The Jewish Democratic Council of America is a new organization whose mission is to promote Democratic candidates whose values are consistent with Jewish values, including support for Israel. It supports both Jews and non-Jews whose election is likely to uphold those values.
It devotes its resources to candidates whose election well might be likely but is not assured.
The group recently endorsed Josh Gottheimer, the freshman member of Congress who represents New Jersey’s 5th District.
Mr. Gottheimer is grateful for the support; “I am thrilled to have it,” he said. He finds himself in good company, he added. “They endorsed Conor Lamb,” the Democrat who won a surprising victory in a special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District in March, “and Mikie Sherrill,” the former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor who is running in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, for the seat about to be vacated by long-time representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, whose family has been prominent in the state since the early eighteenth century. It also has endorsed Tom Malinowski, who is running in New Jersey’s 7th district; Mr. Malinowski worked for both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and is facing Republican Leonard Lance. Most recently, moving beyond congressional candidates, it endorsed Senator Robert Menendez’s re-election bid.
“The council supports Jewish values, and people who support those values,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “They support people who support Israel and Jewish values. I asked them what Jewish values mean, and they said being open-minded, looking out for others, and tikkun olam. We talked about the obligation to help others. We talked about tzedakah, and the principles behind it. I said that what I learned as a kid was always to put any change from a dollar bill into the tzedakah box. My daughter goes to Sunday school, and we always talk about the importance of tzedakah. She brings a dollar every week.
“To me, that’s a part of what Jewish values are. I try to focus on making sure that we always get other people’s backs, whether it’s seniors or vets or first responders. The idea is that we teach these values, the ones that I grew up with, the ones I learned from my rabbis.”
Mr. Gottheimer always has been a strong supporter of Israel, he said; this is what he has been saying since long before his first run for office, in 2016. “It is critical that we stand by the only democracy in the Middle East, not just because it is good for Israel but also because it is good for our national security in the United States,” he said. “Whether it is about defense technology or Israel’s remarkable advances in biotech and technology and economic development, it is a critical relationship.
“When I talked to the council, I said that our support for Israel cannot be a partisan matter. It must be bipartisan. I refuse to sign letters on this topic that are not bipartisan, because our support for Israel never has been partisan, and I want to make sure that in this day and age, with BDS and the rising number of hate crimes, anti-Semitic crimes, and anti-Semitism around the world and at home, it is more important than ever that we ensure that support for Israel is bipartisan.
“That means that we have to stand up to biased organizations like the United Nations to make sure that we stand up to terror.
“That’s why I am against the Iran deal — I continue to be against the Iran deal — and why post-Iran deal we must stand firm against terrorism. I think that we should be imposing strict sanctions against Iran.
“Hezbollah continues to march toward the Mediterranean and to develop sophisticated rockets and other technological weapons. That’s why I support Arrow 3 and medium- and long-range defensive missiles.
“I think that we must be vigilant,” he said.
Back at home, “we have to think about how we can cut taxes and make life more affordable,” he said. “I am focused on everything from infrastructure to containment.” He is on the House Financial Services Committee and three of its subcommittees, Capital Markets, Securities, and Investments; Oversight and Investigation; and Terrorism and Illicit Finance. “I am deeply concerned with raising new taxes on businesses, which I fear will drive companies of all sizes out of the state. I’ve been speaking to a lot of CEOs and owners of businesses of all sizes; we are losing people, not gaining them.
“Why would businesses open in a place that is not business-friendly enough?” he asked rhetorically. “So people are not opening and not expanding here, or they’re not doing it enough. And we also need to think about the jobs of the future. We have to make sure that we are preparing younger people for jobs so that they can compete and be ready for this economy.”
He’s also focused on transportation; like many other New Jersey and New York politicians, he is worried about the Gateway project. That’s the tunnel that will provide another link below the Hudson, which is particularly important as the existing tunnels start showing their age.
“We were able to get resources allocated for Gateway in the omnibus spending bill,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “Money to get it moving. Now it is being held up by the Department of Transportation, but we are pushing to get the shovels in the ground.” Why the holdup? “This administration is not a fan of the project,” he said carefully. “Particularly the secretary of transportation is not a fan, so she has it tied up in some bureaucracy.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America’s chair is Ron Klein, who represented Florida’s 22nd District in Congress from 2007 to 2011. Its executive director is Halie Soifer. (It replaces a similar group, the National Jewish Democratic Council, which went out of business in 2015.)
“Our group was established last year, largely in response to Trump’s statements after Charlottesville,” Ms. Soifer said. (She was talking about President Donald J. Trump’s remarks after a group of white men marched in that Virginia town, carrying tiki torches and chanting, among other slogans, “Jews will not replace us,” and another white man drove his car into a group of counterprotestors and killed one of them, Heather Heyer. Subsequently, he was indicted for first-degree murder. Mr. Trump’s response to the situation was that there were “some very fine people on both sides.”)
“There wasn’t an organization representing the voices of Jewish Democrats,” she continued. “There was a vacuum that we were looking to fill.”
She came to the organization with a history of working for politicians. “I am a longtime Hill aide,” she said; she worked for three members of Congress and then for Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California. “I came here, to the council, to do this work because I really felt that it is important to help shape the composition of the Congress,” she said. “We are looking at the midterm elections as a real inflection point for the country.
“We are endorsing candidates who share our values, whether they are incumbents or challengers, where we believe that the role of the Jewish community can be determinative in the outcome of the race,” she said. There is no point in using limited resources to help someone who is overwhelmingly likely to win. “We are targeting our resources,” she said.
“The majority of the candidates we have endorsed at this point are challengers running for seats that we believe we can flip from red to blue,” she said; others are seats the council hopes will remain blue.
“Josh Gottheimer is likely to win, but we believe that it is essential that we hold that seat,” Ms. Soifer said. Because he is a freshman, he does not have all the benefits of incumbency that a longer-term representative would have. “When we see his vision of leadership, we see him as an important person to support with in this election cycle.”