Democrats are firmly contesting claims by Republicans that the GOP has gained the upper hand with Jewish voters, and denouncing over-the-top statements by the GOP presidential candidates about President Obama and Israel.
The pushback comes as Republicans are increasingly bullish that they could make unprecedented gains among Jewish voters in key swing states in 2012, due in large part to Jewish uncertainty about Obama’s support for Israel. On Wednesday, six of the seven major candidates made Israel the focus of their appearances at a major meeting of Jewish Republicans in Washington.
“They are clearly overplaying their hand,” said David Harris, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, accusing Republicans of jeopardizing Israeli security by distorting Obama’s positions on Middle East policy. “They’re making Israel a partisan political football, and it’s dangerous to Israel.”
Newt Gingrich pledged to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem within two hours of his inaugural address. Mitt Romney said he would visit Israel as president before any other country, and vowed to snub any potential meetings with the Iranian president.
Rick Perry walked back his earlier proposal to zero out all foreign aid, promising not only to maintain strategic aid to Israel, but to increase it. Rick Santorum floated the idea of Israeli airstrikes against Iran to impede its nuclear program. And Michele Bachmann ruled out the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and said she saw no path to statehood for the Palestinians.
In the absence of any legitimate policy areas where Republicans could curry favor with Jewish voters, Democrats said, they are resorting to lies about the president’s record.
“There is nothing — I mean nothing — in the Republicans’ right-wing social agenda that speaks to our community’s values, especially when it comes to protecting a woman’s right to choose, the separation of church and state and investing in our children’s future,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is Jewish, told reporters on a conference call.
And former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, singled out Mitt Romney — the DNC’s No. 1 focus among GOP candidates — for accusing Obama of failing the U.S.-Israeli friendship, calling it a theater of the absurd.
“Absurd because Romney and others use allegations such as ‘timid’ and ‘weak’ in the context of President Obama and in the context of our relationship with Israel and the world, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Wexler said, pointing out that bold action was required for the Obama administration to successfully track down and kill Osama bin Laden.