Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel and senior Mideast adviser to Barack Obama, was among the speakers at the New Brunswick rally.
Photo by Debra Rubin
September 11, 2008
Rabbis, student leaders, Jewish war veterans, and political figures from across the state gathered in New Brunswick Sept. 8 for a marathon program in support of the Democratic presidential ticket.
The Obama-Biden rally at the George Street Playhouse was the first public event to follow the Democratic campaign’s launch of a New Jersey version of its national Jewish outreach effort (see sidebar).
During the four-hour program, more than 20 speakers made their case for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s support of Israel, his longtime close association with Chicago’s Jewish community, his economic policies, and a vision that many noted was in line with Jewish values like tikun olam (repairing the world).
The program drew an enthusiastic crowd of fewer than 200 participants. They were urged to go out and convince 10 other undecided Jewish voters, particularly in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida, to cast their votes for Obama and Sen. Joe Biden.
Many expressed anger at a “campaign of misinformation” directed at Jews and vowed to continue their grassroots campaign both in and outside the state.
The event was sponsored by a statewide coalition of grassroots Obama Jewish outreach groups and was organized by Central New Jersey for Obama Jewish Outreach.
Gayle Brill Mittler, coordinator of the outreach group and former Democratic chair in Highland Park, said the program was inspired in part by a recent visit with her parents in Florida.
“I was sitting by the pool with my mother and all her friends, and I was inundated with this misinformation,” she said. “I heard he was a Muslim; Barack Obama’s true colors would come out; he’s friends with Louis Farrakhan; he hates the Jews.
“These otherwise intelligent Jewish people believed the lies and rumors from the Internet. I couldn’t let it go on.”
Mittler said her committee has 48 members.
Doni Remba, president of the pro-Obama Jewish Alliance for Change, said that, ironically, in Senate and state campaigns, Obama had to contend with charges by opponents that he was too closely tied to the Jews because of his staunch support of Israel and other causes important to the community.
‘This election has brought me out because President Bush has compromised national security in a way I never thought possible.’
Speakers sharply criticized Republican candidate John McCain, saying he would continue the “failed” policies of the Bush administration, which, they said, had weakened America’s standing in the world, empowered Iran, and left Israel more vulnerable.
Several speakers hit hard at McCain’s vice presidential choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, criticizing her ties to the conservative Christian Right, her positions on social issues, and what they called her lack of experience. At least two said they feel some of her associations and actions smack of anti-Semitism.
Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel in both the Bush and Clinton presidencies, spoke in his role as senior Mideast adviser to Obama.
“This election has brought me out because President Bush has compromised national security in a way I never thought possible,” Kurtzer said, and “McCain tells us he wants to continue the same policies in Iran, Iraq, and the Middle East.”
He derided Republican put-downs of Obama’s stated intention to negotiate with Iran, noting that diplomacy has always been America’s strength.
“We engaged our allies and prevented country after country from going nuclear,” said Kurtzer.
Among the others making the case for Obama were acting Passaic Mayor and Assemblyman Gary Schaer (Dist. 36), an Orthodox Jew; Larry Sempler, former state chair of the Biden presidential campaign and cochair of the New Jersey Democratic Council; June Fischer of Scotch Plains, the other cochair of the Democratic council and a national committeewoman; and radio talk show host and comedian Sam Greenfield, who has appeared as a commentator on various cable outlets, including CNN and Fox News.
Obama camp ramps up outreach effort in NJ
Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, right, speaks with some of those attending a program sponsored by the Obama Jewish Community Leadership Committee of New Jersey Sept. 3 at Rutgers University.
Photo by Debra Rubin
ABOUT 40 JEWISH community leaders gathered on Rutgers University’s Douglass campus in New Brunswick Sept. 3 to launch the Obama Jewish Community Leadership Committee.
The event was a “targeted conversation” about outreach strategy, said Jeremy Goldberg, tristate region Jewish outreach director for Obama for America.
“Working with local volunteers, the campaign went to 16 or 17 cities and areas, including New Jersey, for these grassroots meetings,” Goldberg told NJJN. “This grassroots campaign will continue to play an important role as we ramp up that campaign.”
The program featured Democrats U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg; Rep. Steve Rothman of Dist. 9, representing Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic counties; state Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Dist. 37 in Bergen County; and Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt and chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission.
While the Illinois senator has been leading consistently in recent polls of Jewish voters by about 30 points, his level of 61 to 62 percent is significantly below the percentage of the Jewish vote that recent Democratic presidential candidates have garnered — including John Kerry’s 75 percent in 2004 and 79 percent for Al Gore four years earlier.
Many have attributed Obama’s lower numbers to a variety of factors — from concerns raised by e-mails falsely claiming he is a Muslim to his association with controversial Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright to the unfamiliarity of Jewish voters with a politician who was first elected to the U.S. Senate less than four years ago.
Other analysts attribute Republican nominee Sen. John McCain’s relative strength to his appeal as a moderate and maverick.
The state leadership committee is being chaired by Weinberg; Rob Bildner of Montclair; Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein of Dist. 14, which spans Mercer and Middlesex counties; and Highland Park Mayor Meryl Frank.
Frank is a member of the Democratic National Convention’s platform committee and former national cochair of Jewish Relations for the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.
Goldberg said this was the first of many such activities that will unfold in the coming weeks as these leaders seek to become “the public face” of Obama’s campaign in the Jewish community.
The national outreach will include strategy conference calls among members of the Jewish leadership committees every few weeks. The campaign also maintains a website, jewishamericans.barackobama.com.
— DEBRA RUBIN