It could have been a mere coincidence, but the Obama campaign’s conference call on Tuesday with Jewish activists was perfectly timed, just a day before the President’s U.N. speech. And both seemed to carry the same message to Jewish voters – Obama is a great friend of Israel.
In what now looks like a Jewish voter campaign blitz, leading surrogates from the Obama campaign took to the phone for a pep talk with hundreds of Jewish supporters. On the line were DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, former member of Congress Robert Wexler, and the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach liaison Ira Forman. Their message was that Obama is getting a bad rap on Israel and its time to answer back.
“The purpose of the call was to make sure people have reliable information and to urge them to help the president get the word out,” said Alan Solow, an Obama supporter from Chicago and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who was on the line.
Participants got a sneak preview of Obama’s U.N. address, as speakers on behalf of the campaign promised it would “demonstrate again his strong support for Israel.” The speech definitely lived up to this description and won praise from a broad variety of Jewish groups as well as from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During the call, Wasserman-Schultz and Wexler also cited Obama’s views on social and domestic issues, which are close to the views of many Jewish voters, but the focus was Israel and how to counter Republican claims regarding the President’s policy toward the Jewish state. The conference call followed closely on the heels of a recent gathering of Democratic activists at Obama’s presidential campaign headquarters in Chicago, where Wasserman-Schultz devoted a special seminar to how the party can retain Jewish voters and donors. Does this officially mean that Democrats are concerned about the Jewish vote?
“Concern wouldn’t be the right word,” said Solow. “We think these will be close elections and therefore every votes counts.” He added that Republicans think they can make inroads to the Jewish community “and we will fight for every vote.”
Wednesday’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly is now part of this battle. In a press release issued hours after the address, the National Jewish Democratic Council said: “President Obama’s remarks this morning should put to bed once and for all the political chatter about the President’s commitment to Israel.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.