By E.J. Kessler

Published March 03, 2006, issue of March 03, 2006.

Abortion Antagonism: The National Jewish Democratic Council’s plan to host a reception for Pennsylvania’s Democratic senatorial candidate next week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference is drawing criticism from a Jewish Republican.

The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, says the Jewish Democrats are violating their principles by hosting the reception for Pennsylvania State Treasurer Robert Casey Jr., who opposes abortion.

“I think it’s absolutely hypocritical that NJDC would host a reception and showcase Casey in light of their smear campaign against pro-life Republicans and their assertion that anyone pro-life is outside of the mainstream of the Jewish community,” Brooks said.

NJDC executive director Ira Forman responded: “Bob Casey has known from Day 1 that he can’t get a political action committee endorsement and contribution from us for those reasons, but in the world of politics, the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Forman added that “the contrast” between Casey and the Republican incumbent, Senator Rick Santorum, “is really good on a host of issues.”

“If Matt wants to call us hypocritical, that’s his prerogative,” Forman said. “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

The RJC has no official position on abortion because the issue divides its membership.

In related news, four potential 2008 presidential candidates are expected to speak at the Aipac conference: Senator Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat; former governor Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat; former senator John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat; and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican.

* * *

Chairmen’s Corner: Speaking Tuesday in Washington before the Jewish community’s main policy coordinating body, the Republican and Democratic party chairmen were supposed to address the hot-button topic of “values.” Instead, however, both men used their audience at the conference of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to stick to familiar scripts about their respective camp’s strengths.

The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, spoke about foreign policy, reforming the United Nations and the push for freedom and democracy in the Middle East. “We will reform the United Nations. We will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We will stand with Israel in the face of terrorist threats and we will work together to stop suffering in the Sudan,” he said.

Former presidential candidate Howard Dean, now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, waxed enthusiastic about America’s promise of freedom of religion, separation of church and state, the moral imperative of a strong social safety net and universal healthcare. He also warned about the dangers of a nuclear Iran, which he described as one of the looming failures of the Bush administration.

Otherwise, it was “Jewish family day” for the two men: Mehlman, who is Jewish, spoke about visiting Russian Jewish immigrants with his mother in the 1980s, when she was head of the Baltimore region of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, relating the experience to his deep admiration of President Reagan’s foreign policy. Dean, whose wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, and children, Ann and Paul, are Jewish, joked about his wife’s grandmother: “She knew that in America you didn’t have to be afraid to stand up for what you believed in, and she knew that in America you could raise your granddaughter to grow up and be a doctor and marry the head of the Democratic National Committee.”

The men appeared consecutively, as is their habit: Neither, it is said in Washington, likes to share a podium with the other.

Both men stayed true to form. The Republican chairman — known for rigidly controlling the party’s message — answered a few questions collected on note cards. The garrulous Dean — known for his frequent forays “off message” — took question after question extemporaneously, including one hostile one.

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