The race is on for kosher vote in US Presidential election

How important are Jews in the US election? Very, going by the statistics and extensive outreach efforts of both parties


By Tom Tugend, September 13, 2012
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In the run-up to the US presidential election on November 6, the battle for the Jewish vote is moving into top gear.

Both parties have in-house, Jewish-focused campaign organisations which proclaim the righteous deeds of their candidate and defend him against the outrageous lies of his opponents.

For the Republicans, that task falls to Jewish Americans for Romney, part of the portfolio of national coalitions director Joshua Baca. Carrying the banner for the Democrats is the Jewish Outreach for Obama, directed by veteran Washington hand Ira Forman.

Secondly, each major party is supported by a standing organisation, classified as non-profit by the Internal Revenue Service. Its major purpose, the IRS piously maintains, is the promotion of social welfare.

Such an organisation — like a Super PAC — is not allowed to co-ordinate its activities with a political campaign arm, although the distinction may be difficult to discern by the untrained eye.

The National Jewish Democratic Council does the job for the Democrats, headed by president and CEO David A Harris. Its counterpart on the Republican side is the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), under executive director Matt Brooks.

Everybody on board, so far?

Recently, the confrontation between the campaign arms on both sides has been enlivened by the formation of Rabbis for Obama, with 613 American rabbis signed up as supporters at the latest count.

The signatories quickly learned that even rabbis are not exempt from partisan warfare. As soon as the membership list of Rabbis for Obama was made public in late August, the RJC pounced on the name of Lynn Gottlieb, a Renewal rabbi from Berkeley, California.

Rabbi Gottlieb sits on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace which, according to its website, supports the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank.

In a statement and in adverts, the RJC has called on pro-Obama rabbis to distance themselves from Rabbi Gottlieb and from seven other Jewish Voice for Peace rabbis who also signed up as Obama supporters.

The Obama campaigns shot back by pointing to the president’s support for Israel and toughest-ever actions against Iran, but noted that “The president obviously does not endorse or embrace [the rabbis’] every affiliation, action or utterance.”

Although Mr Baca, the coalition director for the Romney campaign, said there were no plans to form a Rabbis for Romney group, such a move is actually in the works in California, without the knowledge, so far, of the Romney staff.

The organiser is Rabbi Dov Fischer of Young Israel of Orange County, who has sent out a proposal to fellow modern Orthodox members of the Rabbinical Council of America to sign a support statement for Mr Romney.

So far, Rabbi Fischer said, he had received more than 100 positive responses, and he will now broaden the appeal to lists of Conservative rabbis.

In interviews with rabbis and lay leaders of the major Jewish denominations, there was broad agreement that political preferences tended to parallel theological divisions.

Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis and congregants lean overwhelmingly toward Mr Obama; the Orthodox toward Mr Romney; while Conservatives are found in both camps, with perhaps an edge for Mr Obama.

Last updated: 1:46pm, September 13 2012