If Jewish voters have the feeling they cannot avoid the Democratic message this election cycle, it may have to do with a new group formed this summer that has been specifically targeting the media on Jewish voters issues.
The Jewish media hub, as founders, Washington public relations consultants Steve Rabinowitz and Matt Dorf refer to their initiative, is both an attempt to reach out to Jewish voters as it is an acknowledgement that existing Democratic institutions have, for most, ignored the Jewish constituency, seen largely as being a safe demography.
“We couldn’t be sure what the campaign and the NJDC will do, so we decided to do it on our own,” said Rabinowitz, referring to the Obama campaign and to the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Over the years,” he added, “Democrats have done very little to court the Jewish vote.”
During this elections cycle, the burden fell on the shoulders of Ira Forman, the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach director and on the NJDC, but both worked with very limited staff and funds.
The hub, as it is referred to by founders, is an attempt to fill in this gap. It is being run by Aaron Keyak, a former NJDC staffer who recently worked on Capitol Hill, and it is staffed by four full-time employees and another four on a part time basis. The hub was set up as a 501(C)(4) tax exempt organization and has independently raised $400,000 from Jewish donors to fund its operations during this elections cycle.
“The President’s re-election requires a full-time, wholly dedicated, deeply staffed rapid response and message amplification operation,” Rabinowitz wrote in a letter to potential donors in June, warning that even if a small number of Jewish voters shift to the Republican side, “it could have a tragic impact on the election.”
In its four months of operation, the hub, located on the attic floor of Rabonowitz and Dorf’s PR firm offices in DC, produced an impressive crop of ads, opinion articles and interview opportunities spreading all across the Jewish and general media. Examples from the past few weeks include the Barbara Streisand video, an interactive Jewish voter test and an ad produced in Israel starring Sderot residents praising Obama. They also take credit for a series of op-ed articles and statements endorsing Obama, from key Jewish figures including former New York mayor Ed Koch, former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross and law professor Alan Dershowitz.
“We have the ability to respond faster than any big establishment organization,” said Keyak, who noted that the hub has done extensive research on all issues relevant to Jewish voters, in order to be ready with responses and to initiate campaigns tailored to the Jewish community.
Still, the hub’s abilities dwarf in comparison to the massive funds at the dispose of the two key anti-Obama Jewish organizations – the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee on Israel, which according to reports have anywhere between $10 million to $30 million in their coffers.
“We make due with substantially less, and still, Jews are going to vote overwhelmingly for Obama,” promised Rabinowitz.
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.