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America Decides 2004 Jewish Groups Welcome Republicans with Parties, Forums — and a Concert

August 24, 2004
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The Republicans are coming to New York, and Jewish organizations that call the city home are rolling out the red carpet. Next week will mark the first time Republicans have gathered for their national convention in the Big Apple, and Jewish groups are happy to have them in a city with a strong Jewish flavor.

“Our objective is to provide a warm welcome,” said Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

At least one Jewish group that didn’t participate in the Democratic convention in Boston last month, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, will host an event for GOP delegates.

At the same time, some Jews are expected to participate in a protest against the Bush administration and its policies on Aug. 29, a day before the four-day convention opens.

Many Jewish groups have been appreciative of the strong support President Bush and other Repu! blicans have given Israel and the fight against international anti-Semitism during the past few years. As a result, though Jews traditionally have voted strongly Democratic, there is an increased willingness among Jewish groups to take a more balanced approach to the two major parties.

Indeed, Jewish officials say it’s in their interest to back both the Republicans and the Democrats: That would force both parties to work to garner Jewish support, ensuring that Jewish issues remain on the radar screen no matter which party is in power.

In recent years, Republicans have been trying to increase their share of the Jewish vote and political contributions. In addition to Bush, congressional leaders and Christian conservatives active in the Republican Party have been advocates for the Jewish state as it has faced both Palestinian terrorism and international criticism.

That means there’s more for Jewish groups to honor this year.

The Jewish events are likely to focus ! heavily on Israel and international policy matters, where Jews and Rep ublicans are more closely aligned, and not on domestic policy concerns, where Jews as a voting bloc are considerably more liberal than the Republican base — and in some cases, have been working against Bush administration efforts.

Many of the events Jewish groups will orchestrate in New York will closely mirror the festivities in Boston. The Israel Project again will hold a rally to highlight Israeli victims of terrorism, and the group is launching a television advertising campaign similar to the one it put on in Boston.

The Israel Project rally, scheduled for Aug. 29 at Baruch College in Manhattan, will feature twin singers Evan and Jaron, who will perform a song they wrote to express support for Jewish state.

“This is really a subject that is a hot button,” Evan Lowenstein told JTA. “At some point, you have got to stick up for what you believe in.”

Several Jewish groups will come together later that evening for a community-wide celebration. The event will ! feature Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Bush/Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The American Jewish Committee will host events exploring the relationships between the American Jewish community and ethnic groups. The forums, throughout the week, will include leaders of the Indian, Korean, Latino and Turkish communities in the United States.

On Aug. 29, the Republican Jewish Coalition will honor Republican lawmakers for their support of Israel. The event will feature the three Republican Jews in Congress — Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — as well as non-Jewish congressional leaders like Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The RJC also will co-host a reception for delegates with the Conference of Presidents event at the Museum of Jewish History on Aug. 31.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the Conference of Presidents’ executive vice chairman! , reaffirmed the group was not partisan, but said they chose to partic ipate because Republicans are gathering in a city that is home to many Jewish groups.

“This is a non-political event,” Hoenlein said. “If the Democrats do an event in New York, we’ll do an event with the Democrats.”

Miller, who said he has been to every Democratic and Republican convention since 1988, believes the gatherings are not always the best place to push the Jewish community’s agenda.

“These are massive events and it is extremely difficult to have a significant influence on a large number of Republicans coming to New York,” Miller said. “A lot of what is done, which is what I am doing, is one-on-one.”

But there is still a benefit in large numbers — or at least, that’s what some Jewish protesters are hoping.

Several Jewish groups, including Tikkun and Jews for Radical and Economic Justice, will join a large-scale protest Sunday outside of Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention. Many other Jews are expected to participate with secular or ! regional groups.

The protests have a wide-ranging agenda, challenging the Bush administration on Iraq, the environment, religious issues and civil liberties.

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