Ahead of key summit, Dems strike at charge Obama is anti-Israel

Democrats have launched a pre-emptive strike against Republican claims they’re gaining ground with Jewish and pro-Israel voters.

The multifaceted effort reflects a desire to put the notion to bed before the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference begins Saturday — and where charges that President Obama is failing the U.S.-Israeli alliance are sure to surface.

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The issue of how to deal with Iran — and what many observers see as an imminent attack by Israel to impede the nation’s nuclear program — will likely dominate much of the AIPAC gathering, giving Republicans an opening to charge Obama with weakness on the world stage. Prominent figures from both parties will attend, including Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Liz Cheney.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was prevented from speaking due to an AIPAC policy against letting those challenging the president address the forum. In 2008, with no incumbent in the White House, major candidates from both sides addressed the group. This year, GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will each have a speaking slot on Tuesday morning. Obama speaks Sunday.

“They’re going to eviscerate Obama on Israel, because they like red meat [at AIPAC] just like any other special interest group,” said an aide to a Jewish Democratic member of Congress. “Of those who will cheer for their attack lines against Obama, I bet many of them will actually support Obama in the end.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who chairs the Democratic National Committee (DNC), penned an editorial in the Washington Jewish Weekly on Wednesday reminding Jewish voters of Obama’s decisions to increase foreign aid to Israel, ramp up military and stand up for the Jewish state at the United Nations.

“I hear the rumors, too. I receive the dubious email forwards from friends and family,” she wrote. “But no smear campaign can change the fact that the president has not wavered in his support for the Jewish state and effort to curb the Iranian nuclear program.”

The DNC released a video touching on similar themes and showing historical footage of U.S. presidents alongside their Israeli counterparts.

“The bond between the U.S. and Israel? It’s always been beyond politics,” says the narrator. “But now Washington Republicans are breaking that tradition.”

And the National Jewish Democratic Council circulated an interview Israeli President Shimon Peres gave to ABC’s Barbara Walters where he said Obama’s strategy was sophisticated and in line with Israel’s goals.

“I think the relations with Obama are in a good shape. We have the highest respect for the president,” said Peres, who acknowledged the ongoing speculation about the U.S.-Israeli relationship. “But right now we act together — and I think in full agreement.”

Matthew Brooks, who heads the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the efforts showed that Democrats were clearly scrambling and grasping at straws because they saw where the trend was heading.

"It's part and parcel of a panic strategy that Democrats have about erosion of support they're seeing among Jewish voters," said Brooks.

Dems' problems with the Jewish vote were underscored last September, when Republican Bob Turner won an upset victory in a New York special House race thanks in part to Orthodox Jewish voters who expressed anger over Obama's policies in the Middle East.

Republicans have worked for years to expand their appeal among Jewish, evangelical and neo-conservative voters by outdoing Democrats with their support for Israel. The Republican presidential candidates this cycle have upped the ante, outdoing each other with unquestioning loyalty to the alliance and blistering rhetoric about Israel’s allies.

Democrats have tossed aside those gestures and worked to neutralize concerns that Obama could be losing Jewish voters and their important fundraising network. They have pointed to social and fiscal issues where Democrats are much more in line with most Jewish voters, noting that Republicans have claimed for years to be gaining ground, but elections results tend to prove otherwise.

Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein was set to release a 10-page memo analyzing recent polling data from Pew and Gallup on Friday — two days before AIPAC’s conference kicks off.

“As the biannual claims of Democratic decline with Jews resurface over the next eight months, it is important to keep perspective: The only problem that Obama and Democrats have with Jewish voters is that there is not more of them,” Gerstein wrote in a copy of the memo obtained in advance by The Hill.

The memo by Gerstein, who has spent much of his career polling the Jewish vote, was commissioned by J Street, a more dovish Israel lobby group that frequently squabbles in public with AIPAC.