By E.J. Kessler

Published July 23, 2004, issue of July 23, 2004.
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Ready to Rumble: More than 20 Jewish Democratic lawmakers are volunteering to debate President Bush’s Jewish Republican partisans on any aspect of John Kerry’s record.

“The Bush-Cheney campaign thought they could get away with mischaracterizing Kerry’s record. Let’s do Israel. Let’s do domestic policy. Bring it on,” said the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, who extended the invitation to debate in a letter to Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“I can’t tell you how easy it was to get them,” Forman said of the Democratic lawmakers who volunteered. “We’re not scared of [Rep. Eric] Cantor or [Senator Norm] Coleman, not at all. We’re dying to debate guys like that.”

Those Democrats who have volunteered include Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Reps. Gary Ackerman, Shelley Berkley, Howard Berman, Ben Cardin, Susan Davis, Rahm Emanuel, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Steve Israel, Sander Levin, Nita Lowey, Jerrold Nadler, Steve Rothman, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Henry Waxman, Anthony Weiner and Robert Wexler.

Forman said he had sent the invitations to Jewish community relations councils and other institutions across the country.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, responded: “Any time Ira wants to debate the RJC, we’d be more than happy to debate this president’s record of steadfast support of friendship with Israel and unwavering commitment to American security on terror. Any Jewish community, any place, any time.”

* * *

Israel Eye-opener: Kerry’s brother, Cameron, came away from his trip to Israel last week stunned by the small size of the country and the proximity of its enemies.

In particular, he said, a day spent at the Lebanese border gave a “dramatic” illustration of how close Hezbollah outposts are to Israeli cities, kibbutzim and towns. “You could literally look over the border fence… and see a vicious Hezbollah billboard and outposts with yellow flags,” he told the Forward on Monday, after his return. “It gave me a vivid sense of the vulnerability, how much that is a part of daily existence.”

On the four-day trip, Cameron Kerry also toured a part of Israel’s security fence south of Jerusalem, met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and visited an absorption center for Ethiopian Jews.

Asked to name the most personally moving moment of the visit, Cameron Kerry, a convert to Judaism, didn’t hesitate. “A trip to the Kotel,” he said, using the Hebrew name for the Western Wall, “seeing the excavation, touring the tunnel, seeing the rock through history, right down to the rock of Mount Moriah.”

Kerry added that another moving moment occurred during his visit to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, where, in the archives, he was shown “notebooks of records from Theresienstadt,” a ghetto set up by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia, that listed all inmates deported to death camps, including his great uncle and great aunt, Otto and Jenne Lowe.

* * *

Button Blast: In more NJDC news, the new campaign button that the group has produced for the Democratic National Convention in Boston next week features a resolute-looking headshot of Kerry over the slogan “The Real Deal,” next to a silly-looking photo of Bush over the word “Schlemiel,” the Yiddish word for “sad sack.” The button pretty much recapitulates the sentiments of the one the council produced for the 2000 election, which had a photo of Vice President Gore over his surname next to a photo of then-candidate Bush, under which was the Yiddish word “Gornisht,” which means “nothing.”

Republicans waved away the slogan, calling it silly.

“Ethnic pandering is what Democrats do best,” said Jeff Ballabon, a New York Republican activist. “Given what’s at stake in this election for Jews around the world, however, you’d think they’d try to find a more meaningful message.”

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