Fresh off of Democratic electoral victories in Virginia and New Jersey, a new group of Jewish Democrats announced its existence Wednesday, and vowed to strengthen ties between the party and Israel, oppose what it says is the Trump administration’s tolerance of neo-Nazis and galvanize the Jewish community to elect Democrats in 2018 and beyond.
With a dozen senators and members of Congress present, the Jewish Democratic Council of America held an information session and reception at the Liaison Hotel in Washington. Chairman Ron Klein said one of the goals of the event was to fundraise. The group’s website lists 19 members on its board of directors.
He said the group will soon begin a “rapid-response media team” to push news and opinion on issues relating to the Jewish community.
The group also plans to create a database of Jewish voters who can be targeted in the 2018 congressional races.
“We’re going to support Democrats who align themselves with the issues that the Jewish community cares about,” Klein said, listing gun control, health care, the environment and the separation of religion and state. “And we’re going to support Israel through a Democratic lens.”
“It’s an important organization for our country,” House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on her way out of the reception. “It happens to be Democratic, but it recognizes that support for Israel has to be bipartisan. It’s a patriotic organization that wants to make the future better for both countries.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told the 200 people at the gathering that American values are being challenged.
“The values of the Jewish community and the values of this great nation are being challenged in so many different ways,” he said. “Not just by this administration. We’ve had challenges from the Republican Party on immigration for a long time. The imposition of a religious test of who can come to America is not being challenged by the Republican Party, it’s being challenged by the Democratic Party.”
Also present were Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
The new group fills an organizational spot once occupied by the now-defunct National Jewish Democratic Council, a point that several attendees made.
Klein said work on the group began shortly after Trump’s election victory, when Klein was approached by people concerned by the president’s reluctance to speak out forcefully against white nationalists. He said the concern grew after Trump’s slow response to a white nationalist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va, last summer.
With Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey the day before, the mood in the room was festive.
“We think there’s an opportunity and a timeliness to what we’re doing,” Klein said. “To push back on right-wing positions that are really foreign and dangerous to the Jewish community’s interests.”
JDCA will be listed with the IRA as a 501(c)(4), according to spokesman Aaron Keyak, who is also managing director of the communications firm Bluelight Strategies.
The IRS designation means the group does not have to disclose its donors. 501(c)(4)s are considered “social welfare organizations” by the IRS and are prohibited from endorsing candidates, although they can sponsor issue ads that target politicians.
Keyak said the group will consider setting up a PAC to give directly to candidates.
Raskin said the organization will try to energize Jews around the country to vote for Democrats.
“The Jewish community has been passionately loyal to the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party has been passionately loyal to the Jewish community,” Raskin said. “But the great thing about politics is that it’s based on competition, so we have to go and compete for votes. And the Jewish community is anxious about a lot of the currents in the world and the United States today. So I think Jews are going to participate in a huge political shakeup in 2018.”