Heard at the convention: A reporters Jewish notebook

new york | As usual with political conventions, much of the Jewish action at the GOP gathering in New York took place off the convention floor.

AIPAC draws fire, earns praise

They came to praise Israel — and ended up defending its best-known defender.

More than 1,600 people, including a who’s who of the Republican Party, attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee-United Jewish Communities event Sunday, Aug. 29, at Chelsea Piers in New York launching this year’s Republican National Convention.

Such events usually are dedicated to praising Israel’s friends in Congress and in the administration, but the spotlight was turned on the normally camera-shy AIPAC because of allegations that two of its staffers were involved in the leaking of classified Pentagon documents.

“AIPAC and its support for Israel is so important to all of us,” UJC Chairman Robert Goldberg said.

Attendance had climbed from an anticipated 1,200 to 1,600, organizers said, with a flood of RSVPs over the weekend after the news broke.

“The record turnout demonstrates our community stands united,” Goldberg said.

Enough with the phone booth jokes

The big news for the Republican Jewish Coalition is how big it’s getting. Speaker after speaker at its keynote event marveled at the packed ballroom at the Plaza Hotel.

“Thank you all for demonstrating for the first time that the term Jewish Republican is not an oxymoron,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the party whip, told the crowd.

Sam Fox, the national chairman of the RJC, echoed, “I don’t know if there’s been a time in my life when I’ve been in a room with so many Jewish Republicans.”

Heavy hitters abound

The heavy hitters are coming out to thank Jewish Republicans for their support and efforts to increase the percentage of Jews voting for President Bush in November.

Vice President Dick Cheney was added to the politically star-studded lineup for the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory 2004 Celebration on Thursday, Sept. 2. Cheney was scheduled to join Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and five Republican governors. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was to serve as master of ceremonies.

“The vice president’s attendance at this celebration is indicative of the commitment of this administration to reaching out and including the Jewish community,” said the RJC’s national chairman, Sam Fox.

It’s hard to ask Jews questions

Polling is never easy, but try polling Jews, says Frank Luntz, a Republican Jewish pollster.

Each time he asks a question of a respondent, he told an American Jewish Committee gathering timed for the Republican convention, he gets a question back.

“Who do you prefer, John Kerry or George Bush” is likely to get an incredulous question back: “Bush?”

That’s why Luntz said he offers cut rates to Jewish groups — and then tacks on $1,500 in “annoyance pay.”

Honoring the victims

A reading of names of victims of terrorism in Israel drew about 700 people to New York’s Baruch College on Sunday, Aug. 29, the day before the launch of the Republican convention. The event was sponsored by The Israel Project, a group that tries to improve Israel’s standing in U.S. public opinion, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

A similar reading drew more than 1,000 Jews last month at a Democratic Party event in Boston, but much tougher security restrictions in New York, and a city emptied of many of its denizens, contributed to the lower turnout.