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March 12, 2010

Are Jewish Republicans Serious?

Listed in: Israel, Other Domestic Policy, GOP Hypocrisies, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally published in The Huffington Post

By Ira N. Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council

This past weekend the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) celebrated its 25th anniversary. We congratulate them on this milestone. Before their official celebration this weekend they released an op-ed by RJC’s Executive Director, Matt Brooks, titled “Serious Words, Serious Consequences.” In the piece Brooks castigates 54 Democratic members of Congress for an “outrageous political attack on Israel” which deserved a “serious” response from the Republican Jewish organization.

Over the course of 25 years the RJC has been called many things. But few observers would hang the tag “serious” on the organization.

I have no problem with the partisan nature of the RJC. Their job is to work the Jewish community on behalf of the GOP. I have worked for the last 14 years for the RJC’s Democratic counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). We engage in both partisan activity and Jewish communal work 24 hours a day, six days a week.

But you can be a partisan and still be taken seriously by serious people. To do so you avoid, at a minimum, the most hypocritical and laughable partisan positions. You do not make attacks on your opponents that are patently false. You, once in a while, admit that members of your own party have made mistakes. On these criteria the RJC behaves much more like Bozo than Cicero.

The examples of where the RJC has failed to pass the “serious” test would fill a tome the size of War and Peace. Just this week there was a dust-up between serious and non-serious GOP partisans. Liz Cheney’s Keep America Safe (KAS) attacked nine Department of Justice lawyers (with phrases like Department of Jihad) for representing Guantanamo Detainees while in private practice. In response, a veritable who’s-who of respected GOP lawyers took KAS to task for McCarthyite tactics against the legal profession. Guess which side of this intraparty dust-up RJC chose to hype?

Then there is the fight over climate change. We have become accustomed to the far-right attacks against the scientific community’s broad consensus regarding the reality of climate change and global warming. In the Jewish community, making the argument that climate change is not proven science is like trying to argue the earth is flat. Yet the RJC is allied with the Sarah Palins and the Senator Inhofes in ridiculing the scientific consensus on climate change.

The RJC has also weighed-in on the controversy over the use by politicians and political commentators of the most bizarre and inappropriate Holocaust/Nazi references to attack their political opponents. An example of this behavior was the sign held up at the GOP-sponsored Tea Party press conference last fall which featured a picture of corpses from Dachau displayed with the caption “National Socialist Health Care, Dachau, Germany 1945.”

Partisans on both sides have been guilty of this unseemly use of the Holocaust. But to objective observers it is clear that this tactic is much, much more prevalent on the political right. Nonetheless, at the NJDC we have taken to task both Democrats and Republicans who have engaged in this inappropriate rhetoric. The RJC, however, has whipped itself into a frenzy only over the handful of Democrats who have used this tactic, while remaining painfully silent as conservative commentators and Republican elected officials make much more egregious use of Nazi analogies on an ongoing - and at times daily - basis.

The NJDC did not support the letter on Gaza from 54 members of the House. Yet within the establishment Jewish community, there were no cries of outrage that echoed the RJC’s conniption fit over this initiative. The RJC’s attack was so over the top that the scrupulously non-partisan Jewish Telegraphic Agency had to restrain itself in pointing out that the RJC screed “contains at least one untruth.” In return an RJC staffer wrote that the JTA writer was a “weasel.”

I am not arguing that the individuals associated with the RJC are bad people. I do contend that their over-the-top partisanship and outlandish political attacks reduce their effectiveness as serious credible in the Jewish community’s political conversation. Serious? Hardly.