Has the National Jewish Democratic Council run out of steam? The once vocal and visible lobbying organization that represented Jewish interests in the Democratic Party and Democratic interests in the Jewish community has virtually vanished. Since its last full-time director, Rabbi Jack Moline, left the organization in 2014, the NJDC has been led by its chairman, Greg Rosenbaum. Last year, the organization eliminated its professional staff and began contracting out its operations.
At an upcoming conversation with the NJDC’s opposite number, the Republican Jewish Committee, one would expect an NJDC member or representative to be present to take on RJC’s CEO Matt Brooks. But that’s not the plan. Instead, Brooks’ sparring partner will be J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. While J Street and its PAC are more closely identified with the Democrats, Ben-Ami says his organization is nonpartisan. But that’s only one reason why J Street should not be doing what appears to be NJDC’s heavy lifting.
The overwhelming majority of Jews vote Democratic. At a debate, they deserve to hear the Democratic positions on a host of issues Jews care about — not just Israel. A September AJC poll found 42 percent of Jews they questioned named the economy as their principal concern, 22 percent identified health care and 15 percent said national security. U.S.-Israel relations — J Street’s bread and butter — was the top issue for only 7 percent of respondents.
All of this leads us to wonder, what happened to NJDC?
And it’s not as if a higher J Street profile at NJDC’s expense is good for the Jews or the Jewish community. J Street — and Ben-Ami — make many Jews nervous, even many Democratic Jews. Many older Jews, in particular, who have supported Israel right or wrong all their lives, have not taken to J Street’s routine, very public disagreements with and challenges to the Israeli government. For them, being Democratic means being progressive at home and embracing of Israel abroad.
And even though domestic issues may top voters’ list of concerns, the U.S.-Israel relationship does matter. Much has been written about the mounting perception that with each passing year the Democratic Party appears to be falling away from strong support for the Jewish state. Part of the reason for the concern is that Republicans have succeeded in making Israel a political wedge issue. But the other part of it is a generational divide between older Democrats who remember Israel as the startup nation and younger activists for whom the Jewish state is just another powerful institution that must be questioned and challenged.
Without NJDC to run interference, Democrats need to figure out how they will close that political wedge before more and more progressive pro-Israel Jews are left without a political home.