Washington Examiner: Socially liberal Jews go Republican over Israel

Monday, April 4, 2015 
By: David M. Drucker

The premier organization for politically active Jewish Republicans has grown considerably as new members set aside their opposition to the GOP's conservative social agenda to make a statement on Israel.

The Republican Jewish Coalition recently hosted 800 members at its annual spring meeting in Las Vegas. Two years ago, the same gathering drew fewer than 400. President Obama gets most of the credit for doubling attendance. His antagonistic relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and emerging deal with Iran to limit but not end Tehran's nuclear weapons program have driven up membership.

True, most of them are fiscal conservatives and foreign policy hawks who usually vote Republican — though not exclusively. But many have maintained a wary relationship with the GOP because they consider themselves "social liberals" at odds with the party's opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Pushed by Obama and his Middle East policies, they have cast off those suspicions and become politically active, card-carrying members of the Republican Party.

"On social issues I'm a little bit more liberal. I'm more conservative when it comes to fiscal issues, so it's tough for me to get the two to coincide," said Miami businessman Tali Raphaely, 42, who said in an interview with theWashington Examiner that his recent move to join the Republican Jewish Coalition was the most politically active thing he's ever done besides voting. "I still consider myself a moderate."

The coalition has long served as a clearinghouse for Republican presidential candidates to access Jewish GOP mega donors and influential political operatives. The organization's board includes some of the most sought-after Republican campaign financiers, Jewish or non-Jewish — among them casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose Venetian property served as the site of the coalition's spring meeting, and Wall Street hedge fund powerhouse Paul Singer.

But the polarization of Israel in American politics, historically a bipartisan issue on which Democrats and Republicans agree, has altered the political landscape for the 2016 presidential race, at least at this early stage, as GOP presidential contenders compete with each other to prove their pro-Israel bona fides. The issue particularly resonates with socially conservative Christian voters in states such as Iowa, host of the first nominating contest of the 2016 primary.

A broad majority of Jewish voters are still strong supporters of the Democratic Party, although that support has dipped somewhat during Obama's tenure in the White House. Come November of next year, Jews can be expected to pull the lever for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state and an ex-New York senator who has historically been a hawk on foreign affairs issues related to the Middle East.

But Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he thinks Clinton is vulnerable because of her service as Obama's chief foreign policy lieutenant during his first term. He also disputed the suggestion that the growth in Jewish Republicans, and of his organization, is strictly a result of the president's foreign policy. Brooks emphasized that the coalition is activating a whole new generation of GOP activists and donors who are involved to elect a Republican president in 2016 and beyond as backstop against a Democratic Party that is increasingly leftist and hostile to Israel.

"The Republicans are making inroads and chipping away at the historic Democratic hegemony that they've had in the Jewish community," Brooks said. "There's been a number of people who have come in who have either been independents or Democrats or hadn't really been active in the political process who have been so motivated over the events of the past months that this was a catalyst to get involved in a significant way."

Copyright 2015 Washington Examiner. This article appeared at the Washington Examiner on May 4, 2015.