Former Congressman Ron Klein, Acting Chairman of the Jewish Democratic Council of America

Jewish Dems launch new national group

Jewish Democrats are set to launch a new political organization, expanding their political activities to focus on the national conversation and ramp up Jewish outreach efforts for the upcoming 2018 elections.

[This story originally appeared on]

The new group, The Jewish Democratic Council of America, was originally set to launch in October in place of the present National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and the Jews for Progress PAC. However, President Donald Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protests compelled the founders of the JDCA to accelerate the timeline, the organization said in a news release on Sunday.

“Clearly today, there seems to be a calling for a rebuilding of Jewish Democrats’ vision in politics – to elect people that will support local and state national policies that are supportive of the Jewish community’s values,” Former Congressman Ron Klein, Acting Chairman of the new organization, explained to Jewish Insider in a phone interview on Sunday. “We also believe there’s a role for our organization to make sure that Democrats understand the importance of Israel and strategic U.S. relationship with Israel.”

According to Klein, the role of the organization will be to identify specific campaigns “where we believe that our Jewish community’s interests are at stake, and to support Democrats that will support our issues.” JDCA will also be involved in educating candidates and incumbents “on a full-time basis, not just during campaigns” and provide media responses on a daily basis.

The NJDC limited its activities after the 2014 midterm elections, outsourcing day-to-day operations and media response to Bluelight Strategies, a Washington, DC public relations firm. In 2012, the NJDC launched a model called “The Hub” after they had determined that the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee was being too slow in responding to attacks on President Obama’s record on Israel.

In a 2015 interview with Jewish Insider, former NJDC’s Chairman Greg Rosenbaum boasted that Florida ended up in the Obama column due to a concentrated effort to mobilize Jewish voters in the Sunshine State in the last weeks leading to Election Day. Ahead of the 2016 general elections, Marc Stanley, the past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), announced the formation of ‘Jews for Progress’ aimed to fight back against the RJC’s campaign against Clinton in several battleground states. That effort was less successful, as Trump managed to win all battleground states by a slim margin.

Members of the JDCA Board of Directors include Marc R. Stanley, Michael Adler, Daniel Berger, Diane (Dede) Feinberg, Peter Gillon, Barbara Goldberg Goldman, Benjamin Gordon, Steve Grossman, Ada Horwich, Beth Kieffer Leonard, Israel “Izzy” Klein, Marcia Riklis, Joel Rubin, Jeffrey Solomon, and Susie Stern.

Jewish Dems: Trump statement on anti-Semitism is not enough

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday released another statement condemning anti-Semitism after heavy criticism that he is not speaking out forcefully against a barrage of anti-Semitic comments by some of his supporters on social media.

“Anti-Semitism has no place our society, which needs to be united, not divided,” Trump said in a statement submitted to “>New York Times last month.

The statement came a day after Trump’s Jewish advisor, Jason Greenblatt, 

Rosenbaum: NJDC ‘more active’ than ever

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) is live and kicking, and its influence is not fading, Greg Rosenbaum, the group’s Chairman, insisted in a lengthy interview with Jewish Insider Wednesday.

Last week, the Forward reported that the NJDC was on the brink of closing its doors after it has shorn itself of all staff and outsourced its activities to Bluelight Strategies, a Washington, DC public relations firm.

Bluelight Strategies is owned by Steve Rabinowitz, who once served as NJDC’s vice president, and Aaron Keyak, a previous interim executive director of the organization and a former Hill staffer.

“When somebody tries to extrapolate from that, “Is NJDC about to close?” The answer has to be an emphatic no,” Rosenbaum told Jewish Insider. “In fact, NJDC is more active and certainly more effective than it has ever been.”

Rosenbaum also contested with the Forward’s characterization of “outsourcing” its activities to Bluelight. “It’s called out-contracting a good portion of the administrative responsibility and the basic administrative tasks of running the operations” to people who’ve worked with the organization in the past “to eliminate duplicate expenses” he explained. “I believe I could handle the public face (living in DC) tasks” as Bluelight runs the day-to-day operations and communications. “By contracting to Bluelight, we could take some of their staff and have them help us with drafting statements and policy papers, as well as placement of Op-Eds and the sorts of things a political organization does. By that, we would not be duplicating efforts by having it done first by our staff nad then having it looked over again by Bluelight – which was going to happen anyhow. We had the opportunity to remove duplicative expenses, get top flight management, and let me serve as the public face of the organization.”

So, how many staffers does NJDC employ?

During a panel on 2016 moderated by Jewish Insider at the JFNA in DC last month, Rosenbaum said the NJDC has 4-5 paid staffers “in non-election years – some of those are full-time.” In the wake of the Forward report, Rosenbaum clarified his statement: “That is the number of staffers our contract with Bluelight Strategies makes available to us as a base. “

Rosenbaum pointed to the administration’s victorious effort to secure the 41 votes needed to uphold the Iran nuclear deal and the fact that a majority of Jewish House Representatives and 7 out of 9 Jewish Senators supported the deal as proof of his organization’s most “productive” year in politics. “It’s hard to find another time when NJDC has been as productive in the public sphere as it has been this year,” he stated. “We played a very important role in helping the president’s agreement make it through Congress. All along NJDC’s objective in the role that we played in the Iran deal debate was getting to forty-one Senators. AIPAC was reportedly spending thirty million dollars flying people in from all over the country to lobby senators and representatives to give them the impression that the vast majority of the American Jewish community was opposed to the Iran deal. We, spending three percent of that, if that, managed to persuade the Jewish senators and representatives that that was not the case.”

He also pointed out to a 2012 model called “The Hub” that shows how the current contract could work and improve its duties. The Hub was launched after leaders of the NJDC determined that the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee was being too slow in responding to attacked on President Obama’s record on Israel by the RJC and the Emergency Committee for Israel. The reason given by the campaign was that responding to accusations on joint military exercises or doings at the Embassy would need to be first cleared with the National Security Agency and the National Security Council. So Rabinowitz and Keyak hatched the idea of creating a separate organization loosely connected to the NJDC that its sole purpose was to respond rapidly to claims that the Obama administration was not pro-Israel enough.

Rosenbaum boasted about the fact that Florida ended up in the Obama column due to a concentrated effort to mobilize Jewish voters in the Sunshine State in the last weeks leading to Election Day. And the story goes as follows: A poll conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Melman on Rosh Hashanah of 2012 showed Obama getting about 59 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida, which would mean that Mitt Romney would win the State of Florida. “So between Rosh Hashanah and Election Day (about seven weeks), we flooded Jewish homes with direct mail, we had a very active robocall operation and a door-knocking operation,” he recalled. “While we focused on the claims that the Obama administration was not pro-Israel enough, we also reminded Florida voters that, Israel aside, where we believed that you needed to have strong bipartisan support for the US-Israeli relationship, on every other issue the Democrats were more likely to represent the views of Florida Jewish voters than Republicans.” An exit poll conducted by Melman showed an increase of support from 59 to 71 percent – a twelve point shift in seven weeks, which was about 144,000 additional votes.

The President’s margin of victory in Florida was less than 1 percent – 70,000 votes.

“There are lots of explanations for why the President had carried Florida. You’ve read them all, but we know that we moved a hundred and fifty thousand Jewish votes between Rosh Hashanah and election day through our efforts, and that was done by The Hub, which was a process of what The Forward would call ‘outsourcing,’” Rosenbaum contended.

During the interview, Rosenbaum highlighted in detail his private sector executive experience to underline why his professional background sets him up right for something like this. “I come out of a restructuring background. I’ve spent most of my career finding efficiencies in businesses,” he said. “I took over Empire Kosher Poultry in 2003 when it was last breaths from death. It had lost a hundred million dollars in the ten years prior to our taking it over. I went in with the belief that there was a base load of demand because there are people who keep, kosher and there are not a lot of options when it comes to eating poultry that’s kosher. I thought the brand had great value, because if you ask most Jews to name a kosher poultry brand they’ll name Empire. It had been mismanaged in a way that it was on the brink of bankruptcy. We bought it, and I took on the task of finding a way to make it an efficient and profitable business model, and over the next several years we streamlined the business tremendously, working very carefully with our unions and with the community, and we turned the company profitable within two years and the profits continued to grow.”

“In 2009, I was in The Forward 50 because of turning around Empire,” he continued. “That’s a large example in the Jewish world of my career. In 2011, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty awarded Empire its humanitarian of the year award. In 2007, the Jewish Labor Committee gave us a human rights award for our working with and treatment of our unionized labor.”

“The concept of restructuring businesses to make them more efficient while at the same time remaining socially responsible is the hallmark of my business career and the philosophy that animates me in the public sector, such as with NJDC,” Rosenbaum stressed. “I brought that background to NJDC, and when I became Chair in the spring of 2014 I began a process of reevaluating the way in which NJDC went about its business to find out if we could restructure the organization to be much more efficient, and in becoming more efficient we could take the money that we did raise, spend less of it on administration and more of it on winning elections.”

Going forward, Rosenbaum said that the NJDC contract with Bluelight may require additional staffing “when we finally determine the playing field for the 2016 election where NJDC will play.”

Appeals court hears claims in Adelson v. NJDC lawsuit

A federal appeals court heard arguments in a bid by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to reinstate a defamation lawsuit against the National Jewish Democratic Council and two of its formal principals.

Arguments in the 2nd Circuit on Thursday focused on whether a hyperlink in an online NJDC news release constituted adequate attribution to a source, which would protect the NJDC and its former chairman, Marc Stanley, and president, David Harris, from charges that they were peddling the allegedly defamatory claims, according to a report by the Courthouse News Service.

The federal judge who dismissed the case last year said hyperlinks provided even stronger protection than footnotes.

The lawsuit was based on an NJDC news release during the 2012 election campaign that linked to an Associated Press account of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a fired casino employee against Adelson, a major funder of Republican candidates.

The former employee alleged that Adelson allowed prostitutes to ply their trade in his casinos in Macau, China. The three-judge panel reserved its decision.

Jewish Dems blast Kerry for ‘Apartheid’ remark

Jewish Democrats called on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to apologize for warning that the failure to achieve a two-state solution could lead to apartheid.

“We express our deep disappointment that the Secretary of State has chosen to invoke the specter of ‘apartheid’ in discussing his concerns about the failing peace process,” the National Jewish Democratic Council said Monday in a statement.

Kerry made the remarks during a meeting of the Trilateral Commission, which includes senior officials from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan, the Daily Beast reported on Sunday evening, saying it had obtained a recording of the closed-door meeting.

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative,” Kerry said, according to the Daily Beast, “because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

The remarks drew sharp criticisms from Jewish groups, chief among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but the NJDC statement was notable in that partisan groups rarely criticize party leaders.

“We reject entirely that racially-based governance inherent in that word in any way describes Israel, as well as the implication that the government of Israel uses such prejudice to formalize disadvantages for any of its citizens or neighbors,” the NJDC said. “It is surprising that Secretary Kerry would use this term and he should apologize and eschew the use of that formulation in the future.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is Jewish and who has strongly defended the Obama administration’s Israel record, also slammed the remarks on Twitter. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous,” she said.

Kerry’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, on Monday would not confirm that Kerry had made the remarks, but she noted that Israeli prime ministers have issued similar warnings and added that Kerry believed Israel was currently a robust democracy.

Jewish Democrats ‘confident’ Hagel will follow Obama’s pro-Israel lead

The National Jewish Democratic Council said it was confident Chuck Hagel would follow what it called President Obama's “unprecedented” pro-Israel record.

The statement Monday morning came before Obama's formal announcement expected later Monday nominating Hagel, a former Republican senator, for defense secretary.

“President Barack Obama's unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the president,” said the statement, which was not attached to the name of an NJDC official. “While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel — on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran's nuclear program.”

In 2007, when Hagel was considering a presidential run, the NJDC distributed an attack sheet on Hagel, noting his equivocation on such issues such as Iran sanctions and his criticism of some Israeli policies.

Hagel, after quitting politics in 2008, drew closer to his then-fellow senator, Barack Obama, over a shared opposition to intensifying the U.S. presence in Iraq.

In 2009, NJDC's then-executive director, Ira Forman, said it would be problematic for the group if newly elected President Obama, as it was then rumored, would nominate Hagel for a top Cabinet post. Forman's successor as NJDC's top official, David Harris, had until Monday refused to weigh in on the matter.

A number of prominent Jewish Democrats, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have suggested they would support Hagel, but others like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have expressed reservations and still others have been outright opposed, including Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee; former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a contender to replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for an interim should Kerry be confirmed as expected as secretary of state; and Susan Turnbull, a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who is active in the NJDC.

The Hagel dialectic: Defenders and detractors tussle over Israel record

The expected nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next defense secretary has sparked an outcry from segments of the pro-Israel community.

Media reports in recent days have said that Hagel, a Republican who represented Nebraska from 1997-2009 in the U.S. Senate, is President Obama’s all-but-certain nominee for defense secretary, in line to replace Leon Panetta, who hopes to retire early next year.

The reports have sparked open anxiety about the prospect of a figure who has had a contentious relationship with pro-Israel groups in a post at the very nexus of the defense relationship between Israel and the United States.

“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, wrote in an email to Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. “His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.”

Foxman was referring to remarks Hagel made in an interview in which he explained why he did not sign on to letters backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that were endorsed by many of his Senate colleagues. “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” he said. He also said: “I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator.”

Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, would bring to the office bipartisan and military credibility. He refused to back any candidate in 2008 and traveled overseas with Obama, suggesting that the relatively inexperienced candidate had his confidence.

Obama repaid Hagel by naming him co-chairman of the Intelligence Advisory Board, as well as to a number of other advisory positions.

The prospect of a Hagel nomination has set off alarm bells in much of the pro-Israel community, with broadsides aimed at him in conservative publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard and Commentary.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has circulated bullet points noting Hagel’s departures from pro-Israel orthodoxies during his Senate career, including his refusal to sign on to letters supporting Israel and calling for increased isolation of Iran and its surrogate in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

The RJC list resembled a similar one circulated by its Democratic counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, in 2007, when Hagel was briefly considering a run for the presidency.

The NJDC president, David Harris, declined to comment on Hagel last week, saying he would not have anything to say until there was a formal announcement. Hagel is not the only name circulating as a possible defense secretary, although he has gotten the most attention.

Some pro-Israel Democrats have circulated the attack pieces to journalists, reflecting anxieties among hawkish Democrats who had defended Obama against charges that he would distance himself from Israel in his second term.

Hagel, who says he is a supporter of Israel, has questioned the efficacy of Iran sanctions and has called for engagement with Hamas. He has also been outspoken against the prospect of military engagement with Iran.

“I think talking about going to war with Iran in fairly specific terms should be carefully reviewed,” he said in 2010 at a forum organized by the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank that he chairs. “And that’s pretty dangerous talk.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), a stalwart supporter of Israel who is retiring from Congress after losing a Senate bid, issued a statement  Tuesday opposing a Hagel nomination.

“The bottom line is that Chuck Hagel’s dismal record on issues affecting the Middle East stands in sharp contrast to the stated policies of our nation and he would be the wrong choice for America’s next secretary of defense,” Berkley said.

Hagel’s Jewish defenders said his independence recommended him.

“Hagel understands the shared values” between Israel and the United States, said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Middle East negotiator who is now a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “He believes in a special relationship but not an exclusive relationship.”

Miller conducted the interview with Hagel that was cited by Foxman. It was published in his 2008 book, “The Much Too Promised Land.”

Robert Wexler, a former congressman who was a top Jewish surrogate for Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, said that trashing Hagel based on views that did not necessarily jibe with the pro-Israel community would damage Israel’s cause.

“It's entirely appropriate to question the nominee on their issues related to Israel, and certainly the groups should engage in the political process,” Wexler said in an interview. “But to suggest that an American senator who served his nation honorably is somehow disqualified because he may possess a different point of view regarding what is best for America in terms of engagement with Iran or Hamas — I don't think is appropriate.”

J Street, the dovish Israel policy group that advocates for an enhanced U.S. role in Middle East peacemaking, also defended Hagel.

“Sen. Hagel was among the first in his party to realize that the U.S. occupation of Iraq had turned into a quagmire that was taking thousands of American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives without a clear strategic rationale,” J Street said in a statement. “He took a brave stand against the majority in his own party and led a crucial debate that helped pave the way for President Obama to withdraw American troops from Iraq.”

Hagel and Obama are not completely aligned on the particulars of Obama’s defense policy, but broadly they have been allies. As senators, both men were sharply critical of President George W. Bush’s Iraq policies, and on Iran and Syria they have both emphasized negotiation and diplomacy as a critical component in inducing rogue nations to back down from belligerent postures.

Hagel’s positions have time and again landed him on the wrong side of a pro-Israel community noted for its long memory.

The American Jewish Committee noted that Hagel was the lone senator out of 100 that refused in 1999 to join a letter to then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin threatening to cut assistance if he did not take substantive steps to quash anti-Semitism.

“This was an issue of motherhood and apple pie,” the AJC’s spokesman, Ken Bandler, told JTA. “The concern we had 13 years ago still stands today.”

Not helping Hagel’s cause is his prickliness about the role of pro-Israel groups on the Hill. In 2007, he told the Arab American Institute that he had dropped his bid for the presidency because a pro-Israel donor had told him that if he wanted funding his support for Israel should be “automatic.”

“First, I am an American senator,” Hagel said to applause. He also said he would not sacrifice his friendships in the Arab world to please pro-Israel groups. “No relationship should be founded on holding hostage other relationships,” he said.

Adelson lawsuit describes pressure on NJDC to apologize

Sheldon Adelson’s $60 million defamation lawsuit against the National Jewish Democratic Council describes extensive efforts by his representatives, including Alan Dershowitz, to talk the group into apologizing for intimating that the casino magnate approved of prostitution.

The 16-page lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York.

Lawyers for Adelson, one of the worlds’ wealthiest men, a major Republican donor and among the largest U.S. givers to Jewish and Israeli causes, had sent a warning letter to the NJDC and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last month after each body quoted news reports alleging that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his properties in Macau, China.

The allegation appeared in a lawsuit filed by a former Adelson employee, Steven Jacobs, who had managed Adelson’s Macau business until he was fired in 2010.

The DCCC apologized last week for referencing the allegation in news releases sent June 22 and July 2.

Under pressure from Jewish groups, the NJDC removed an online petition calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson—but it would not apologize.

“We don’t believe we engaged in character assassination,” said the July 11 statement announcing the petition’s removal and signed by NJDC President David Harris and Chairman Marc Stanley, who also are named in Adelson’s lawsuit. “We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts.”

Instead, Stanley and Harris said, they were removing the petition in the name of “shalom bayit,” the Hebrew term for peace in the home.

The original NJDC petition had cited an Associated Press story quoting parts of the Jacobs lawsuit. Nothing in the AP story aside from the quote from the Jacobs lawsuit validated the prostitution claim.

The AP story notes that federal investigators are interested in claims by Jacobs in the lawsuit that Adelson’s business authorized bribes to Chinese officials. In addition to the prostitution allegation, the NJDC petition cited the bribery investigations as well as Adelson’s clashes with unions to bolster its claim that Adelson’s money was “dirty.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, had no immediate comment, but the lawsuit suggests that the NJDC’s non-apology made matters worse. The lawsuit cites not just the July 3 petition but the July 11 statement removing the petition to make its case. The claim by Harris and Stanley that they “stand by” what they described as “credible news accounts” was in itself “false and defamatory,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit details how, through an interlocutor, Adelson tried to show Harris that Jacobs was lying. It quoted what it said was a 2009 email from Jacobs to Michael Leven, Adelson’s chief operating officer, asking whether Adelson had approved of prostitution. The lawsuit does not quote the email at length or explain why Jacobs would make such a query, but it does quote him as saying that allowing prostitution would “seem at odds with what I know to be Sheldon’s ‘no tolerance’ policy.”

Leven responds the next day, May 12, 2009, and says “there is no evidence that can be found that anyone here supported in anyway (sic) a different policy than we have in las vegas (sic).”

The lawsuit says that Harris was contacted after the July 3 petition was posted and that the email exchange between Jacobs and Leven was described to him.

Alan Dershowitz, the prominent First Amendment lawyer and Harvard professor, told JTA on Wednesday that he was the interlocutor who reached out to Harris on Adelson’s behalf.

“I had a conversation with David Harris in which I personally told him the same man whom they quote as having made the allegation in an email had said he doesn’t believe the allegation to be true,” Dershowitz said.

Jacobs’ email, at least as quoted in the lawsuit, does not address the veracity of the prostitution allegation; it only notes that the allegation would seem at odds with Adelson’s stated policies. Harris would not comment on his conversation with Dershowitz.

Dershowitz, a Democrat who was among the notable Jewish individuals who had called on Harris and NJDC to rescind the petition as soon as it appeared, said Harris’ refusal to apologize disqualifies him to represent Democrats or Jews.

“He is now doing more harm to Democrats and the Jewish community than good. They are willfully spreading a ‘lashon hora’ that they know to be false,” Dershowitz said, using the Hebrew term for malicious gossip.

Dershowitz said he could not comment on the freedom of speech merits of the NJDC case because he may be called upon to act as a witness should the lawsuit go to trial.

Organizations associated with Adelson have paid Dershowitz twice: for speaking at the Jewish day school founded by Adelson and his wife, Miriam, in Las Vegas, and as a lawyer helping to represent Adelson’s Venetian casino in its efforts to keep union picketers off sidewalks adjacent to the hotel. The Venetian lost that 2001 case, which Dershowitz said occurred before he met Adelson.

“The work he does for Jewish education is unmatched,” Dershowitz said.

Adelson seems particularly galled in the lawsuit by the prostitution allegation because of the work he and his wife fund in Israel to rehabilitate prostitutes.

“The Adelson clinics work to support these women, provide them with drug abuse treatment, and end their involvement in prostitution,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit notes Adelson’s continued efforts to have the NJDC stand down, including the July 17 warning letter, and then outreach from Adelson’s lawyers to the NJDC on Aug. 3 to note the DCCC apology issued the day before.

The NJDC said in a statement Wednesday announcing the lawsuit that it would stand its ground.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate,” NJDC said in the statement. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.”

The statement called Adelson’s lawsuit a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a term used for legal maneuvers aimed not at obtaining justice but silence.

“We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary,” NJDC said. “We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.”

Bad blood between Harris and Adelson runs deeper than the usual Republican-Democrat square-off. Harris appeared at the Jewish Federations of North America TribeFest gathering in Las Vegas for young leaders on March 25 as a surrogate in a debate on the merits of the presidential candidates. Adelson walked into the event, which took place at his Venetian hotel, and berated Harris for six minutes, using insulting terms to describe Obama and harrumphing out loud when Harris attempted to respond.

Late Wednesday, NJDC blasted followers with an email fundraising off the lawsuit.

“Your support at this moment is more important than ever,” said the email, which carried the subject line “We’ve been sued for $60 million.”

Sheldon Adelson sues Jewish Democratic group

Sheldon Adelson is suing the National Jewish Democratic Council for defamation.

Lawyers for Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor, had sent a warning letter to the NJDC and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week after each body publicly stated that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his properties in Macau, China. That allegation appeared in a lawsuit file by a former Adelson employee, Steven Jacobs, who had managed Adelson’s Macua business until being fired in 2010.

The DCCC apologized last week for referencing the allegation in press releases sent June 22 and July 2 that called on Republicans not to take Adelson’s money. But NJDC has refused to excise the allegation from an online petition calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson.

Adelson filed the defamation lawsuit this week; the NJDC shared news of the lawsuit in a statement sent to reporters.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate,” NJDC said in a statement. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.”

The statement called Adelson’s lawsuit a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a term used for legal maneuvers aimed not at obtaining justice but silence.

“We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary,” NJDC said. “We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, had no immediate comment.

NJDC to push back on GOP bid to woo Jewish voters

The National Jewish Democratic Council is launching a bid to push back against GOP attacks on President Obama in Jewish communities in swing states.

“The Republicans are going to spend a boatload of money trying to swiftboat the president and we will amass whatever resources we can get to rebut these lies and distortions of the presidents record on Israel,” Marc Stanley, the NJDC chairman, told JTA, referring to false attacks on the military record of U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) when he was running for president in 2004.

Stanley said he was reaching out to fundraisers who have expressed an interest in recent days in such a counteroffensive, sparked in part by news this week that the Republican Jewish Coalition was launching a $6.5 million TV ad blitz in swing states featuring Jewish voters who are switching from Obama to Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate.

Stanley said he would need to raise at least $1 million for the counteroffensive, and did not expect to match the RJC coffers, especially because that group is backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who has already funneled tens of millions of dollars into the Republican campaign.

“The truth is we won’t have the resources the Republicans have because we don’t have a Sheldon Adelson—yet,” he said.

Stanley said the campaign would target Jewish voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, Michigan and Wisconsin. He said the effort would encompass social media, polling, mass mailings and get out the vote, as well as videos.

Harvey Weinstein, the cofounder of Miramax films, had pledged to assist in producing video for the web and for TV, Stanley said.

Separately, the Forward Thursday that two major Jewish Democratic donors, Haim Saban and Irwin Mark Jacobs, were collectively donating $3 million to political action committees backing Obama. Saban, who has criticized Obama for some of his Israel policies, had suggested in the past that he might not donate to Obama’s campaign, although he would continue to donate to Democrats.

National Jewish Democratic Council removes Adelson petition

The National Jewish Democratic Council, citing peace among Jewish groups, has taken down a petition calling on Republicans not to accept money from Sheldon Adelson.

“Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ),” said a statement sent late Wednesday by NJDC President David Harris and Chairman Marc Stanley. “Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.”

The petition based the call on allegations by a former employee suing Adelson for firing him that the billionaire casino magnate agreed to allow prostitution at his casinos in Macau, China; on the claim by McCain that Adelson, with the tens of millions of dollars he has infused into the Republican side of this year’s elections, was effectively introducing Chinese money into the campaign; and on federal investigations into allegations that Adelson has paid bribes in China.

A number of Jewish groups and figures, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the Republican Jewish Coalition and Alan Dershowitz called the allegations unconscionable, noting that all had yet to be proven.

Harris and Stanley said in the statement that “we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination. We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts.”

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have given tens of millions of dollars this year to political committees supporting Republicans in general and Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, in particular, although it is not clear if he has directly given to Romney.

He is a major giver to Jewish causes, especially the Birthright Israel program bringing young people to Israel and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and has donated to causes associated with or favored by those who have defended him in this case.

Obama campaign hires former NJDC chief

The Obama reelection campaign has hired a top Jewish Democrat to coordinate its outreach to the Jewish community.

Ira Forman, the former executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, is set to become the Obama campaign’s Jewish outreach director, according to a source with the president’s reelection campaign.

“I am truly honored to be able to work toward President Obama’s re-election,” Forman said in a statement. “This President deserves the backing of our community for his outstanding support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and his strong record on domestic priorities and shared social values.”

As the campaign works to court Jewish voters—some of whom have expressed discontent with the way Obama has handled the Middle East peace process—Forman will likely play a key role.

An Obama campaign official noted that Forman is viewed as one of the nation’s foremost experts on how the Jewish community votes.

“Nobody knows the intersection of the Jewish community and Democratic politics better than Ira Forman, a nationally respected leader in both areas,” the official said.

The hire of Forman, the source added, “shows the campaign’s commitment to working with the Jewish community and keeping the lines of communication open through dialogue and outreach.”

Forman worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the late 1970s, and later worked in the Clinton administration before beginning his 14-year stint at the NJDC.

The Faith Wars Heat Up

It’s nothing less than a revolution; in states across the country, an empowered Christian right is changing laws, rewriting textbooks, transforming the judiciary and even redefining science.

The nation’s culture wars have taken another leap in intensity. Since the 2004 elections, empowered religious conservatives have become more organized, more energized and — critics say — more extreme. They want action on their key issues, and heaven help politicians who defy them.

And the Jewish community, with a lot at stake, has been restrained in response. The growing entanglement of religious conservatism and partisan politics scares Jewish groups worried about keeping their tax-exempt status; so does the threat of losing new supporters of Israel and access to the political high and mighty.

But Jewish voters aren’t so ambivalent, which is why the long-predicted Jewish partisan realignment remains fiction, not fact.

Last week the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a partisan group, issued a joyously indignant press release pointing out several recent examples of religious-right extremism and how they could impact a Jewish community that still believes in church-state separation and the rights of religious minorities.

In North Carolina, a Baptist pastor expelled church members who didn’t support Republican candidates. The pastor reportedly endorsed President Bush from the pulpit and demanded that congregants who planned to vote for his opponent should “repent or resign.”

In Colorado, Jewish and other nonevangelical students at the Air Force Academy have reportedly faced strong pressure to convert and overt religious discrimination.

This week there were reports that Kansas, on the front lines of anti-evolution efforts, is now considering redefining science to downplay observation and research and give more credence to religious belief — something that could result in the teaching of biblical explanations in science classes.

These and other controversies come on the heels of the Terri Schiavo affair, in which judges were branded anti-Christian and supporters of Schiavo’s husband were accused of warring against “people of faith.”

Their goals may be more extreme, but Christian conservatives have adopted more pragmatic political strategies, and the results are clear: Issues that once appealed only to a small fringe now dominate American politics.

The debate over teaching evolution in the schools is an old one, but it’s been repackaged, this time as a pseudo-scientific argument for “intelligent design.”

No longer do preachers go to court and argue against evolution in school textbooks because it’s not in the Bible; now, it’s scientists and Christian think tanks that offer “evidence” they say proves that creation should be given equal weight to evolution in the classroom.

Jewish groups are braced for a new push by the religious right on school prayer, which has been relatively dormant in recent years. But now the debate is couched in terms of protecting the religious liberty of all, even though in practice, public school prayer clearly discriminates against minority faiths.

The religious right has recognized that the future of its domestic agenda depends on sweeping changes in the federal judiciary, which is why groups on both sides have made the current fight over Bush’s nominations to the federal bench — widely seen as the warm-up for impending Supreme Court nomination battles — their top priority.

All of that has put Jewish groups in a difficult position.

The Christian conservative cause and partisan politics have become tightly bound together; more and more, Jewish groups that value their nonprofit status are reluctant to criticize Christian right positions out of fear of being accused of attacking the Republican Party.

In an era when megachurches and Christian advocacy groups look a lot like arms of the GOP, finding ways to legally criticize their positions is getting harder for Jewish nonprofit groups.

There is also the impact of an increasingly influential Orthodox Jewish community that agrees with the Christian conservatives on many hot domestic issues, starting with public funding for religious institutions.

Orthodox groups have not changed the relatively liberal views of the majority of Jews, but in some cases they have been effective in blunting the efforts of umbrella groups like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in fighting the sectarian surge.

Jews, themselves victims of religious discrimination, are reluctant to speak too harshly about another faith group, especially one that continues to define itself as a suffering minority even as it dominates the nation’s politics.

And a lot of the dilemma has to do with Israel.

Some pro-Israel leaders worry about antagonizing the conservative Christian groups that have become Israel’s new best friends by fighting too hard against their top domestic priorities. The Jewish state has few enough friends, they say; Israel should trump domestic issues in this time of crisis for Israel.

But a clear majority of American Jews disagree — which, many analysts say, is why Bush garnered only 22 percent of the Jewish vote despite an impressive record of support for the Jewish state.

Friends of the Christian right say it’s all about Israel, but most Jewish voters continue to say the domestic battles that will more directly affect their daily lives — battles that are reaching new levels of intensity — are even more important.