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Bonnie Squires with Congressman Henry Waxman at the NJDC event which honored dozens of Jewish members of the U.S. Congress and Senate and featured a screening of the film, "Golda's Balcony."
News and Opinion

Report from the Democratic Convention

-- Bonnie Squires

When Senator John Kerry recognized Barack Obama's uncle a Wednesday night of the Democratic Convention, the uncle who had been one of the liberators of Buchenwald, and when Michelle Obama reached over and kissed him, the Jewish delgates here and the Jewish community at large breathed a collective sigh of relief. AIPAC and NJDC have been very active at the Democratic convention, and Jewish members of Congress, like Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Seantor Barbara Boxer of California, have been on the go, shoring up support for Senator Barack Obama. Former Hillary Clinton supporters, like Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from Florida, have been emphatic in announcing the fact that they have moved over to the Obama column and are confident that he will be as committed to the support of Israel as have both Senator Hillary Clinton and president Bill Clinton.

At AIPAC reception for legislators at the Democratic National Convention, US Rep. Allyson Schwartz of PA, with Dr. Marc Cohen (left), of Gladwyne and an AIPAC member, Lower Merion Democratic Committeeman David Broida, and Howard Kohr, AIPAC's Ex. Director - Allyson addressed the importance of the special relationship between the US and Israel.

Hillary and Bill dispelled all doubts about their full-fledged support of Candidate Obama with their amazing speeches before the delegates. And Hillary's motion to suspend the roll call and name Obama the candidate by acclamation was a memorable moment in convention politics.

Sitting in the Pennsylvania delegation, fairly close to the podium inside the Pepsico Center, you could feel the excitement and enthusiasm being radiated by every single speaker, including former competitiors for the nomination. And keep in mind, Joe Biden had been one of those competitors!

Senator Biden's acceptance speech was inspirational, with his moving recital of the tragic loss of the wife and daughter he had experienced when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. And then he did what a vice presidential candidate does best: laying out the case, both domestic and foreign, for his party, his running-mate Barack Obama, and why he knows his Senate friend and colleague, John MCain, is on the wrong track in restoring America's prosperity and reputation abroad.

Biden has America has gotten to know more about Obama this week, with his surprise appearance after the nomination speeches, as well as the various videotaped messages and live televised appearance. As I write this, Obama has not yet given his acceptance speech at Invesco Mile High Field in Denver, but that will surely be an historic happening.

There is, as usual, a touch of Hollywood in Denver at the Democratic Convention. Pennsylvania has had the pleasure of the company of actresses Morgan Fairchild and Melissa Fitzgerald, and dozens of stars, from Jennifer Lopez, to Ben Affleck, to Hill Harper, have been seen - and photographed - at various events.

But the politicians are the stars of this week's activities, and the Obama-Biden ticket has been launched with much acclaim.

Jewish Democrats at the Denver Convention
Israel's Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor, with David Broida, Lower Merion Democratic Committeeman (left) and Dr. Marc Cohen of Gladwyne, an AIPAC member, at Democratic National Convention in Denver

The undercurrent at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, last week was the question of whether or not Jewish Democrats who had passionately supported Senator Hillary Clinton would move over and support Senator Barack Obama in November.

During the course of the week which I spent in Denver, I made it a point to ask this question of both Jewish elected officials and friends of the Jewish community.

There were indications from the convention floor int he Pepsi Center, by officials like Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who had been a Hillary supporter and who urged all of us to get behind Barack Obama.

Selecting Senator Joe Biden as his running-mate went a long way toward assuring Jewish voters that Obama is a supporter of Israel. Biden, a veteran member of the U.S. Senate, has always been a friend of the Jewish community's, particularly in southeastern Pennsylvania.

In fact, the very first visit Senator Biden made after having been nominated for the Vice Presidency, was to speak at the Pennsylvania breakfast delegation. He stayed for about an hour and a half, allowing everyone who wanted a photo with him to have that opportunity. And Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, long-time friend and colleague of Biden, seemed to be on every network television show each night, as well as chairing the Pennsylvania delegation and making speeches to important groups outside the convention on topics like the nation's infrastructure and energy independence.

When I spotted former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who now teaches at Brandeis University, in the lobby of the hotel which had served as the Clintons' headquarters during the DNC convention, I asked him that same question about the Jewish vote for Obama. His answer was comforting. He said, "Obama is 100 % behind Israel." Then he went on to tell me that when voters take a look at McCain's record on the Middle East, they will not feel comfortable with him at all. Reich said he did not trust McCain when it comes to Israel.

Anthony Lake, Obama National Security Advisor, at Democratic National Convention

I asked New York Congressman Charlie Rangel the question, "How do we get the Jewish Hillary supporters to move over to the Obama camp?" Rangel smiled and said confidently, "They'll move over."

Two prominent Jewish organizations, AIPAC and the National Council of Jewish Democrats (NJDC) held highly visible events during the Democratic convention. NJDC began with a Sunday screening of the film, "Golda's Balcony," on a campus near downtown Denver, with the star, Valerie Harper, along with her director and producer in attendance. The event was held next door to the Golda Meir House, the actual home which Golda Meir inhabited in Denver when, as a young girl, she moved in with her sister so that she could finish her education. (Golda's parents preferred that she drop out of school, get married, and work in the family business.)

After the question and answer period, everyone adjourned to the outdoor reception, where at least a dozen Congress members and Senators were honored by Ira Forman, executive director of NJDC, and Marc Stanley, the agency's president.

Among those speaking were Senator Carl Levin, Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Congressman Henry Waxman.

The Jewish community in general supports Democratic candidates for President of the United States because of traditional interests and issues, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and the preservation of Roe v. Wade; support and financing for social services, education; concern for working people and labor unions.

AIPAC held a big luncheon event during the convention, and officials from Senator Bob Casey, to Kwase Nfume, to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, and many members of Congress, each spoke briefly to express support for Israel.

The night that Senator John Kerry spoke eloquently at the Pepsi Center, introducing Senator Obama's uncle, a World War II veteran, who had been one of the liberators of Buchenwald, the Jewish delegates sat up and took notice.

One night I stopped Jeff Greenfield as he was going into the CBS media room prior to appearing as a commentator on that evening's speakers. When I asked him the question about moving Jewish Democrats from Hillary to Obama, he told me that he couldn't really answer my question because he is a journalist. "But that's a very important question," he told me emphatically.

Obama's voting record on Israel, his uncle's history, plus the addition of Senator Joe Biden to the Democratic ticket, should go a long way in moving the former Hillary Clinton supporters enthusiastically over to the Obama-Biden column.

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