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GOP Jews, Koch Weigh In on Post-Weiner Race

Weprin-Turner in overdrive

Marc Tracy
September 08, 2011
Sen. Joe Lieberman and Assemblyman David Weprin.(New York 1)
Sen. Joe Lieberman and Assemblyman David Weprin.(New York 1)

We’re less than a week from next Tuesday’s special election to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner, and the race, which pits the Orthodox Jewish Democrat David Weprin against the non-Jewish Republican Bob Turner—but which Ed Koch turned into a referendum on the Obama administration’s Israel policy, calling on Democrats to vote for Turner in order to send the president a message—has taken on all the weird trappings you might expect of a competition to fill a seat that will likely soon no longer exist (due to census-prompted redistricting). For the definitive take on the dynamics of the race, including stuff that’s (gasp!) not explicitly Jewish, check out Dana Rubinstein in Capital. Then, of course, there’s the juicy shtetl stuff.

For starters, Koch himself took to the Letters to the Editor page to defend himself against a Times editorial endorsing Weprin. In calling for negotiations based on the 1967 borders with “swaps”—the scare quotes are his—Obama, Hizzoner argues, “should have demanded simultaneously that Hamas renounce terrorism before negotiations begin, and that Hamas amend its charter.” Fair. Also: “Israel must have defensible borders, and the homes of the 500,000 Jews beyond those lines in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank must remain part of Israel.” Dude, what do you think the “swaps” are for?

The Republican Jewish Coalition has gotten involved, sending mailers with Holocaust survivors. Weprin, who has raised much more money than Turner, is fighting back with TV spots. The Jewish Press, influential in the community, endorsed Weprin, on the grounds that he is himself Jewish, himself staunchly pro-Israel, and good for the community. Yet Democratic assemblyman Dov Hikind, who is especially influential among Queens and Brooklyn Jews, endorsed Turner; and yet he made that decision not because of the Israel stuff but because, as an assemblyman, Weprin supported the gay marriage law.

The RJC’s tack, of going after the Jewish Democrat who has been critical of Obama on Israel from the right and trying to install the non-Jewish Republican who has been critical of Obama on Israel from the right, provides a striking contrast with the Emergency Committee for Israel’s new ad campaign. ECI, which differs from the RJC in being a Republican Jewish group in name only, cleverly praises Weprin’s Jewish and Israel bona fides—even taking care to show Weprin in his kippah—as part of a broader effort to paint Obama as out-of-step on Israel even with his own party.

To me, ECI’s is the smarter play. The RJC is short-sightedly concentrating on one irrelevant—one might even call it fakarkte—district (and I mean no insult to its denizens; my district is no less fakarkte than theirs, it too is just one out of 435), when they could be making the much larger statement ECI is. If the race is truly to be about Obama on Israel, then truly make it about Obama on Israel! And I moreover suspect that, next year, when the Republican nominee is hammering Obama on Israel because it’s the most potent national-security issue, it will be rather nice to show an actual Democratic congressman saying much the same things about the leader of his party.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.