litany of Israel-critical comments made by Bush administration officials, especially rega! rding the route of the security fence, that are worse than Kerry’s sta tements on Israel.

The party went some way last weekend toward erasing impressions that it lags on Israel issues by matching Bush word-for-word on his historic recognition this year of some Israeli land claims in the West Bank and his rejection of any Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel.

Pro-Israel activists said they welcomed such consistency and would be looking for more of it in encounters at the convention, especially in maintaining the isolation of Syria, Iran and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“It will be an opportunity for people to express their appreciation for the Democratic Party’s important and abiding support for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Josh Block, an AIPAC spokesman, “for Israel’s construction of its anti-terror barrier, congressional concern over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and Syria’s continued misbehavior, and unwavering Democratic support of Israel’s partnership in the war on terror — especi! ally in the last few years when Israel has weathered an unremitting assault from Palestinian terrorism.”

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