Mondoweiss Interviews Lisa Spies on Courting Jewish Donors for the GOP


 The Israel lobby rallies inside the Republican Party 

Philip Weiss on January 7, 2015


There have been signs in recent days that the Israel lobby is solidifying inside the Republican Party, opening the possibility that the Democratic Party will begin to have a freer debate over the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s look at the straws in the wind:

–Gallup sees a trend of Jews leaving the Democratic party for the Republican Party. The shift has happened since 2008: 71 percent of Jews called themselves Democrats in 2008, now it’s 61 percent; 22 percent of Jews called themselves Republicans in 2008, now it’s 29 percent. Frank Newport writes:

The percentage of the general population that identifies with or leans Democratic has fallen by about seven percentage points since 2008, compared with the 10-point drop among Jews. The percentage that identifies with or leans Republican among the general population is up three points, compared with the increase of seven points among Jews.

–Last night on MSNBC, former governor Ed Rendell said that Jeb Bush’s big challenge was in foreign policy, to distinguish himself from the neoconservative policies of his brother George W. The country does not want another war in the Middle East, Rendell said. Rendell was certainly speaking for the Democratic Party base. If Hillary Clinton runs, she will have to be very careful about her messaging on Iran. The party faithful do not want a confrontation with Iran, even Israel supporters like Rendell.

–Two nights ago on Hardball, Chris Matthews said the establishment wing of the Republican Party that is supporting Jeb Bush is the big east coast money, and it’s “hawkish.” Matthews was surely echoing a Politico story on pro-Israel Republicans gathering big donors: “Jewish Republicans gird for a fight.”

Politico and others reported that the Republican Jewish Coalition had an event last night in D.C., bringing Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Rob Portman of Ohio, together with Sheldon Adelson, who funded Republican presidential candidates last go-round. Not to mention former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Politico quotes Ari Fleischer, former Bush speechwriter, saying that Rand Paul is off limits to Jewish Republicans, and notes indications that Jews are becoming more Republican in recent years:

Republicans have made gains in recent elections, as they’ve emphasized a more hawkish approach to supporting Israel’s defense and security. In 2014, they captured 33 percent of Jewish votes, up from 12 percent in 2006, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Research Center.

There is big money in being hawkish:

Several top Republican Jewish donors — including [Mel] Sembler — are lining up behind Jeb Bush’s potential presidential campaign, as is Charlie Spies, a top GOP election lawyer who helped Mitt Romney’s super PAC raise millions from Jewish donors. Though Bush, a former Florida governor, has little foreign policy experience in his own right, he’s expressed support for a muscular interventionism that seems to echo that of his brother, former President George W. Bush.

“It’s very important that whoever emerges to be the Republican Party nominee for 2016 is someone who recognizes the consequences of America being weak and inconsistent with our foreign policy,” said [Lee] Zeldin, a former state senator and Iraq War veteran [and now the only Jewish Republican in Congress]. He asserted that concerns about President Barack Obama’s sometimes frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had created “a growing opportunity to expand our reach to voters who have voted Democrat in the past.”

Charlie Spies is now Bush’s campaign lawyer. Jewish Insider says that Spies and his wife Lisa are major bundlers in the Jewish community, “the power couple of Republican Jewish money in politics,” according to a recent book. “Lisa Spies is the leading Republican fundraiser in that niche of American Jews for whom Israel was top voting issue.”

Lisa Spies described her work for Romney in 2012 to the Jewish News Service. What leaps out from this interview is how rightwing and religious the Jews she’s tapping are.

I was hired as Jewish outreach director about two years ago [2010]. At that point, no other primary candidate had a paid staffer focused on the Jewish community. The first goal was to coordinate meetings and conference calls with Jewish leaders and supporters. We reached out to organizations such as AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), ZOA (Zionist Organization of America), OU (Orthdox Union), and RJC (Republican Jewish Coalition)….

I made sure there was glatt kosher food and prayer services at every donor retreat.

Prayer services for Jewish donors– believe me, that’s not happening in the Democratic Party. The 60 percent of Jews who are Democrats are surely more secular and liberal.

Hawkish money, the east coast establishment. That’s the reconstituted Israel lobby; and the indication here is that the lobby will have less and less purchase inside the Democratic Party. Obviously I am hopeful on this question, but when you combine this data with the fact that young Democrats and Hispanics are increasingly critical of Israel and a majority of Americans favor democracy over Jewishness when it comes to Israel and see the I/P conflict as fostering ISIS, I predict some real debate about these issues in Democratic primary races in 2016.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Israel lobby will abandon the Democratic Party. Haim Saban and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Chuck Schumer will see to that. The lobby functions by getting behind winning candidates of either party. But the hard-core lobby is solidifying inside the Republican Party. And if the Israeli elections crown Netanyahu, we’re going to see more and more Crisis Zionists at the heart of the Democratic Party– J Street and Peter Beinart, which will leave room for non-Zionists to emerge.

Update: The Democratic National Committee is also slavering over the Israel lobby in this post attacking the Republican Jewish Coalition for hosting Rand Paul.

Tonight, as Rand Paul heads to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s congressional reception, here are four key facts to keep in mind:

…Rand Paul supports eliminating all U.S. foreign aid to Israel.

The post offers four examples of Rand Paul stating that view. Thanks to Janet McMahon.

Update: Rand Paul ain’t buying. His latest press release, today, a “Defend Israel” act:

Sen. Rand Paul today introduced S.34, the Defend Israel by Defunding Palestinian Foreign Aid Act of 2015. This legislation will call for the immediate halt of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). Under the current U.S. law, America is prohibited from assisting the Palestinian Authority if it seeks ICC claims against Israel. Thus far, the Obama administration has not committed to taking any actions and appears disinclined to cut off aid. The bill text can be found below.

Read more:


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