Obama Campaign Kicks Off Jewish Leadership Team in NY

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Adam Dickter in New York

Sen. Barack Obama’s Jewish campaign operation is getting more organized in New York, as evidenced by a mass meeting at the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday. The meeting kicked off the campaign’s Jewish Community Leadrship Committee here.

Jewish outreach coordinator Eric Lynn joined Penny Pritzker, the campaign’s national finance director and a longtime Chicago Jewish backer of the senator, and three Jewish congressmen (all former Hillary Clinton supporters) in briefing about 100 Democratic activists on pro-Obama talking points.

“There is a very important role for you to play,” Pritzker told the generationally diverse crowd. “There is no reason you can’t be leaders not just on issues pertaining to Israel but also within our communities.”

Perhaps most important, said Pritzker, was building up an e-mail list (each attendee was asked to give their Internet address). Given the amount of anti-Obama e-mail circulating it’s increasingly important for the campaign to be able to respond quickly to rumors and attacks as the general election progresses.

And given that New York is an all-but certain blue state, that e-mail list may prove more important for fundraising than vote-seeking, considering that Jewish donations have comprised a huge chunk of financing for the Democratic party.

The meeting came one day after Obama’s speech about maintaining the current White House faith-based initiatives program raised hackles among some Jewish groups that want it scrapped. A sheet of talking points handed out highlighted a quote in which Obama, in an interview with BeliefNet, distinguished his view from that of President Bush: “I think much of this work can be done in a way that doesn’t conflict with church and state. I think George Bush is less concerned about that.”

The written talking points also stress that Zbigniew Brzezinksi, George Soros, Robert Malley and David Bonior – lighting rods to the pro-Israel community — are not foreign policy advisors to Obama.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan, along with Democrat colleagues Steve Israel of Suffolk and Eliot Engel of the Bronx took turns bashing the Bush administration at the meeting and emphasizing the need for change, sticking mostly to foreign policy issues.

“Everyone says George Bush has been the best friend of Israel,” said Nadler, conceding the president’s good intentions toward the Jewish state. “But Iraq is now in the hands of a Shiite regime installed by the U.S. and Israel will have to assume the burden against Iran. He also forced Israel to hold an election they didn’t want and now the result is that Hamas is running the Gaza Strip.”

Noting North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear program, Nadler said it showed the power of diplomacy, and said Obama would take every opportunity to negotiate with Iran to defuse its nuclear drive, but would use force if necessary. “You have to have strong carrots and strong sticks,” said Nadler.

Lynn pre-emptively brought up a hot-button issue on which the Illinois senator is likely to be attacked by McCain supporters: Obama’s evident flip-flop on Jerusalem. At last month’s AIPAC Policy Conference, Obama won applause for his commitment to an “undivided Jerusalem” but later amended his statement to say the final status must be left to the negotiating parties.

“That’s the American position as well as the Israeli position,” Lynn said. “The problem was that he used the word undivided.” Obama meant that the city should never be re-divided to its pre-1967 borders, Lynn said.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.