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America Decides 2004 Heard at the Convention: a Reporter’s Jewish Notebook

September 1, 2004
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It started with a grim parade of names and ended with a song of hope. A reading of names of victims of terrorism in Israel drew about 700 people to New York’s Baruch College on Sunday, the day before the launch of the Republican convention. The event was sponsored by The Israel Project, a group that tries to improve Israel’s standing in U.S. public opinion, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

A similar reading drew more than 1,000 Jews last month at a Democratic Party event in Boston, but much tougher security restrictions in New York, and a city emptied of many of its denizens, contributed to the lower turnout.

Volunteers held aloft photos of nearly 1,000 terror victims as their names were read out. Survivors of terrorist attacks and families who lost loved ones joined top Jewish community representatives and Israeli diplomats in addressing the crowd.

The event ended with a song by top-40! pop duo Evan and Jaron dedicated to victims of terrorism, called “Isn’t it time we cared?”

“We have come here today to remind the world that behind every number are devastated families, behind every statistic are women and men suffering,” said Eliad Moreli, who survived a July 2002 bombing attack at the Hebrew University cafeteria.

That was the message Israel Project founder Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi wanted to get across. The Israel Project will air its ads 350 times on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and local news channel NY1 this week.

“Our target is the journalists covering the convention,” she said. “We want to put a human face on what to them are statistics.”

Heavy hitters abound

The heavy hitters are coming out to thank Jewish Republicans for their support and efforts to increase the percentage of Jews voting for President Bush in November.

Vice President Dick Cheney has been added to the politically star-studded lineup for Thursday’s Republican Jewish ! Coalition Victory 2004 Celebration. Cheney will join Commerce Secretar y Don Evans, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and five Republican governors. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer will serve as master of ceremonies.

“The vice president’s attendance at this celebration is indicative of the commitment of this administration to reaching out and including the Jewish community,” said the RJC’s national chairman, Sam Fox.

AIPAC draws fire, earns praise

They came to praise Israel — and ended up defending its best-known defender.

Over 1,600 people, including a Who’s Who of the Republican Party, attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-United Jewish Communities event Sunday night at Chelsea Piers in New York launching this year’s Republican Party convention.

Such events usually are dedicated to praising Israel’s friends in Congress and in the administration, but the spotlight was turned on the normally camera-shy AIPAC because of allegations that two of its staffers were involved in the leaking of clas! sified Pentagon documents.

“AIPAC and its support for Israel is so important to all of us,” UJC chairman Robert Goldberg said.

Attendance had climbed from an anticipated 1,200 to 1,600, organizers said, with a flood of RSVPs over the weekend after the news broke.

“The record turnout demonstrates our community stands united,” Goldberg said.

Others chimed in their support.

“I’ve worked closely with AIPAC for more than a half century,” said Sam Fox, national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “I know AIPAC; it is an organization in my experience that had reflected the very best qualities of professionalism.”

Leaders of the National Jewish Democratic Council also spoke glowingly of AIPAC’s leadership and professionalism, as have U.S. House and Senate members participating in forums with AIPAC board members all week at the convention.

“While the House will want to look carefully at any allegations that might endanger our national security, it wi! ll begin that look with a record of great confidence in our relationsh ip with AIPAC and our strongest ally and the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel,” said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Also speaking out were the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Enough with the phone booth jokes

The big news for the Republican Jewish Coalition is how big it’s getting. Speaker after speaker at its keynote event Monday marveled at the packed ballroom at the Plaza Hotel.

“Thank you all for demonstrating for the first time that the term Jewish Republican is not an oxymoron,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the party whip, told the crowd.

Sam Fox, the national chairman of the RJC, echoed, “I don’t know if there’s been a time in my life when I’ve been in a room with so many Jewish Republicans.”

Fun as it was relishing such a novelty, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) found something else to enjoy when he was asked to speak first.

“Let me savor this,” he said. “This is the first time! I’ve been introduced at a Jewish event before Sen. Arlen Specter,” the senior Pennsylvania senator who is Jewish.

Not that everyone in town was happy with the spectacle: Across the street from the Plaza, several dozen members of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice handed out “shanda” awards to Jewish Republicans, and shouted out, “Hey, hey Republican Jews, John Ashcroft hates you too.”

The next Sandy Koufax?

Of all the things going on in New York during convention week, it would have been easy to overlook Jewish Heritage Day at Shea Stadium on Sunday.

But it’s a day Michael Miller isn’t likely to forget. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, threw out the first pitch at Sunday’s Mets-Dodgers game after no one from the promotion’s sponsor, Health Plus, volunteered.

“It happened so quickly,” Miller said. “Next thing I know, I’m walking out onto the grass and throwing a fastball to Jason Phillips,” the Mets’ ca! tcher.

Not all 30,000 fans attending the game were Jewish, but each of them received a white T-shirt that read “Let’s Go Mets” in English and Hebrew.

“It was really funny looking at the non-Jews looking at the T-shirt, trying to figure what’s what,” Miller said.

The New York Jewish community has gathered at the Queens ballpark every year for the past eight years, but this was the first time Miller had the honor of commencing the game. And how was his pitch?

“A high strike,” he said defensively.

It didn’t help the home team, though: The Mets lost to Los Angeles, 10-2.

They know who they want in ’08

President Bush is popular with this crowd, but he doesn’t have a chance against the Mayor of the World.

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, is perhaps the most popular Republican among Jews, earning over 60 percent of their vote in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

His ringing endorsements of President Bush earned big cheers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-United Jewish Communities event Sun! day night launching this year’s Republican convention.

But the biggest cheers came just as he wound up his speech: In the moment’s silence before applause was due, someone shouted out “Rudy ’08!” and the crowd started to whoop, giving him an extended ovation.

Asking Jews questions? Why?

Polling is never easy, but try polling Jews, says Frank Luntz, a Republican Jewish pollster.

Each time he asks a question of a respondent, he told an American Jewish Committee gathering on Monday timed for the Republican convention, he gets a question back.

“Who do you prefer, John Kerry or George Bush” is likely to get an incredulous question back: “Bush?”

That’s why he offers cut rates to Jewish groups, Luntz said — and then tacks on $1,500 in “annoyance pay.”

A kosher non-debate

Not ready to cede the limelight to their Republican opponents, leaders of the National Jewish Democratic Council came to New York this week.

The NJDC has been pushing for debates between! Jewish Democrats and Republicans for some time now, and have been dis appointed by a lack of response from Jewish GOP’ers.

They even invited them to come to a news conference Monday, and when no one showed, the Republican seat was occupied by a man in a yellow chicken suit — a kosher chicken suit, complete with the Empire Kosher Poultry company’s logo.

The chicken sat behind names of several Republicans who were invited to attend, including Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Rep. Eric Cantor (D-Va.) and the Bush/Cheney campaign’s manager, Ken Mehlman.

New York State Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D) represented the Democrats, arguing that the Bush administration hasn’t dealt firmly enough with Saudi Arabia and that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would have a stronger economic policy.

Crossed signals

Jewish Democrats are complaining that a slab of wood adjacent to the speaker’s podium at the Republican convention resembles a cross.

“It is the very height of insensitivity for the Republican Party to feature a cro! ss at the center of the podium of this convention, for the duration of the opening night of the convention,” Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said in a press release.

The waist-high slab on which the gavel rested seemed to have been constructed of differently shaded wooded panels, with the lighter shades resembling a cross, but it was in keeping with the patterns of wood on the podium itself and two additional wooden pillars that held teleprompters.

A photo in Tuesday’s New York Times showed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking at the podium, and the paper quoted Mitchell Moss, a professor of public policy at New York University, suggesting the podium resembled a cross.

A spokesman for the Bush/Cheney campaign had no comment on the podium flap. The set is expected to be the one Vice President Dick Cheney will speak at Wednesday, but will be changed before President Bush speaks Thursday.

Jews get down and holy in ! Gotham

There’s been a lot of chatter in New York this week about th e sacred and the profane with heartland Republicans landing in New York’s Sodom and Gomorrah, and a lot of anxiety about how they would mix.

The orchestra entertaining a Sunday night event, sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization, which launched the convention, seemed to come up with an answer: The trumpeter glided effortlessly from the 1970s classic “Disco Inferno” into “Mashiach Mashiach Mashiach.”

Smith: AIPAC allegations “don’t add up”

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said he believes the United States and Israel are “fierce friends.”

Speaking to the Anti-Defamation League on Monday, Smith said he believed the charge that a Pentagon analyst gave classified material to Israeli officials “doesn’t add up.”

“I know how closely we share with the State of Israel now,” Smith said. “And there is no reason for there to be any espionage operations either way. I’m very skeptical and I’ve ! got a lot of questions to ask when we get to the appropriate hearings.”

Smith defended the U.S. war in Iraq, arguing that Saddam Hussein was the head of a terrorist state and was a danger to the United States and Israel. He also said he believed President Bush supports legislation that would expand hate crimes to include crimes based on a person’s gender, sexual orientation or disability.

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