NJDC's First Annual Conference
A Parade of Democratic Stars.
-- Ellen G. Witman
For progressive, Jewish political junkies the National Jewish Democratic
Council's (NJDC) first national policy conference was the place to be from April
23 -25. Although relatively small in size just 200 registered attendees the NJDC
conference was big on Democratic star power. One after another, over the course
of the three-day event in Washington, DC, all seven of the major Democratic
presidential hopefuls came seeking the support of Jewish activists and donors.
- Former Senator John Edwards, from North Carolina. (Full remarks,
- Senator Christopher Dodd, from
Connecticut. (Full remarks,
- Senator Joe Biden, from Delaware. (Full
- Senator Barak Obama, from Illinois. (Full
Jews for Obama)
Congressman Dennis Kucinich, from Ohio's 10th district. (video)
Senator Hillary Clinton, from New York. (Full
Jews for Clinton)
Governor Bill Richardson, from New Mexico. (Full
Jews for Richardson)
Also making appearances were:
Democratic Council Executive Director Ira N. Forman
In his opening remarks, NJDC Executive Director
Ira Forman said, "We live in an age of great cynicism, and there is nothing
Americans are more cynical about than politics and politicians." And yet, he
contended, the attendees had come from across the country to participate in the
NJDC conference because the Democratic Party is the best venue for pursuing the
ideals common to both American and Judaic traditions: repairing the world,
pursuing justice, and supporting Israel and other democracies around the world.
The presidential candidates largely echoed that theme, although most spent
significantly more time on foreign affairs - Iraq, Iran and the Middle East -
than on domestic concerns. And they all made sure to recount visits to Israel
and to express their strong commitment to her security.
It was left to conference participants to focus the candidates on an array of
other issues of concern to Jewish Democrats. During the question and answer
sessions that followed each formal presentation participants asked about the
recent Supreme Court decision upholding the ban on late term abortions, the role
of religion in public life, US-Pakistan relations, global warming, safeguarding
Social Security, civil liberties, affordable housing and other concerns.
There were many similarities among the candidates' positions, especially in
condemning the prosecution of the war in Iraq and denouncing the Bush
administration for ignoring global warming, restricting the use of diplomacy,
and squandering America's moral authority in the world. But the speakers also
tried to differentiate themselves by emphasizing their own expertise and
experience is specific areas.
Former Sen. John Edward (D-NC)
Senator John Edwards
Former Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards (D-NC) appeared on
the opening night of the conference. The former Director of the Center on
Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, Edwards spoke passionately about the theme of his new book
Ending Poverty in America pointing out that the wealthiest 300,000
individuals made more than the bottom 150 million. He drew loud applause when he
said it is "just plain wrong" that 37 million children live in poverty in
America. His calls for "making work pay" and for a universal health care plan
elicited another ovation as did his plea for swift and aggressive measures to
end the violence in Darfur.
Having visited Israel during the Sbarra pizzeria bombing, he said "Israel faces
extraordinary threats to her security everyday." He visited Israel's Northern
border just minutes before fighting broke out. "The Peace Process is faced with
great promise and great peril. This President and this Administration have
failed to engage in a credible way in negotiation.... Hamas continues to refuse
to recognize Israel's right exist and to renounce violence." Edwards declared
that the United States has "an important role to play: not to impose peace but
to be engaged." (Full remarks,
The second day of the conference brought Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Joseph
Biden (D-DE), and Barak Obama (D-IL) and Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
Sen. Chistopher Dodd (D-CT)
Senator Chris Dodd
The next speaker Senator Chris Dodd is also coming out with a book "Letters
from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice." His father
Senator Thomas Dodd began his career of public service as prosecutor at the
Nuremberg trials. Chris Dodd recently discovered his mother's collection of
letters his father wrote during the trials. Through his father, Chris Dodd
learned not only the scope of Nazi Holocaust, but also the importance of the
rule of law. Our allies would have preferred summary executions of the Nazi
leadership, but Chris Dodd said he father gave "to these defendants that which
they did not give to their victims, and the world is a better place for their
Dodd said that we are now at a similar crossroads, "instead of uniting the world
in the war against terrorism, this Administration launched a unilateral war
against Iraq." He called President Bush's belief that "diplomacy is a sign of
weakness" frightening, and said it was a "dark day" when the Military
Commissions Act of 2006 became law. The Act suspended habeas corpus and
backed away from the Geneva Convention. Dodd added for the Bush Administration
"no international treaty was too insignificant to belittle."
Dodd focused on the timetable for getting out of Iraq and on developing a
comprehensive energy policy that will greatly reduce America's dependence on
foreign oil. He would "impose a corporate carbon tax to eliminate the last
incentive to pollute: Because it is cheap."
Chris Dodd saluted Israel on its 59th year of independence as "an island of
hopefullness in a sea of dispair... whose might serves only for its
self-defense." (Full remarks,
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)
Senator Joe Biden
Senator Biden, Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, is known
for being provocative and for deviating from his prepared text. He did not
disappoint. Biden said he "could not fathom how this President [George W.] Bush
has not found the time to visit Israel once during his six years in office."
Biden said that there will be no progress toward peace without American
leadership lamenting our having "subcontracted our foreign policy to Saudi
Arabia" whose "Mecca agreement" asked nothing of Hamas in exchange for the
support of the Arab community.
He called for our country to invest in better education saying "if you want the
brightest children in the world, you want the bright people in the world
His strongest, most impassioned statements, however, were about Darfur where he
said genocide continues. Biden advocated imposing sanctions immediately and
using military force if the Sudanese government does not begin to implement the
three-stage UN plan. His voice rising and his finger stabbing the air, Biden
offered his opinion that "any nation that engages in genocide forfeits
sovereignty." The crowd responded with sustained applause. (
Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)
Senator Barack Obama
Perhaps the most highly anticipated appearance was that of Senator Barak Obama
whose charismatic style and high poll numbers have given some supporters of
other candidates second thoughts. His remarks to the NJDC delegates lacked some
of the energy he is known for, but still evoked a positive response.
Obama touted his opposition to the Iraq war from the beginning, and said "he
vowed to bring a responsible end of this war in Iraq" adding that "the
President's insistence on keeping our troops in the crosshairs of a civil war
will not prevent any bloodshed there." Furthermore, until the war ends, he said,
"it will be increasingly difficult to resolve the other problems in the region."
Obama stated that "Israel's security is fundamental," but that the status
quo is not the answer. "We can aspire to something better," he said, adding
that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires
diplomacy and finding partners in the Palestinian leadership who are committed
to recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.
Speaking about Darfur, Obama received a long ovation when he stated, "When I am
President I mean to show the world that when we say 'never again,' we mean it."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10)
Congressman Dennis Kucinich
The final speaker on the second day of the conference was Representative Dennis
Kucinich. He began by explaining that his worldview is that "we are all one,
interdependent and interconnected. Our responsibility is to repair the world and
close the divisions." Kucinich, who was given the Gandhi Peace Award in 2003,
wants to establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence and
believes that multinational diplomacy is the only way to achieve lasting
solutions to conflicts and violence.
Kucinich touted his opposition to the war in Iraq from the very beginning. "We
are not victims of the world we see, but victims of the way we see the world,"
Kucinich told the crowd. Kucinich also opposed the war in Serbia and the Lebanon
conflict. Instead through his office, the
Seeds of Peace
initiative works "bringing together diverse people... and discovering how much
they have in common." (Streaming
The final morning of the conference brought the last two candidates to the NJDC
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
Senator Hillary Clinton
Unlike the other speakers, Senator Clinton began her remarks with domestic
policy setting as the goals for her administration universal health care,
expanded scientific research, education reform, a new energy policy, and the
nomination of judges who will "follow the rule of law and uphold precedent." She
stated that "democracy is based on moral values" such as protecting those with
the least, giving access to education, and offering economic opportunities no
matter what your station at birth.
Moving to foreign policy Senator Clinton warned that the lesson to be learned
from our mistakes in Iraq is not that America should withdraw from the world.
Rather, it is that we must learn how to work with the world as it is, not as we
wish it could be. She went on to admonish the Bush administration for its policy
of not talking to leaders of countries with which we disagree and promised more
vigorous diplomacy and stronger alliances should she be elected president. (Full
Jews for Clinton)
Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)
Governor Bill Richardson
Governor Bill Richardson is the only governor and the only Hispanic candidate
for the Democratic nomination. He told the audience that his commitment to
Israel can be judged not just by his speeches, but by his actions throughout his
career: as U.N. Ambassador he cast two votes to keep a resolution opposing
settlements from passing; as Secretary of Energy he sought to make the U.S. less
dependent on Middle East oil; and as governor he established a New Mexico trade
office with Israel and purchased $15 million of Israel bonds.
Unfortunately, Richardson said, Israel is less secure today than it was six
years ago because President Bush has ignored the peace process and allowed Hamas
and Hezbollah to gain legitimate power.
Turning to domestic issues, Gov. Richardson endorsed a universal health care
plan, called for universal pre-school, a national scholarship program for
college students, and a new international agreement on climate change that would
be stronger than the Kyoto accord and led by the United States. (Full
Jews for Richardson)