At least two dozen local Jews will head to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week to to vote for a party platform that includes an endorsement of same-sex marriage – just one of several stark contrasts to the GOP’s position on social issues.
Though Mark Segal has attended previous Democratic National Conventions, next week’s gathering in Charlotte, N.C., will mark the first time the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News will have the opportunity to vote for a party platform that includes an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
<p>“People are finally beginning to treat us equally,” said Segal, who founded the Philly paper in 1976. “This made me feel that we had done our job educating” party leaders and “they have reciprocated.”
<p>Though party convention platforms don’t always get much attention, this year is proving to be an exception because of the stark contrast created by the conservative GOP position on abortion — the platform opposes terminating pregnancy — and the inclusion of a marriage equity provision in the Democratic document.
<p>The GOP text calls for the passage of a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would recognize unborn children as people who are due equal protection under the law. It doesn’t mention any exceptions, such as in cases of rape and incest, but it also doesn’t spell out what the text of the amendment would be.
<p>Segal — one of at least two dozen local Jews heading to Charlotte for the convention starting Sept. 4 — thinks that this dichotomy has benefited the Democrats, at least in the short run, because it has taken the focus away from the economy.
<p>He argued that the nation’s views on gay marriage have shifted significantly since 2004 when George W. Bush won a close election over John Kerry. Most analysts agree that Republicans effectively used the gay marriage issue to ignite their base and win a few extra votes that year.
<p>It is not yet clear whether or not the gay marriage stance helps the Democratic Party this time around, especially as polls show voters still care most about the economy.
<p>What is certain is that the local Jewish delegates are seeking to contrast their party as sharply as they can with the vision and proposals put forth by the Republicans this week in Tampa.
<p>They are focusing on what they see as President Barack Obama’s accomplishments, like the passage of the Affordable Care Act, while also arguing that Mitt Romney wants to take the country backwards — by restricting a woman’s right to choose, eliminating the gains made under the health care law and cutting back on other government programs such as Medicare.
<p>And they are betting that the contrasting visions on social issues will motivate undecided Jewish voters to vote for Obama come November.
<p>Few said they expected Obama’s record on Israel to be much of a convention focus. And several delegates disputed the idea that Israel represents a weak point for the president.
<p>“I do believe that this administration has been a staunch ally of Israel,” said Philadelphia lawyer Stephen Cozen, who was part of the convention platform talks, though he said he was not at liberty to discuss his specific contributions.
<p>Regarding some of the public spats that have occurred between Washington and Jerusalem during Obama’s tenure, Cozen said, “You have to have the right to disagree with your friends.”
<p>The group of local Jewish delegates includes elected officials U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and State Rep. Mark Cohen; party leader Marcel Groen; labor leader Ted Kirsch; former office holders Lynne Abraham and lesser-known activists such as Caren Moskowitz.
<p>“There is a real clear delineation between what the two parties are going to stand for,” said Moskowitz, a 57-year-old from Abington who is a fundraiser for Einstein Healthcare Network.
<p>Why travel to Charlotte for something that she can watch on television, or on an IPad?
<p>“I’m a political junkie,” and have to be there in person, said Moskowitz. “And I believe in the Democratic Party.”
<p>Jewish groups will have a strong presence throughout the week. The National Jewish Democratic Council will be holding two public events. The National Council of Jewish Women will have a large contingent at the convention seeking to bring attention to women’s reproductive rights.
<p>The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is expected to host a convention gathering of pro-Israel Democrats. J Street will join the Arab American Institute as well as Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in promoting the two-state solution as a cornerstone of U.S. policy.
<p>Jimmy Carter, the former president who has angered Israel and many American Jews because of his view that Israel’s West Bank policies could culminate in an apartheid state, will have a prime-time speech at the Democratic convention, to be delivered by video. Some groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, have criticized the decision to give him such prominence.
<p>Mark Aronchick, an elected delegate who has held numerous local and national positions with the Democratic Party, said it was appropriate for a former president to be given a speaking slot.
<p>“I don’t agree at all with his writings and positions on Israel. Those writings are not the platform of the Democratic Party nor the policies of this administration,” said Aronchick. “Being a former president, it strikes me that he should be entitled to say something to the Democratic Party’s convention.”
<p>State Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County has attended every Democratic convention since 1988 and thinks that even though the candidate is predetermined, the gatherings still serve a valuable purpose.
<p>“I think it is good for a few nights every four years, America tunes out the actual infomercials and listens to each party make their case about why they should govern for the next four years,” said Leach, who is facing a re-election challenge from Republican Charles Gehret.
<p>Former Montgomery County Commissioner Ruth Damsker has been active in politics for decades, but this will be her first time as a delegate. For Damsker, the convention will be about gaining all the tools she needs to become as effective an advocate for Obama as she can.
<p>Damsker, of Upper Gwynedd, said she wishes the president could have accomplished more in his first term and thinks he spent too much time trying to work with Republicans.
<p>“He had to be hit over the head to realize that they weren’t going to work with him, and as a result I think he wasted some time,” she said. “I do believe in him. I think he has the Jewish values.”
<p>Material from JTA was used in this report.