Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday that it is a “gross overstatement” to suggest that President Obama did serious damage to his support from Jewish voters when he proposed last week that Israel’s 1967 borders should be the starting point for peace talks with Palestinians.
She also lashed out at a Republican Jewish organization that has been critical of her, denouncing what she said was the group’s decision to put partisanship ahead of its support for Israel.
Wasserman Schultz, the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Congress, acknowledged that Obama’s speech had caused some damage with Jewish voters, but she repeated administration claims that the president’s statements didn’t differ from the policies of the last two presidents.
“If you looked at the Jewish community at large, if you polled the Jewish community at large, there are Jewish voters, Jewish Americans, who are expressing concern about the president’s policy,” she said. “But what he said, followed on by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s speech to the joint session on Tuesday, was essentially what has been American policy since President Clinton. “
The South Florida Democrat laughed at charges leveled by the head of a Republican Jewish group that she wanted to squelch partisan criticism over Israel. Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, accused Wasserman Schultz of proposing a “gag order” on criticism about Israeli policy when they and others met privately with Netanyahu this week.
“We need to make sure that Israel never becomes a partisan issue, and that’s what we talked about in that meeting,” Wasserman Schultz said. She quoted Netanyahu as saying, at the end of the meeting, that when it comes to Israel, “we need to erase the aisle” between Democrats and Republicans.
“Everyone that calls themselves legitimately pro-Israel believes that we should not make Israel a partisan issue. Unfortunately, I think there are organizations that claim to be pro-Israel that are partisan first and pro-Israel second. And I think unfortunately the way the Republican Jewish Coalition has conducted itself is they put their Republicanism in front of their pro-Israel stance. And I think that’s unfortunate. And I think it’s why the Israeli Embassy said that Israel should not be a partisan issue.”
During a breakfast meeting with reporters organized by the Christian Science Monitor, the recently elected party chairwoman played down concerns about the damage to Obama’s standing with Jewish voters in next year’s election.
In 2008, she said, “there were dire predictions that candidate Obama was not going to have, not just an erosion of Jewish support, but would lose the Jewish vote. The first time, potentially, a Democratic candidate for president would lose the Jewish vote. President Obama ended up getting 78% of that vote.”
She brushed off a question about damage to Democratic fund-raising efforts among Jewish donors, but said she expected Republicans to continue to press the issue of Obama’s Mideast policy with Jewish voters over the next 17 months.
“I think the Republicans are going to certainly attempt to make it an issue,” she said. “They attempted to make it an issue in 2008.”