Carter to speak at Democratic gathering

Republicans say former US president's appearance at convention will cast shadow over Jewish support.

Carter 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Carter 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Both major US parties rolled out presidential convention line-ups this week packed with speakers who should appeal to Jewish voters. But Republicans say the Democrats are also featuring one politician who damages more than helps their appeal for that constituency's vote. Former Democratic president Jimmy Carter will be among those appearing on Monday night in Denver, the first day of the four-day convention. The Republican convention will run from September 1-4 in Minneapolis. The Republican Jewish Coalition has attacked Carter's inclusion, accusing him of displaying "a troubling anti-Israel bias" for his recent visit with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal and his "error-filled, egregiously biased book," Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Some Democrats are also displeased. "I don't think that seeing Jimmy Carter makes anyone who cares about Israel comfortable," said one Jewish Democrat attending next week's convention, who acknowledged, however, "He's a former president of the United States from the Democratic party and they're almost obliged to give him a speaking role." A Democratic Party official pointed out that former living presidents were accommodated by both parties, and stressed that Congressional party leaders as well presumptive nominee Barack Obama had publicly disagreed with Carter's attitude toward Israel. Because of that stance, according to Democratic party sources, Carter's profile at the convention has been downgraded, with him relegated to speaking early on Monday when audience attention should be at a minimum. He is not expected to discuss the Middle East. Democrats are also counting on other speakers popular with the Jewish community to compensate for his appearance. Jewish legislators Robert Wexler, a representative from Florida and an early backer of Obama, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and Rahm Emmanuel, the House's Democratic Caucus chairman and a representative from Obama's home state of Illinois, and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell are all scheduled to appear. Sen. Hillary Clinton, whom large numbers of Jews preferred over her rival Obama, will be the "headline, prime-time speaker" on Tuesday. The GOP also have a number of Jewish speakers, including Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, the state hosting the convention, and Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii, the state where Obama grew up. The most prominent, however, will be Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who two presidential elections ago took the stage at the Democratic convention as Al Gore's running mate. Lieberman once again finds himself on the short list for VP choices, but this time for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. Lieberman has spent considerable time stumping for McCain and growing close to a politician known for valuing personal relationships and following his instincts rather than conventional wisdom. Lieberman, a registered Independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, is set to speak on the Republican convention's opening night in a bid to emphasize McCain's "maverick" reputation and willingness to cross party lines in an attempt to woo undecided voters as well as the Jewish community. In a similar vein, former New York City major Rudy Giuliani deliver the keynote address on Tuesday night. The favorite of Jewish Republicans before he dropped out of the race, the featured address by a pro-choice figure is an attempt to sway moderates. The Democratic National Committee is also trying to win over Jewish voters with nonpolitical participants at its convention. A record seven rabbis will take part in the events surrounding the convention, with four denominations - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist - represented. Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will deliver a keynote speech at the interfaith gathering to be held Sunday ahead of the convention's opening, and the invocation ahead of Obama's acceptance speech on Thursday night will be delivered by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Ira Flax, a former army chaplain and rabbi of Beth Israel in Biloxi, Mississippi, whose synagogue was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, will offer the invocation at the Republican convention on September 3. With thousands of America's political leaders and members of the media gathered in the same place, the conventions also present an opportunity for interest groups and advocacy organizations to promote their causes. The Israel Project, which tries to present Israel's case to the media and American public, will be broadcasting 1,300 TV spots on four major cable news networks during the two conventions. They will focus on US and Israeli joint projects to reduce the world's dependence on Middle East oil as well as a warning of the danger posed by Iran. The ad campaigns and other outreach efforts, include polling, leaflets, and volunteers, over the two weeks amounts to a $1 million campaign by The Israel Project. "There are going to be interest groups there who will spend $1m. on a party," said Israel Project President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, referring to the wining and dining that rounds out the convention scene. The Jewish community has traditionally held galas at both conventions, but this year will only hold events to honor Jewish and pro-Israel politicians. "We don't want to be feeding people shrimp. We want to be feeding people substance," she said, adding that if The Israel Project did provide any food, "it won't be treif."