Have Jewish Dems closed shop in an election year?

According to recent reports, the National Jewish Democratic Council has ceased to exist - but is it true?

Raphael Poch ,

U.S. Republican and Democratic pins (Illustrative)
U.S. Republican and Democratic pins (Illustrative)
Photo by Yossi Zeliger/Flash90

Originally printed by Forward Magazine and then reprinted by the Jewish Press, a report is making the rounds claiming that the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) no longer exists - but it would seem to be inaccurate.

The report as printed in the Jewish Press says the following: “In its annual search to shame Jewish organizational leaders by pointing out how much money they make, and calculating the percentage by which they do not deserve the salary, the Forward newspaper (formerly known as the Jewish Daily Forward) made an unexpected discovery: the Republican Jewish Coalition no longer has a partisan counterpart."

The National Jewish Democratic Council has apparently dumped its staff and “outsourced its activities to a Washington, D.C. public relations firm,” the Forward reports.

The account raised suspicions, especially as the Forward only reported that the NJDC has downsized. Additionally, as the coming year is an election year, the NJDC would be expected to be working full steam to help continue the majority support that Democratic Presidential candidates have received from American Jews for almost 100 years.

In a special interview, Greg Rosenbaum, Chairman of the NJDC cleared the air with Arutz Sheva about what exactly is going on inside the NJDC.

“I want to say emphatically that the NJDC is not closing,” began Rosenbaum.  

Rosenbaum described how the NJDC did away with their Executive Director position and eliminated a significant amount of payroll by utilizing the services of Bluelight, a Washington D.C.-based PR firm, eliminating redundancy within the hierarchy of the organization.

Once Rosenbaum became the chair of NJDC in 2014, there was a great restructuring to make the group more efficient.  Rosenbaum is a proven businessman who has successfully turned around other businesses by cutting operational costs, and greatly improving efficiency within big name organizations such as Empire poultry.

“In 2002, Empire poultry was on the verge of going out of business; I took it over and within four or five years, completed a total restructuring of the firm, and Empire became profitable again and eventually was purchased by Hain Celestial which is a major international food company,” explained Rosenbaum, giving some background to the restructuring of the NJDC.   

“When I became chair of NJDC, it struck me that we could operate much more efficiently, and there were two things for me to look at. I was the first chair in a while that was DC based. I could be involved in day to day decisions and activities and show up at the hill. That meant it may not be essential to have a heavily compensated executive director because I was now able to take a lot of those responsibilities over myself.”

Rosenbaum explained that at the time, there was a lot of redundancy within the PR machine of the organization. “Everything we did in public was going through Rabinowitz Communications, and now goes through Bluelight Strategies. Here was a full time organizations that was doing the job of staff, and we were paying staff as well as imposing upon Rabinowitz communications for doing more or less the same work. Last year we sat down and worked out a new contract that involved us outsourcing the work that the staff was doing in communications and policy statement making. It meant that one of board members, Steve Rabinowitz, had to step down to not create any conflict of interests.” Rabinowitz, is one of the founding partners at Bluelight, and therefore is still involved and part of the NJDC team, in a newly restructured and more cost effective format.  

Aaron Keyak, former executive director of NJDC, took over from David Harris (who moved into the whiskey business) who had been an interim executive director following the 2012 election. Keyak is the other founder of Bluelight Strategies, then worked for congressman Jerry Nadler form New York. After working with the congressman, he began Bluelight with Rabinowitz, and now works as its  Managing Director. “Having Keyak on the team has helped out a lot with know how,” said Rosenbaum.

Bluelight is a full service public relations firm that has a lot of clients in the pro-israel community and progressive politics, in addition to the NJDC.

The formal mission of NJDC is to represent American Jews to the democratic party, and to represent the democratic party to American Jews, hence in an election year, their job becomes much more meaningful.

“What we really do is that we try to make certain that the vast majority of American Jews vote for democrats, Rosenbaum explained. “Traditionally two thirds to three quarters of American Jews vote democrat. That doesn’t happen by itself. We make sure that the voices of American Jews are heard by the democratic party and by democratic office holders.”

Rosenbaum talked about why there is such a need for a separate coalition body, when most other minority groups suffice with a chair in within the Democratic party itself. “We wanted to have our own organisation because there would be times that American Jewish opinion won’t connect with the democratic position.”

As an example, Rosenbaum cited the most recent federal election. “One of those times was the 2012 electoral campaign. We noticed that the electoral campaign was slow to respond to accusations that the President and the democratic party were not pro-Israel.”

“To combat this issue, Aaron and Steve came up with the idea to create ‘The Hub’ as a rapid response team that could immediately respond to accusations that the Democrats were not pro-Israel. Due to the Hub’s success, the NJDC went through a restructuring in line with what happened in the hub.”

Rosenbaum cited this success and laid out the numbers for us. “The poll on Rosh Hashanah said that the incumbent President, (Obama) was going to receive 59% of the Jewish vote in Florida.” This was far lower than usual in a very important swing state in the election. After the work of the NJDC and the Hub, “by the time the election came around the hub had succeeded in getting the President 77% of the Jewish vote in Florida, which means they convinced 144,000 people to change their vote and vote for the President.”

Making waves like that, it is no wonder that an organization such as the NJDC or their counterparts the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is vitally important during an election year.   

Rosenbaum went on to cite another example. One that may earn the NJDC some enmity here in Israel.  “There are very few things that you can get every Jew in the United States to agree to. One of those things is that Iran should not get nuclear weapons. The question was tactics.”

The role that the NJDC played on helping to get Congress to ratify the Iran deal, according to Rosenbaum was monumental. Going up against Jewish interest groups such as AIPAC the Orthodox Union and many others, the NJDC, together with others managed to build a forthright and convincing argument as to why Congressional representatives should not torpedo the P5+1 agreement with Iran, and allow the U.S. to be a signator.  

Currently regarding the democratic nomination for President, the official policy of the NJDC is as follows:  “We are stating our opinions on issues, and letting our candidates know what is important to Jewish voters. We are also stating why the republican candidate, no matter who it is, is inacceptable to the majority of American Jews,” Rosenbaum concluded.