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January 10, 2013 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-01-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

metro

Obama's Jewish Media Hub

Outstaffed and outspent, tiny team nailed down Jewish vote for the president.

I

Phil Jacobs

Washington Jewish Week/JTA

A

moment of silence. That's what
Jews worldwide were demand-
ing at last summer's London
Olympics in memory of the 11 Israeli
Olympians killed by Palestinian terrorists
at the 1972 Munich Games.
The Obama White House wasted little
time releasing a statement supporting the
gesture.
But Mitt Romney, the Republican chal-
lenger, and himself the director of the Salt
Lake City Olympics, said virtually nothing.
For that he was openly criticized by
Barbara Berger, a Maine resident and the
sister of the late David Berger, one of the
Munich 11.
At some time in the top-floor office of
the Washington, D.C., public relations
firm of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications,
a detailed research document noting
Berger's criticism of Romney was put
together and distributed.
It would be one of thousands of news
releases, op-eds and social networking
posts directed at undecided Jewish voters.
Describing the working space as an
"office" is generous. Standing up in what
the group called the Jewish Media Hub
meant not hitting one's head on a rafter.
There, a staff of 10 full- and part-timers
generated information. It was done under
the radar. There was a battle, if not a war,
going on with Republicans for the unde-

In The Hub

I

t's July 3 at 8:30 a.m., and I am sit-
ting in a black suit on the train from
Baltimore to Washington, D.C. I
didn't know much about the job I was
interviewing for. However, I knew I
would be working with the media to help
President Obama get his message out.
After meeting with Aaron Keyak,
director of the Jewish Media Hub, he
took me to meet my other future boss,
Steve Rabinowitz. Steve is president of
Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications and
the brains behind the idea of the Jewish
Media Hub. He explained to me that
the Republicans had been trying to peel
away the Jewish vote since 1980, when an
unprecedented 39 percent of American
Jewish voters supported Ronald Reagan.
During our conversation, Steve asked
if I had seen ads from the Republican
Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the

12 January 10 • 2013

Hub staffers Jason Berger, Liz Leibowitz and Aaron Keyak at work in the attic

cided Jewish vote. On the floors below,
Steve Rabinowitz and Matt Dorf were still
working independently with their clients,
and it was business as usual.
On the top floor, though, getting a mes-
sage to Jewish voters was the priority.
Rabinowitz had to raise half a million
dollars to fund the effort. Hub staffers
were up against the tens of millions of
dollars going for the same vote provided
by the Sheldon Adelsons of the world. A
game-changer could have been Romney's
trip to Israel last summer, an effort to back
up his rhetoric against Iran. The Obama
administration, for its part, had provided

Iron Dome protection to Israel as well as
other significant support, but many Jewish
voters reportedly remained unconvinced.
The Hub was a nonprofit loosely affili-
ated with the National Jewish Democratic
Council (NJDC). It could send op-eds and
press memos pointing out positive aspects
of Obama's policies and negative elements
of Romney's. To remain a nonprofit, how-
ever, it couldn't urge that a voter choose
one candidate over another.
Two weeks before Election Day, with
the campaigns sprinting toward Nov. 6,
the Hub went into overdrive, drafting and/
or placing more than 15 op-eds, includ-

ing pieces by former New York Mayor Ed
Koch; Democratic National Committee
Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; for-
mer U.N. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg;
Stuart Milk, the nephew of the late civil
rights leader Harvey Milk; the last three
presidents of Jewish Council for Public
Affairs; an Israeli and a Palestinian writing
on Romney and Middle East peace; NJDC
leader David Harris; former California
Rep. Mel Levine; the three co-chairs of
Rabbis for Obama; and noted attorney
and Harvard Law School professor Alan
Dershowitz. That was in just two weeks.
The Hub also wrote, edited and publi-
cized a Barbra Streisand video for NJDC
that garnered more than 75,000 YouTube
views. The Hub promoted a viral email
from Michigan Sen. Carl Levin that was
sent to more than 150,000 Jews in battle-
ground states. It also arranged interviews
with Jack Lew, the president's chief of staff.

Media War Room

The Hub started in early July, when Aaron
Keyak was hired to be its leader, managing
more than 10 staffers. Keyak said the goal
was to "talk to Jews where they live:'
"We were basically a rapid-response
media war room:' said Keyak, who came to
the Hub after serving on the staff of former
New Jersey Rep. Steve Rothman. "We were
responding at times minute by minute to
events of the day. We had all the data and
research at our fingertips. If there was an
issue on Romney and Iran, we were able to

A local young professional helps re-elect President Obama.

Emergency Committee on Israel
Once I joined Rabinowitz/
(ECI) bashing President Obama
Dorf, I realized that the task
for his management of the U.S.-
ahead of us was steep, to say
Israel relationship and painting
the least. Our team worked
him as anti-Israel. I told him
in an attic with a budget of
yes, and that I felt the ads were
$500,000. Our opponents, on
completely inaccurate. After that
the other hand, seemingly
comment, Steve and Aaron basi-
had an unending supply of
cally hired me on the spot.
cash.
As it turns out, my back-
For my part, I used my
ground was perfect for the job. I
background in writing and
Jaso n Berger
graduated from the University of
research to draft and edit
Speci al to the
Michigan with degrees in politi-
memos and op-eds that were
Jewi sh News
cal science and international
later pitched to the main-
studies. Much of my research
stream and Jewish media.
and coursework covered Israel and its
Throughout the experience, I learned
relationship with the United States.
firsthand what it takes to influence a
Additionally, I worked as an intern at the
targeted audience during a presidential
American Israel Public Affairs Committee election. Persistence and remaining pro-
(AIPAC) at its Washington, D.C., research
active were part of our team's mantra.
department during the summer of 2010.
We had to be accessible at all hours in

case something happened on the cam-
paign trail.
For instance, around 12:30 a.m. one
night I took a cab to a reporter's apart-
ment so that I could pitch him a story we
wanted in the next day's news cycle.
We knew what was at stake, and we
worked hard to ensure that President
Obama's message was heard. I am grate-
ful that even as a 22-year-old, I had
the opportunity to help someone win a
United States presidential election. Now
I'm working to build a life and career in
a climate I helped influence. That's pretty
good for a kid from Farmington Hills,
right?



Jason Berger grew up in Farmington Hills and

currently lives in Washington, D.C. He is con-

tinuing his work in politics for the next two to

three years before going to law school.

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