House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has no speaking role at the Republican National Convention in New York this week.
Yet, while DeLay has been keeping a low profile at Madison Square Garden, the Texas conservative got an ecstatic reception Monday from 2,000 Jewish Republicans at a high-energy rally of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Plaza Hotel.
If there was such an unlikely event as a presidential primary limited to Jewish Republicans and other passionate supporters of Israel, DeLay might well beat President George W. Bush.
DeLay stakes the Republican appeal to Jews on Bush’s removal of Saddam Hussein, his commitment to Israel and his ongoing crusade against Islamic fanatics.
"My friends, there is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is only the global war on terrorism,” DeLay told the crowd at the Plaza Hotel Monday.
A few hours after DeLay spoke in New York, Palestinian suicide terrorists struck with a bombing in Israel, killing 16 people and wounding more than 80.
The attack gave dramatic emphasis to DeLay’s appeal to Jewish voters.
Comparing Israel to Britain
“If Israel falls to the terrorists, the entire free world will tremble. To forsake Israel now would be tantamount to forsaking Great Britain in 1940,” DeLay declared Monday. “It is unthinkable, and it is unthinkable because the world wants to know if we believe freedom is worth fighting for."
DeLay has repeatedly put pro-Israel measures, such as last October’s Syrian Accountability Act, to votes in the House.
DeLay’s litmus test-vote strategy establishes a track record of GOP support for Israel and requires House Democrats to cast votes that some, especially left-leaning supporters of Palestinian rights, are reluctant to cast.
DeLay exults in these test votes: “The Republican leadership, especially that leadership in the House, has made pro-Israel policy a fundamental component of our foreign policy agenda and it drives the Democrat leadership crazy — because they just can’t figure out why we do it!”
After his speech, his Jewish admirers mobbed DeLay, trying to get their photo taken with him, as they handed their digital cameras to each other so they could pose with DeLay.
If one could bottle the enthusiasm in the room at the Plaza as DeLay spoke and sprinkle it among undecided Jewish voters in Florida and Pennsylvania, Bush might well carry both states on Nov. 2.
Jewish Democrats sense that Bush and DeLay are up to something, and that it jeopardizes the traditional affinity of Jews for Democratic candidates.
The Texan is leading what Republicans hope is a fundamental long-term shift of Jewish voters toward the Republican Party.
As GOP strategists see it, American Jews will become more conservative, as Orthodox Jews make up a larger percentage of the Jewish population. They will more and more find the Republican Party ideologically congenial.
But for now, as for the past six decades, most American Jews are Democrats. In the 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections, 80 percent of Jewish voters cast their ballots for the Democratic candidate, according to exit poll interviews.
This week in New York, Republicans sounded a note of bravado about Bush’s appeal to Jews.
“I don’t expect 20 percent of the vote, I will not be satisfied with 30 percent of the vote, I will not be satisfied with 40 percent of the vote, George Bush deserves the majority of the Jewish-American vote here in the United States of America!” shouted Sen. Rick Santorum, R–Pa., who helped warm up the Plaza Hotel crowd for DeLay.
Some Jewish Democrats who gathered in Boston last month for the Democratic convention mocked Bush’s attempt to increase his share of Jewish voters.
To Democrats, the hard sell by DeLay and Bush is cynical and self-serving. One Jewish Democrat in Boston said the Kerry campaign should use the argument that “George Bush is an evangelical who only wants a strong Israel because of the second coming of Christ.”
But at a Bush-Cheney event for Orthodox rabbis and other Jewish supporters Tuesday in New York, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, pointed to the long-term congruence between socially conservative Jews and theologically orthodox Christians such as himself.
For orthodox Jews, who are committed to a traditional definition of marriage, Bush’s support of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one-man-one-woman unions is a powerful draw.
“I want to say, looking to the future … parties are not static entities, they move to reflect the people that come in,” Brownback told the Orthodox rabbis. “We want you in the Republican Party. You represent a set of views and values that are beautiful and courageous and that are right for mankind. ... We want you as part of this party. ”
Brownback also hit on a current flashpoint for pro-Israel voters by promising to push new legislation that would commit the United States to “an aggressive stance” toward Iran. Supporters of Israel fear that a nuclear-armed Iran — an increasingly likely prospect — might launch a sudden attack on Israel.
At last month’s Democratic convention in Boston, former Florida congressional candidate Elaine Bloom, who lives in Miami Dade County, traditionally a heavily Democratic area said she has heard from some fellow Jews the phrase, “George Bush is the best thing that ever happened for Israel.”
Jewish Democrats at the Boston convention said John Kerry needed to make clear and emphatic to Jews that he is committed to Israel’s survival.
But some in Florida may have already shifted their allegiance. “I think that anyone who puts Israel at the top of his priorities in terms of the vote will vote for George Bush,” said Rabbi Neal Turk, of the Beth Israel Congregation in Miami Beach, as he waited to hear Brownback’s speech.
Turk, who voted for Al Gore in 2000 and hosted Gore’s running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman at his synagogue during the 2000 campaign, said he knew other Jewish voters in Florida who cast ballots for Gore in 2000 who’d vote for Bush this year.
“Over the past four years George Bush has proven himself to be a fantastic friend of Israel. At first no one knew exactly what was going to happen but he has proven himself.”