NEW YORK – The Republican Party has America’s attention, with its top presidential contenders grabbing near-daily headlines, but it is out of touch with the American Jewish community, an overwhelming majority of which votes for Democrats, said leaders and supporters of the latter party Wednesday.
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On Thursday Republican candidates are slated to appear in front of 700 American Jewish GOP faithful at a Washington, D.C. forum organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, in what is certain to be a parade of presidential candidates proclaiming their fealty to Israel. A day earlier, the Democrats appeared to want to remind reporters of the historic affinity between American Jews and their party.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chair, said in Wednesday’s press call that Republican policies are antithetical to Jewish values.
“Republicans are deeply out of touch with the American Jewish community,” said Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida in the House of Representatives. Republican policies on everything from immigration to abortion rights are “woefully uninformed and misguided.”
Speaking of the current American debate over accepting Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees fleeing destruction created by the Islamic State, Wasserman Schultz, who is Jewish, said, “When the S.S. St. Louis left Germany with Jewish refugees, our country turned them away.” The ship in 1939 crossed the Atlantic carrying more than 900 Jews, only to be turned away both by Cuba and the U.S. It was forced to return to Nazi Germany, bringing many of those onboard to their deaths.
“Instead of learning from that mistake, the Republican candidates are repeating it,” said Wasserman Schultz. New Jersey Governor Chris “Christie said we shouldn’t even welcome orphaned toddlers” who are Syrian refugees. “That’s not who we are as a country.”
“Demonizing and scapegoating betrays our nation and our values as Jews,” she said. “Tikkun olam [the Jewish value of ‘repairing the world’] guides my decisions as chair of the DNC.”
Wasserman Schultz referred to casino magnate, philanthropist and Republican and Benjamin Netanyahu benefactor Sheldon Adelson as she derided Thursday’s planned event as one in which the 14 Republican candidates “will compete in the Adelson primary for access to his millions.”
Republican Jewish Coalition spokesman Mark McNulty said, when asked later, that the RJC Forum is a “self-sustaining” event not funded by Adelson and that, to the best of his knowledge, the Republican mega-funder won’t even be there.
“Jewish values are American values, and both Republicans and Democrats reflect American values although in contrasting shades,” McNulty told Haaretz. Wasserman Schultz’s “comments are filled with hyper-partisan invective and hyperbole, something all Americans have come to expect and as a result, ignore anything she has to say."
Nevertheless, Democratic leaders emphasized just how aligned with their party American Jews remain.
“Jewish voters are a base Democratic constituency,” said Jim Gerstein, a political pollster and consultant, during the press call. “They average 70 percent Democrat in presidential elections since exit polling began in 1972,” he said. “We see this on issue after issue and across numerous polling organizations.”
There is also “intense opposition to the Republican Party and its leaders,” Gerstein said. “None of these candidates are seen favorably by Jewish voters.” His firm’s last poll found that 75 percent of American Jews had an unfavorable attitude toward Donald J. Trump, a leading Republican candidate.
Asked why there is a growing perception that Republican elected officials are more pro-Israel than Democrats, Wasserman Schultz said, “the RJC likes to churn out messaging with that view but American Jews vote Democratic.”
Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Coalition, who also participated in the press call, said that the RJC “talks about Israel and tries to create the perception that the Republican Party is the pro-Israel party because they don’t have any other issues that appeal to Jewish voters. They try to drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans, and make it a partisan issue. It’s a very dangerous game they play. It remains absolutely critical to US-Israel relations that support remains bi-partisan.”
In response RJC’s McNulty said that “in five of the past six national elections the share of the Jewish vote for the GOP has increased, doubling between 2008 and 2012. Denying this is denying reality.”
The Republican presidential candidates “are coming to speak to over 700 donors and activists, as well as the nation, about how they will keep America safe, defeat and destroy ISIS, improve relations with Israel and prevent a nuclear Iran,” McNulty said. “We are confident that when their records are matched against any Democratic candidate, they [will] win not only with Jews, but with Americans.”
But the Democrats said that a Democratic presidential nominee will surely win the majority of Jewish votes especially because of the extreme positions espoused by the Republican candidates.
“I am confident that our party’s nominee will have even stronger support from the Jewish community because of how extremely off-base the Republican nominees have been on issues that matter to the Jewish community,” like immigration and abortion, said Wasserman Schultz, a member of the House of Representatives from Florida.
“There’s always the claim that ‘this is the year the Jews will leave the Democratic party’ ” and move to the Republican side, Gerstein said. But, he added, “these claims never bear fruit.”