Tea partiers have downplayed the lack of diversity in their ranks, but on Monday one of the movement’s leading organizers announced a new initiative to reach out to racial, ethnic and religious minorities – and the first target this season are Jews.”We do need to reach out,” said Matt Kibbe, president of the small-government group FreedomWorks, which this week is launching a minority outreach effort called DiverseTea with a series of print ads in Jewish community newspapers.
The ads, which will be accompanied by a yet-to-launch website, will showcase diversity in the tea party ranks by calling attention to movement leaders who are African-American, Hispanic and Jewish.
“The goal is to build a platform for a diverse group of tea party leaders from across the country – African-Americans, Jews, Hispanics, others that have come to this movement – because there is this nagging perception that we are not diverse, and I disagree with that,” said Kibbe during a Monday breakfast with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Asked afterward why FreedomWorks was launching the effort by targeting Jews rather than African-Americans, whose absence from tea party events has been repeatedly cited by liberals as proof that the movement is racist, Kibbe said, “I think that there is a more open debate to be had (in the Jewish community), but there is no genius behind that. I had to start somewhere.”
He added that FreedomWorks would place DiverseTea ads in black community papers “next.” But he said that the NAACP resolution that infuriated tea party activists by expressing concern about racist and homophobic elements within the tea party movement also contained a less-noticed reference alleging anti-Semitism.
In a statement announcing the resolution, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said, “The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no place for racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in their movement.”
Tea party activists have long highlighted whatever involvement of racial and ethnic minorities there is in the movement, but there’s been little effort to date to elevate the prominence of Jews.
In announcing DiverseTea, though, Kibbe pointed to the diversity of the speakers at the rally his group sponsored Sunday on Washington’s National Mall, including the Rev. C.L. Bryant, who is African-American, and activists Tito Munoz, who is Hispanic, and Ryan Hecker, who is Jewish.
Hecker, who will appear in the ads with Bryant and other tea partiers, led the effort to develop a crowd-sourced statement of tea party principles called the Contract From America – intended as a populist take on the 1994 Contract With America that Republicans used in their campaign to retake Congress that year – which was a theme of Sunday’s rally. It has been signed by movement-favored Senate candidates including Marco Rubio of Florida, Ken Buck of Colorado and Mike Lee of Utah.
Unlike Bryant’s race or Munoz’s ethnicity, Hecker seldom speaks of his religion at tea party events, but he said “it’s definitely a part of who I am.”
He said he was happy to do the ads because “for me, it was to make a statement that the tea party is not just a one-religion movement – it’s not just a Christian movement. It’s about fiscal issues, not about religion or the color of our skin.”
Though he said “there are a lot of Jews in the tea party movement,” he conceded that “a lot of Jews are traditionally Democratic and traditionally liberal. But there is definitely a contingent of conservative Jews out there, and it’s underrepresented. I think there should be a lot more conservative Jews than there are.”