Using clips of Peres and Netanyahu, Jewish Dems launch ad campaign targeting Jewish voters
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Using clips of Peres and Netanyahu, Jewish Dems launch ad campaign targeting Jewish voters

Clinton backers look to capitalize on disquiet among Jewish Republicans over Donald Trump, especially in battleground states

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Hillary Clinton addressing the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)
Hillary Clinton addressing the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON — With less than a week before America concludes its most divisive election in recent memory, the National Jewish Democratic Council’s super PAC, Jews for Progress, is unleashing an advertising campaign that seeks to broaden Hillary Clinton’s appeal to American Jews.

The method: by showing Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum praising the Democratic presidential hopeful for her leadership skills and concern for the Jewish state — and by emphasizing the controversies that have engulfed Republican nominee Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.

One new video ad shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, former prime minister Ehud Barak and the late ex-prime minister and president Shimon Peres expressing admiration for Clinton’s diplomatic adroitness.

“Hillary always surprised me,” Peres says in a C-SPAN interview featured in the ad, “by understanding that peace calls for patience and that peace calls for understanding and not for impositions.”

After Peres, Netanyahu cites a 2012 ceasefire Clinton mediated amidst a violent flare up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza during her tenure as secretary of state.

“Hillary Clinton is a strong and determined leader,” he says. “She’s both principled and pragmatic. She knows how to get the job done.”

The video, which was sent out via email Wednesday to more than 50,000 Jewish households in Florida, along with a letter from former Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin’s son Yuval, also includes testimony from American political leaders, both past and current, including Republicans Sen. John McCain and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Some five percent of the population of the hotly-contested battleground state is Jewish, making the community a potential game-changer that can shift the balance of Electoral College votes if the election is a close call.

On Wednesday, Trump’s two top Israel advisers released a detailed plan that pledges assistance to Israel beyond current levels but stops short of pledging to kill the Iran nuclear deal. The 16-point plan, which was posted Wednesday on the Medium publishing platform by David Friedman and Jason Dov Greenblatt, reflects stated pledges by Trump. In some cases, however, the proposal goes beyond them — most notably on defense aid above current levels.

Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

One of the left-wing PAC’s founders, Ron Klein, a former Florida congressman and past chair of the NJDC, told The Times of Israel the group wanted people “with a strong connection to the Jewish community” to validate Clinton as being respected by Israeli leaders with differing ideological orientations.

“Most Jews in the United States understand there are differences of opinion in Israel from Likud to Labor and other parties, and the people presented there have known Hillary Clinton and worked with her,” he said in an interview. “Contrast that with her having worked with these people and someone who is viewed as being unstable and not reliable, who talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to Israel and Middle East policy.”

In another video, former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who nearly became the first Jewish US vice president in the 2000 election, also endorses Clinton, saying she has a “strong and consistent pro-Israel record.” He also sent out targeted robo-calls to 110,000 Jewish households in Florida and has stumped for her in the battleground state.

Lieberman switched from being a Democrat to an independent in 2006. He would go on to endorse John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential contest.

While these advertisements are being deployed heavily in Florida, they are also going out in other up-for-grabs states with Jewish populations that might make a difference on Election Day, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin.

“We’re trying to influence persuadable voters in battleground states. We obviously feel good about how Jews are going to vote in New York and California,” past NJDC chair Marc Stanley told The Times of Israel. “So the real issue is how will Jews vote in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, etc.”

An image tweeted and then deleted by Donald Trump on July 2, 2016 that uses an apparent Star of David to call Hillary Clinton 'the most corrupt candidate ever!' (screen capture: YouTube)
An image tweeted and then deleted by Donald Trump on July 2, 2016 that uses an apparent Star of David to call Hillary Clinton ‘the most corrupt candidate ever!’ (screen capture: YouTube)

Jews for Progress has also distributed flyers that recall headlines from assorted Trump controversies, including the support he has garnered from Ku Klux Klan leaders and his tweet of a picture of Clinton with a six-pointed star superimposed on money and a caption that read, “Most corrupt candidate ever!”

“Jews are very sensitive, historically, about racism and populist demagoguery,” said Klein, who insisted Jews recognized echoes of 1930s Germany in Trump. “They know the rise of Hitler was due in part, under different circumstances, because he was a populist and a demagogue. Jews are very hypersensitive to that and rightfully so.”

“We have a long history of persecution and discrimination, and when we see it, we understand that if they are talking about one group one day, they could be talking about us the next day,” he added.

Klein said he did not think Trump was an anti-Semite, but explained that “by surrounding himself with people who are supporting him who think what he’s saying is consistent with their behavior, whether it’s the Ku Klux Klan or anyone else, that’s of great concern to the Jewish community. We pay close attention to those signals.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while discussing healthcare, Tuesday, November 1, 2016, in King of Prussia, Pa. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures while discussing healthcare, Tuesday, November 1, 2016, in King of Prussia, Pa. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Jews for Progress was launched in July 2016 during the Democratic National Convention. Created by Klein, Stanley, past NJDC chair Michael Adler, former Democratic National Committee finance director and AIPAC official Fran Katz Watson and Democratic fundraiser Steve Paikowsky, it was designed to run “a highly targeted campaign in key battleground states, where a shift in the Jewish vote could turn the tide in the presidential election.”

With DC insiders Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak of Bluelight Strategies running the PAC’s day-to-day operations, part of the objective was to head off any efforts by the Republican Jewish Coalition to tarnish the Democratic nominee in the eyes of Jewish voters.

President Barack Obama lost nine percentage points among Jewish voters between 2008 and 2012, going from 78 percent to 69%, according to estimates.

President Barack Obama, wearing a traditional Jewish yarmulke, waves after speaking at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, Friday May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama, wearing a traditional Jewish yarmulke, waves after speaking at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, Friday May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The PAC’s model is largely based on “The Hub,” a communications hotspot that Rabinowitz and Keyak created and managed in 2012, which delivered rapid responses to breaking issues concerning then-candidate Barack Obama on Israel-related or Jewish issues.

Earlier this year, the RJC vowed to spend $25 million in the race, but Trump’s candidacy hurt its fundraising among longtime Republican Jewish donors, with the pointed exception of Trump’s top two financial backers — billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Bernard Marcus, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and co-founder of Home Depot.

“There hasn’t been tremendous grassroots Jewish support for Trump, nor have we seen Republican Jewish donor support for Trump,” Stanley claimed.

Casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson in attendance at the 4th Annual Champions Of Jewish Values International Awards Gala at Marriott Marquis Times Square on May 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Mack/Getty Images, via JTA)
Casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson in attendance at the 4th Annual Champions Of Jewish Values International Awards Gala at Marriott Marquis Times Square on May 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Mack/Getty Images, via JTA)

Adelson, who had previously given $10.5 million to Trump’s bid as of last week, a sharp decline from the amount he is estimated to have poured into Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, promised a last-minute boost of $25 million three days ago.

“His money has not been particularly Jewish-focused, though,” Stanley said of Adelson’s donations this year. “He’s taking a much more broad-brushed approach in the battleground states.”

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