For Jewish Republicans, it’s ‘oy vey’ to Obama

Republican Jews at RNC in Tampa express anxiety, disgruntlement with the Democratic president.

August 31, 2012 03:02
3 minute read.
Republican Jewish Coalition's Obama Oy Vey button

Obama Oy Vey 370. (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger)


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TAMPA, Florida – For Barack Obama in 2008, it was “Hope and change.” For Jewish Republicans in 2012, it’s “Oy vey!”

On the Obama campaign’s now iconic background image of concentric blue and white demi-circles and red and white arcing stripes, the Republican Jewish Coalition has superimposed the classic Yiddish expression of dismay to make a competing campaign button.

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Here in Tampa, that sentiment isn’t confined to the glossy type of the buttons, which were being passed out Wednesday at an RJC reception on the sidelines of the GOP convention that topped 400 people, according to the organization.

Republican Jews in Tampa are expressing a mixture of anxiety and disgruntlement with the Democratic president that RJC executive director Matt Brooks wants to galvanize toward playing a significant role in the election.

“I think there’s real concern in the Jewish community about the president,” Brooks said of a worry that he believes extends beyond GOP Jews.

“There’s buyer’s remorse in the Jewish community.”

The RJC has started an ad campaign with erstwhile Obama voters expressing their change of heart – though some Obama supporters have raised questions about the Democratic bona fides of the vote-switchers.

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That’s only one part of what the RJC is billing as the “largest campaign ever undertaken in the Jewish community.”

Brooks, who spoke with reporters before heading to the reception, said the $6.5-million effort will include two days of door-to-door outreach next month in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, as well as 2 million pieces of mail delivered to prospective Jewish voters as well. He’s expecting hundreds of volunteers, including several from out-of-state, to help with the effort.

In addition, the RJC is compiling what it considers “the first meaningful Jewish voters list.” Brooks explained that instead of just relying on voting lists compiling residents with common Jews names, the group is investing considerable money in using telemarketers, consumer data and other sources to determine who the Jewish voters are in the three key swing states and how they’re likely to vote.

The RJC isn’t the only Jewish organization rallying the troops while in Tampa. An organization to increase voting among American citizens living in Israel is also here to raise the profile of Israel in voters’ minds.

Elie Pieprz of iVoteIsrael, a group that encourages Israelis eligible to vote to participate in the US election but does not endorse either party, said he expects voting rates of Americans in Israel to more than double this cycle. He was basing his assessment on information received from counties that have sent absentee ballots to those in Israel as well as the feedback his organization has received.

He attributed the increase to strong feelings about Obama, by both supporters and detractors.

Pieprz said he hoped that making American Jews aware of the urgency Israelis feel about the current election would help them take what’s happening in Israel into account more when voting.

“It’s not about who wins or who loses. It’s about moving Israel up higher on the priority list,” he said, noting that many American Jews currently weigh other issues more strongly when deciding how to vote.

But for many of the Jews at the reception, Israel was already high on their agenda. It certainly was a major focus of the 20-odd members of Congress, several of whom gave speeches, who stopped by the RJC reception.

Former 2012 presidential contender Michele Bachmann, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Florida Rep. Allen West and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – the highest and only Jewish Republican in Congress – all made appearances. RJC donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam were also spotted by some as the reception was nearing its end.

But not everyone was receptive to the event’s pro-Israel message.

Bachmann was interrupted by Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin, who had entered the reception by registering as a member of the media. Outside, five more demonstrators donned in pink called out in opposition to aid to Israel and war with Iran.

The protesters’ posture, however, stood in marked contrast to how most Israelis and Israel-backers had been greeted in Tampa.

Abraham Katsman, who works for Republicans Abroad Israel and traveled from Jerusalem to attend the RNC, described convention-goers as “tripping over each other” to talk to him and tell him about their positive feelings toward Israel upon finding out he was from the Jewish state.

“It’s inspiring,” he said. “I’m among friends.”

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