2016-08-03 / World News

Jewish groups host diverse discussions during the DNC

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


A J Street discussion of the Iran nuclear deal included (from left), moderator Nahal Toosi, a foreign affairs correspondent for Politico; U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer; Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action; Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council and a Washington correspondent for Al- Monitor, and Toni Verstandig, executive vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. A J Street discussion of the Iran nuclear deal included (from left), moderator Nahal Toosi, a foreign affairs correspondent for Politico; U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer; Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action; Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council and a Washington correspondent for Al- Monitor, and Toni Verstandig, executive vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. What are the political implications of the nation’s rapidly changing demographics? How can the next U.S. president navigate the minefields caused by the Iran nuclear deal? How are pro-BDS Jewish groups countering the proliferation of state laws prohibiting investment of pension funds in companies that boycott Israel?

These are a few of the topics that drew delegates, lobbyists and other interested parties to panels, roundtables and receptions sponsored by diverse Jewish groups each day of the Democratic National Convention before the main attractions were underway at the Wells Fargo Center.

AJC, a leading global Jewish advocacy organization, hosted numerous events at the DNC as well as the Republican National Convention the prior week in Cleveland. Among featured topics, a diverse panel of experts gathered July 26 at the law offices of Saul Ewing considered the political fallout of the nation’s increasingly diverse population.

The panel featured: David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist and senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution; S.A. Ibrahim, CEO of Radian Group Inc.; Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian American Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy.

Among highlights:

• Bernstein said the traditional “big verses small” ideological difference between the parties might be realigning to a difference between the call for a more open or closed society in terms of immigration, economic and international engagement. The rise of Donald Trump on the Republican side may have accelerated the realignment.

“I do believe there is a perfect storm of demographics, of globalization, economic change, and technological change that is likely to drive us in very different directions and make us rethink what we argue about in this country,” said Bernstein. “I don’t know if it’s good for groups like the Jewish community and other minority groups, but I do believe that’s where we’re headed.”

• Dionne noted that changing attitudes among liberals and Democrats regarding Israel are not related as much to party affiliation or ideology but to generational shifts.

“Among older liberals and older Democrats, there is still and always will be this very strong tie to

Israel,” he said.

However, pro-Israel groups have a real challenge in winning the hearts of the young, including Jews.

“For example, the appearance of Prime Minister Netanyahu at the invitation of Republican leadership to basically go after President Obama on the Iran deal was not helpful to attitudes towards Israel among younger voters who like Obama, African Americans and others. It was seen as a sign of disrespect to, let’s face it, our first African American president.”

Still, he noted, support for Israel is still strong among establishment Democrat leaders.

“It’s very notable to look at the concessions Hillary Clinton made to Bernie Sanders on the platform,” he said. “One of the concessions not made was new language on Israel. This Democratic platform maintained very strong support for Israel.”

Blocks away from the AJC panel, J Street’s panel, “The Politics of the Iran Deal,” provided a glimpse of how liberal leaders perceive how the landmark Iran nuclear deal will shape U.S. foreign policy, relations with Israel and Iranian society.

J Street Chairman Mort Halperin, an expert on foreign policy and civil liberties, said J Street aggressively took to prodeal lobbying because it believed the agreement was “clearly in the security interests” of both the U.S. and Israel and because other influential Jewish groups were claiming to speak for all Jews in opposing it.

“We felt we had an obligation to speak up for and represent the overwhelming view of the American people that the agreement was in the security interests of Israel and America,” said Halperin during the event at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse.

The panel included U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, second ranking Democrat on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming (D-OR); Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action; Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council and a Washington correspondent for Al- Monitor; and Toni Verstandig, executive vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Among highlights:

• Slavin explained that Iran’s troublesome behavior—including its recent hostage taking of dual citizens, the continued backing of the Assad regime and missile tests—is a Iran government backlash against the more progressive Iranian leaders who negotiated the deal.

“If we can maintain this deal, if we can prevent a war between the United States and Iran, if we can keep (American leadership) from being too aggressively hostile in rhetoric and action toward Iran, we will actually help those pragmatic elements that are trying to shift Iranian policy to a more pro-Western and pro-American orientation, but it’s tricky,” said Slavin. “We have to be true to our principals and condemn these things but do it in a way that is not counterproductive. That’s a level of subtlety Congress usually doesn’t get.”

• Blumenauer said he is disappointed that the Obama administration has not been more forthright acknowledging the success of the deal.

“We hit the markers in terms of time frame and the development of nukes has been substantially decreased.”

He called it dismaying that lawmakers are on a crusade to block U.S. business dealings with Iran, including the proposal to sell Boeing airplanes. The deal, he said, would create about 100,000 new American family-wage jobs in the next 10 years.

“We’re worrying about hollowing out the middle class, this is not something to shy away from,” he said.

Further uptown, leaders from diverse progressive groups considered what the trend of anti- Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislation means for the BDS movement. Yousef Munayyer, head of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, said that the proliferation of such movements is proof that the BDS movement is worrying pro-Israel groups.

“(The BDS movement) allows conversations to take place which would not otherwise have taken place,” said Munayyer at the panel sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace at the Philadelphia Ethical Society.

Other panelists included: Rahul Saksena, a staff lawyer for Palestine Legal; Gerardo Reyes- Chavez from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and Caroline Hunter, a veteran anti-Apartheid organizer.

Saksena noted that over the past year some dozen states have approved anti-BDS legislation. (New Jersey lawmakers signed a bill that is awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature.) He said the laws do not take away private citizens’ rights to boycott but do have a chilling effect.

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