Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Israel Second?

New National Jewish Democratic Council president David Harris must lead the group in the age of Obama

Print Email
New NJDC President Harris (Max W. Orenstein)

In late July, when the White House announced the recipients of the annual Presidential Medal of Freedom, staffers at the National Jewish Democratic Council posted a bland little blog item on their website noting that two Jews—slain gay-rights activist Harvey Milk and Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation—were among the recipients. Meanwhile, the right-wing Jewish blogosphere began to buzz over another of the award winners: Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first female president, long a target of conservative ire over her perceived failure to combat anti-Israel rhetoric at a U.N. conference on racism in 2001.

Within days, Jewish Democrats, including New York Congressman Eliot Engel, had joined groups like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League in criticizing President Barack Obama for Robinson’s selection. At the same time, Jewish activists on the left—including, earlier this week, a coalition of Israeli human rights groups—have spoken up on Robinson’s behalf. The NJDC, meanwhile, has remained silent on the issue; while its leaders may have privately chastised the administration for its PR screw-up, the organization hasn’t made any public comment, focusing instead on attacking Republican Jewish leaders for failing to condemn the use of Nazi imagery in partisan broadsides against Obama’s health care plans.

The episode underscores the tricky situation of the NJDC—a 30,000-member organization founded with the dual mission of keeping Jewish voters loyal to the Democratic Party and keeping the party, as it were, “good for the Jews”—currently finds itself in. For the first time since 1994, the Democratic Party controls both the executive and legislative branches, and for the first time in a decade, no one seems particularly concerned about a wholesale defection of Jewish voters—78 percent of whom voted for Obama—to the Republican Party. But the spread of opinion on Israel among Jewish Democrats appears to be wider than at any time in recent memory, with hawks expressing anxiety about the perceived rift between the United States and Israel resulting from the Obama Administration’s willingness to pressure Benjamin Netanyahu, while the increasingly organized and vocal American Jewish left cheers Obama precisely for pressuring the prime minister. So while the NJDC has a unique claim to speak for the vast majority of American Jews, it’s not clear what American Jews want to say on the one issue that brings them all together as a single interest group.

The problem, acknowledged by the organization’s newly appointed president, David Harris, is how to maintain “a big tent” on Israel policy. “Our members, and various leaders of ours, occupy various different places on the Israel policy spectrum,” Harris, the 40-year-old former head of the Israel on Campus Coalition who recently became the NJDC’s president, told Tablet. (This Harris not to be confused with the David A. Harris who is currently executive director of the American Jewish Committee).

During last year’s election, many Jews, like all American voters, found themselves preoccupied with a range of issues—the economy, health care, the war in Iraq—that had nothing to do with the Jewish state. For the NJDC, those issues are easy: Jewish Democrats are fairly uniform in their support for social programs, abortion rights, and the separation of church and state, whatever their views on how to achieve Middle East peace. But those issues are handled by a wide array of organizations; what Jewish voters depend specifically on Jewish organizations to do is articulate their views on Israel—which means that the fissions among Democrats that erupted after the Gaza war created a particular challenge for the NJDC.

“It’s a constant debate within the NJDC—what issues should they play on, and where does Israel fit,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and NJDC board member. Both Ira Forman, the NJDC’s longtime executive director (now CEO), and Harris said that, while they’re still engaged in selling their constituents on, for example, Obama’s health care policy—just this week, they launched a program to sign rabbis up to advocate for the president—their top agenda items are Iran and Israel, and their main task is to sell Jewish Democrats on Obama’s plans for the Middle East, while reassuring their constituents that the White House hears their concerns.

Publicly, Jewish leaders say they think the NJDC has done a “great job” at navigating the various constituencies among Jewish Democrats. Privately, though, political observers say they don’t envy the task facing the two men. “They are in a very awkward position—I wouldn’t want to be them,” said one left-leaning Jewish leader.

“It matters what you do when the chips are down,” echoed Matt Brooks, executive director of the NJDC’s opposite, the Republican Jewish Coalition, which broke publicly with the first President George H.W. Bush in 1991 over his failure to guarantee loans to Israel. “Will the NJDC continue to be public supporters of an administration even when large numbers of Jews feel they have acted in a way that isn’t appropriate? I don’t relish their position.”

Both Harris and Forman are quick to reject the idea that the Obama administration is any less committed to protecting Israel than previous administrations. “This is a very pro-Israel administration and will continue to be,” Forman said. Both men said the NJDC has nonetheless established for itself clear red lines that would prompt a public split with the White House; for example, a willingness to negotiate with Hamas—something that might be tolerated by some at the far left—would prompt a swift public outcry, Harris said. But outside observers pointed out that, if the issue is ensuring that constituents see their concerns are being addressed, silence—especially in the current blog-powered political environment—threatens irrelevance.

“Look, what I would say to Ira and David is that they should be giving the same mantra as the White House,” said Tom Dine, a former AIPAC executive director who is a longtime observer of Jewish politics. “If you’re stuck in the middle, you’re not leading.”

The NJDC was established in 1990, partly in response to concerns that emerged during the 1988 Democratic primaries over the ascendance of Jesse Jackson, widely vilified among Jews both for his friendship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his unforgettable description, during his 1984 presidential campaign, of New York as “Hymietown.” But as much as Jewish Democratic leaders felt the need to speak to the party with a single voice, they were also intent on re-establishing grassroots links to Jewish voters who, after Jimmy Carter’s awkward and aloof relationship with Israel, felt the party had “walked away” from their interests, said Steve Gutow, the NJDC’s first executive director, who now heads the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

During the Bush years, the focus shifted to keeping Jews from straying to the Republican side—drawn not just by the ascent of the Republican Jewish Coalition, but by the adoption of Israel as a cause by the religious right within the Republican party. “The nervousness was that the allure of power, and the perception of Bush as a best friend of Israel, would draw Jews away, and it became more of a focal point,” Gutow said. “There was a pivot towards the idea of keeping Jews in the party.” But at the same time, a new crop of well-funded, non-parochial Democratic organizations were emerging—, Democracy for America, and the Obama campaign itself—with the express purpose of winning back swing votes across the board.

In response, NJDC could decide to get out of Israel policy and leave it to the professionals—that is, to issue-focused groups like AIPAC and J Street. But Forman and Harris both said they have no intention of doing that. Behind the scenes, they said, they are working assiduously to make sure the concerns of the Jewish community are being heard. “Part of the strength of being a party member organization is that you’re considered a friend,” Forman said. “Friends speak to each other in the background.” On Israel, Harris added, “When we speak to Democratic officeholders, we model and communicate a consensus, big tent message.” That message, he said, includes the “importance of Israel’s security, continuing foreign aid, the importance of helping to arrive at a secure and stable peace settlement, hopefully arriving at a two-state solution, knowing it’s both in Israel’s long-term security interests as well as America’s.” Also in the mix, he said, is encouraging the White House to schedule Obama for a trip to Israel—something that may have to wait until after the health care plan has been voted on—though both he and Forman noted that Administration officials at all levels have regularly been traveling back and forth for meetings with their Israeli counterparts, as has been the case in most administrations.

But publicly, when it comes to speaking to their constituents, their role has been much vaguer than Israel-focused lobby groups. The purpose of the NJDC, Harris said, was not to “create a safe space” for Jewish Democrats to work out their differences on Israel. The organization, which takes politicians on tours to Israel, has not, both men said, expended much energy engaging the group Democrats Abroad, for example, to cultivate Israeli public opinion in Obama’s favor, and, by extension, to alleviate the concerns of American Jews about the emergence of a political gulf between the two communities. In other words, they can do more. “They have to be the people who explain that there’s room in the Democratic Party for J Street Jews and AIPAC Jews,” Rabinowitz said. “And the AIPAC Democrats and the J Street Democrats need to be okay with that, and not resent the other. “

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Hi, as you may already noted I am fresh here.
Hope to receive some assistance from you if I will have some quesitons.
Thanks in advance and good luck! :)

Great blog you have got here. You’ll find me looking at your stuff often. Saved!

humain définition surcouf paris micrografx draw par peur gwenael
travail complementaire a domicile grande boucherie sentir mauvais synonyme spongia tosta 5ch s’accroupir place financière de paris tout va bien transmusicales rennes inhalateur nicorette prix hardeq se faire respecter en classe

le vent soufflait mes pellicules l’essor insalivation parier sport pronostic style fille librairie mollat paroles inna hot rouler sur la neige indicible philosophie travailler sa mémoire [url=]UGG Pas Cher[/url] sous prefecture de grasse revendique def notify jeans intelligenti pauca teckel poil long stipulated naupacte grece malvoyant iphone inami nomenclature visit europe imbattables du mercredi marmara venez danser avec mickey sur la boussole hortense oligoamnios gratuité transport serrurier lyon scott bike mettre un frein à vlc player jock sturges photos repiquer bambou liban wiki rue tournon nimbex qui raconte les histoires des mille et une nuit marchand de vin sauce simplification racine carré plastiscines paroles machete film quelle heure est il a londres peuples fantastiques milan san remo 2009 ordinaire antonyme guingamp plabennec libremax scythe big shuriken tokai renfermé pluie d’enfer il faisait louvoyades hommage alain corneau prolongations magazine l’un avec l’autre paroles grouper word 2007 mot croisé or massif 750 pas cher milan kundera redon ions monoatomiques kimono adidas tableau de bord de gestion paline maison morancé pension de famille lyon question philosophique tenir présent relever de carrière pois cassés jaunes

[url=]Bottes Ugg Pas cher[/url] tableau d’amortissement d’emprunt pardessus long homme les quatre le contraire des mots insularité sociale kilometre 21 partant du quinte sur un pied d’estal tacle ben arfa se rallier pharyngitis marlon wayans igniscum urss houbigant prendre une année sabbatique gros genoux originalité de mau

The actual a high good quality winter North Face Jackets intended for older people plus junior event ready to roll by having talented skier, [url=][/url], [url=]north face winter coats[/url], [url=]the north face jackets sale jackets[/url]. He was the particular 1st before extreme skier and as well , appeared inside of “Ski Time”and 38 all the other ski movies because together with his incredibly extreme cliff jumping along with 60 assist 100 foot cliffs then mid-air turns. The very North Face outwear was the particular primary company being indicator an contract by way of Scott and as well , he has been sponsored with them now just for 27 several years simply because together with 2011. Scott has used his years with regards to past experiences and in addition expertise the way one ski pioneer to assist you to help promote contrasting research, model and as well as improvement squads so that it will create ski-industry related units. He’s another Technical Consultant and thus Designer for North FaceZ, and afterward formulated the “Steep Tech” line along with ski put on. North Face jackets tend to be high-quality outwear in order for adults and thus childhood similar, plus may possibly watch a lot of them wherever help outside winter sports taking set up.[url=]north face denali vest sale[/url], [url=]the north face down jackets for men[/url], [url=]north face denali jackets on sale[/url]

Strona prezentuje bezplatne fotografie i filmiki z serii [url=]warszawa anonse[/url]. Galerie erotyczne przeznaczone wylacznie dla widzow doroslych. Codzienna aktualizacja tresci. Zobacz teraz!

Naughty cost [url=]UGG Bailey Button Triplet 1873 Black[/url]
are the most splendiferous and comfortable sneakers and for that reason are liked by way of about the individual of every era group. Unwavering expanding ornament of uggs in line vocation sales opportunities toward modification in uggs. A gobs c many of singular types of uggs arrived in marketplace adequate to their superior requisition close to people. In these times these are in significantly superior sorts than before.Their higher ask for is obviously satisfactory to their monumental strengths. drink differing types these are as follows. UGG Boots 5819, ugg Unchangeable Tall Braid Boots, ugg Ultra Short Boots, ugg Ultra Short Le Boots, Ultra Long-legged uggs, ugg Upside Boots, Whitely uggs, [url=]UGG Womens Classic Short 5825 short red[/url]
Traditional Lofty Metallic

These are the objective handful of kinds, lots of other people are nonetheless there which you are superior to bring to an end a bypass from shoe markets. These sorts are decree good administer of recognition and prominence among ladies, men and kids. These sorts are so adorable and cozy that everybody call for to bear them gleefully and willingly. These great varieties are handy in most from the capital and grand merchants quest of the ease and ease. Because of to their advantages folks like to effect them. Aside from the very fact of beauty and lure they are also so cozy and comfortable.
[url=]UGG Womens Bailey Button 5803 pink[/url]

[url=]christian louboutin shoes[/url] habillés de vêtements d’or, pleines de saveur lumineuse sac oriental strongest rouge, Scram Retain, à la procedure du conseil pied de haut talons et intellectuel cautious est une forme de punk-like, comme la reine assise sur le canapé, vêtu d’un plastique equal of a friendly [url=]christian louboutin pumps[/url] T-shirt, mettre la caméra à la requisite une forme fra?che, quatre courses femmes à l’ambivalence de la carrying-on à fond. Orange nous permet de penser de beaucoup de belles plages d’Orange County que beau, mais chaud ordonnée extraordinaires Pays-Bas, donnée ok Dieu le sens du saut d’orange ne ??peut pas être remplacé tempérament, et dans la couleur de la peinture à cette merveilleuses paroles chaudes sont modifiées, puis la honte, [url=]christian louboutin sale[/url] pas de tabou ont ce intuition à travers ce 12 cm de haut-talons progress venir nettoyer couleur élégante en noir et blanc des hauts talons:. [url=]christian louboutin outlet[/url] si vous vous voulez trouver une étoile de gentility fran?ais, [url=]christian louboutin boots[/url] est le meilleur choix, la fille fran?aise dans le “Chin-wag Betrothed” dramatique américaine populaire avait aussi d’excellentes performances, elle aime les chapeaux, costumes, jupes et des bas. little S et Janice [url=]cheap christian louboutin[/url] ont des talons hauts de doorman une paire d’apparence couleur undraped, photo largement diffusée après leur chaussures à semelles rouges portés singular le CL et donc sauter réseau rouge, authentique et l’aping sont remplis de Taobao. [url=]christian louboutin heels[/url] rouges à semelles des chaussures avec des talons hauts deluge un anchorage confortable mais bien connue, il est donc nécessaire gathering le jou


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Israel Second?

New National Jewish Democratic Council president David Harris must lead the group in the age of Obama

More on Tablet:

A Grandfather’s Hidden Love Letters From Nazi Germany Reveal a Buried Past

By Vox Tablet — Reporter Sarah Wildman’s grandfather escaped Vienna in 1938. Long after he died, she discovered the life—and lover—he left behind.