Dont demonize Christian right, GOP leader says here

Brooks visited San Francisco earlier this month to speak at a kickoff reception for the NJC's new Bay Area chapter, one of 15 such chapters around the country.

In an interview at the Bulletin, Brooks called the Democrats' focus on abortion and the Christian right "part of a well-orchestrated strategy. These are the last great wedge issues they have to try to keep the Jewish bloc as part of the Democratic Party bloc."

Brooks said the strategy is becoming less and less effective, especially at a time when "we're seeing more and more Republicans elected with larger shares of the Jewish vote.

"Quite frankly, I think the Jewish community is getting more educated on the issues," he said. For one thing, "they realize there is a lot we agree on with the Christian Coalition."

In particular, Brooks — a 32-year-old graduate of Brandeis University who has worked for the NJC for a decade — emphasizes that many coalition members back Israel.

"Outside of the Jewish community, they are the single most pro-Israel constituency in this country," he said. Because of this, among Jews, "there is a much greater willingness to work with them. We need friends and we need fellow supporters."

Many Jews worry that the increasingly politically influential Christian right could erode church-state separation, as well as abortion rights and equal rights for women and gays.

Some also worry about the Christian right's support of school vouchers, which would allow parents to draw on state funds to send their children to private schools. This, opponents say, could further weaken the public school system.

For his part, Brooks prefers to look at those stances shared by Republican Jews and the Christian right.

"People are concerned about the education system, about the overwhelming tax burden on the middle class and on American families," he said. "People are concerned about being able to walk and be safe on the streets at night. They are concerned about issues like affirmative action and health care."

Brooks believes the Christian Coalition — the premier organization of the Christian right — gets a bad rap.

"Do I think they are out to take over the Republican Party? No," he said. "Do I think they're out to make this a Christian nation? No."

On the other hand, "Do I think they are people who are strongly grounded and motivated by their faith and belief in God? Yes. Do I think they should be involved in the political process and support candidates who share their point of view? Absolutely."

Brooks acknowledged that Jewish Republicans have some gripes with the conservative Christian lobby.

But "let's debate and talk about the differences we have rather than demonize a group that in many ways should be an important and critical ally in so many of the issues we care about," he said.

The National Jewish Coalition was founded in 1985 by members of the American Jewish community who had supported Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1980 and 1984.

Their goal: to sensitize Republican elected officials and party leaders to the concerns of the American Jewish community, as well as articulate Republican ideas and policies within the Jewish community.

Now several thousand members strong, the NJC this past summer hosted Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson on his first trip to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of the Israeli Cabinet and other officials. The group has also hosted Haley Barbour and the late Lee Atwater on similar high-level trips during their terms as RNC chairmen.

Brooks said he is proud of the fact that his organization opposes extremists in the party. During last year's primaries, for example, "we basically opposed Pat Buchanan's candidacy. Pat Buchanan has never, nor will [he] represent, in our view, where the mainstream is in the Republican Party."

"We stood up to that because it's the right thing to do," Brooks added. "Where people are extreme, we will deal with that."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.