Forward Thinking

Michelle Nunn Memo Shows How To Woo Jews

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Georgia’s U.S. Senate race has just experienced a shakeup with the leaking of an eight-month old draft strategy memo — first reported by National Review — written for the campaign of Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn.

The memo provides an unvarnished look at how a modern Senate campaign is actually run, and among those interesting, unvarnished tidbits is the following on Jewish campaign contributions:

Jewish Community: Opportunity: Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here. There is tremendous financial opportunity, but the level of support will be contingent on her position. This applies not only to PACs, but individual donors as well. Message: TBD Potential Anchors: Sheri and Steve Labovitz, Elaine Alexander, Jewish Democratic Women Projected Goal: $250,000

This is, of course, flagrantly transactional, and it’s a good look at how campaign professionals actually think about these things behind closed doors. It is also, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias notes, how Jewish power translates into real-world terms, and the kind of dynamic that keeps Congress so overwhelmingly pro-Israel – candidates need campaign cash, Jews are big givers and Jews (particularly big Jewish donors) care about Israel.

It’s also worth noting that, elsewhere, the memo refers to the Jewish community as “Primary Targets” for volunteers as well as fundraisers. This is, of course, another aspect of Jewish political power — Jews get involved, and therefore matter to campaigns, even though they only constitute about 1 percent of the state’s population.

Also keep in mind that the memo was written by hired consultants, not Nunn herself, so while the “Message: TBD” looks terrible, it’s probably actually a good sign that Nunn’s campaign finance consultant wasn’t also drafting her Israel policy.

One thing that Yglesias leaves out is that this is how it works on both sides of the aisle. Remember when the biggest names in Republican politics showed up for the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas and waxed poetic about Israel, Holocaust memorials and menorah lighting? Remember how Chris Christie personally apologized to Sheldon Adelson for referencing the “occupied territories?” That’s because Adelson and other attendees, like Mel Sembler and Sam Fox, present, as Nunn’s consultants might put it, “tremendous financial opportunity,” and “the level of support will be contingent upon … position.”

This dynamic also explains why another part of the campaign memo is potentially troublesome for Nunn. Under the section on “Candidate Research,” the memo refers to “Grants to problematic entities” by Points of Light, the charity that Nunn ran before her Senate campaign. The National Review identified on such “problematic entity” — Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. affiliate of an international group of entities that all operate under the umbrella of World Islamic Relief. Why is it problematic? Because Israel has banned World Islamic Relief from operating there on the grounds that WIR gives money to Hamas.

Nunn’s campaign has pushed back hard — Points of Light did not actually make any grants to Islamic Relief USA, merely acted as a validator encouraging others to give donations.

Furthermore, Islamic Relief USA is fully independent of World Islamic Relief. As Slate’s Dave Weigel argues convincingly, it’s a fairly tenuous connection to get from Nunn to Hamas.

But, as the campaign memo makes clear, the important connection between Nunn and Hamas lies not through organizational entities but between the synapses of Jewish donors’ brains. If they do make that connection, then they may consider Nunn a “problematic entity,” and direct their cash accordingly.

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Jewish Senate Iran Sanctions (Fuzzy) Math

By Nathan Guttman

Want to know who stands where on Iran sanctions? We’ve got the answer — at least for the 10 Jewish senators.

Of course, it’s never quite that simple. See below for the fine print.

Senators who had signed on as co-sponsors are listed as supporters of the bill. Senators who have spoken out publicly against the bill are listed as being opposed.

Similarly, senators who have not gone on record on the issue but have refused to sign on as co-sponsors, despite the massive lobbying effort to reach more than 60 co-sponsors, are also listed as being opposed to the bill.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is in a category all his own. He signed on as a co-sponsor, making him a supporter of the bill. However, he also says he is opposed to bringing the bill to a vote. That makes him an opponent of what the bill’s supporter’s want.

Got it?

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4 Jewish Things at the Chuck Hagel Hearing

By Nathan Guttman

Chuck Hagel will step into the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning to face what is expected to be the toughest grilling any Obama nomination has yet to encounter.

getty images
Chuck Hagel

It will be long, grueling, and could easily draw some sweat from the Vietnam veteran sitting across the room from his former Senate colleagues. But at the end of the day, if Democrats have done their math right, Hagel will be confirmed by the committee, and later by the entire Senate. Democrats believe they’ll have all of their caucus on board, which will provide for 55 votes, and some more votes from the Republican side, to make sure filibuster attempts, like the one suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham, do not succeed.

Here are few things to watch for as the Senate Arms Services Committee begins the confirmation process.

Jewish senators.

There are two of them on the committee: chairman Carl Levin from Michigan and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and both have made clear they back Hagel. As chairman, Levin gets to ask the first round of questions and he could use this privilege to defuse the contentious Israel-related issues by throwing Hagel some soft balls. Hagel’s critics will, of course, get their chance to pose tough questions on these issues, but Levin could help set the tone at the outset of the hearing.

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Rabbi Jonah Pesner Mulls Massachusetts Senate Run

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Jonah Pesner

A rabbi passed over last year for the leadership of the Reform movement thinks he might have better luck running for the U.S. Senate.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, a senior vice president at the Union for Reform Judaism, told the Boston Phoenix on January 7 that he is considering entering the special election to replace Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), whom President Obama has nominated to be secretary of state.

Pesner could not immediately be reached for comment by the Forward.

A Reform rabbi, Pesner is a longtime social justice organizer in Massachusetts. The former head of Just Congregations, the Reform movement’s organizing arm, he’s also worked as a leader of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, an organizing group.

The Forward reported in 2011 that Pesner was one of two finalists in the URJ’s search for a new president. The organization went with the other finalist, Rabbi Richard Jacobs.

“Our work has just begun,” Pesner wrote in a March 2011 email to friends congratulating Jacobs when he was picked.

If he does run, Pesner will face a packed field. Potential opponents include Democrat Ed Markey, a longtime Massachusetts congressman, and Republican Scott Brown, the state’s former Senator.

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'Diva' Comes Up a Bit Short

By Forward Staff

Mindy Meyer won plenty of attention for her splashy pink-themed campaign for a Brooklyn state Senate seat.

The young Orthodox law student dubbed the ‘Magenta Yenta’ did less well at the ballot box.

She was crushed by incumbent Democrat Kevin Parker by a 97%-to-3% margin. According to the Daily News, Meyer garnered just 2,553 votes in the Flatbush-based district compared to 86,697 for Parker.

Meyer burst onto the scene in the summer when politicos noticed her unusual campaign. Her website, pink and flashy, incorporated glitter and leopard print. Her slogan was: “I’m Senator and I know it.”

“I’m trying to appeal to the younger population,” explained Meyer.

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Sheldon vs. Shelley: Inside Vegas' Ugly Jew v. Jew Tiff

By J.J. Goldberg

Shelley Berkley

Politico’s Steve Friess has a fascinating story online today about the longstanding personal feud between two of Nevada’s “most prominent Jewish figures,” hotelier Sheldon Adelson and Rep. Shelley Berkley, who’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican family-values guy John Ensign. It’s a gripping look at how Adelson operates — the intensity and relentlessness of his personal grudges, his obsessive hatred of unions and Democrats and the lengths to which he’s willing to go to get his way.

One twist that’s particularly intriguing: Berkley, one of the most hawkish pro-Israel Democrats in the House, would bring a rare across-the-aisle voice into the Senate for Adelson’s hard-line Middle East views. But that doesn’t seem to matter — Sheldon’s got it in for Shelley, and nothing else matters, including the causes he claims to hold dear. Here’s Friess:

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Pink May Not Fly in Deep Blue District

By Simi Lampert

Sen. Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker doesn’t have any catchy monikers like his pink-loving opponent, Mindy Meyer, in a race for state Senate in Brooklyn.

“She says she’s ‘senator and she knows it,’ but I actually am senator,” said Parker, an incumbent Democrat. “I really do have responsibilities.”

Meyer is now well known by her self-appointed name, Diva of the District. Although Parker has been in office for the past decade, he has yet to trend on social media. That doesn’t worry Parker, though.

“I have a proven track record,” says the state senator in a phone interview.

Parker has been exceedingly diplomatic when it comes to his young opponent’s recent media attention and her unusual campaign strategies, saying only: “I take all challenges seriously, because I take the democratic process seriously. I’m looking forward to debating her on the issues.”

He cautioned her, however, that “deep red doesn’t win in a deep blue district using deep pink,” referring to Meyer’s now famous glittery pink website, and the 21st district’s overwhelming Democratic population.

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Diva of the District

By Simi Lampert

courtesy of mindy meyer
Mindy Meyer

Mindy Meyer is a 22-year-old Orthodox law student who went to Prospect Park Yeshiva in Brooklyn, wears knee-length skirts — and is running for New York state Senate.

Her website, pink and flashy, incorporates glitter and leopard print. Campaign slogan? “I’m Senator and I know it.”

“I’m trying to appeal to the younger population,” explains Meyer of her campaign. “I went to all the other senators’ websites and by the end I fell asleep. No wonder young people aren’t voting.”

She explains that Elle Woods, the pink-loving heroine of “Legally Blonde,” inspired her to choose the background theme color for her website.

“Elle Woods taught me that you can take pink and bring it to the highest levels of sophistication,” says Meyer.

Despite the flash, Meyer, who is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines, insists she is no joke. “I mean business, and I’m serious about this,” she says earnestly.

Others might disagree. On a page titled Diva of the District, Meyer lists the various issues on her platform, including “Poverty & Unemployment,” “Stop & Frisk,” (not a fan), “School Choice” (Mindy vouches for vouchers!), and “Crime” (she’s going to crack down on it). She also vows to end hunger, posing as “Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen to make her point.

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Mandel Takes on Foreign Aid

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

courtesy of josh mandel
Josh Mandel

A new ad by Republican Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel, whom the Forward profiled a couple of weeks ago, slams incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown for his support for foreign aid in a new ad.

That could raise questions for some backers of Mandel, who has made much of his pro-Israel credentials. Israel advocates have traditionally been wary of calls to cut foreign aid, as aid to Israel is allocated through the same legislative process as aid to other nations.

Mandel’s new ad, which was posted online yesterday and has aired in some Ohio markets, charges that Brown “sent billions of dollars to foreign countries.”

Mandel spokesman Travis Considine clarified the charge in an email with the Forward, insisting that he wasn’t calling for less aid to Israel.

“Josh is steadfast in his support for Israel,” Considine wrote. “What concerns him is sending $1 billion in foreign aid to countries like Pakistan.”

Recent polls have Mandel running nearly neck-and-neck with Brown.

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