This past Sunday night I conducted a conversation between Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and highest -ranking Jewish elected official in American history Birthright Israel co-founder and Jewish mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt on how universal Jewish values can be used to renew America. It was a spirited and comprehensive discussion that elicited from two of the most powerful and influential Jews in the world their views on the state of America, Israel, and the Jewish people and their belief that a heightened Jewish voice in global affairs could bring healing to a fractured world.
Michael was founding chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council that instrumental in the elevation of Bill Clinton to national prominence and indeed it was once a given that nearly all Jews would vote Democrat. But times are changing as American Jewry witnesses the unshakable commitment of leaders like Eric on Israel versus President Obama’s much more tenuous record.
To be sure, the President deserves high marks for enhancing America’s military cooperation with Israel and especially his rejection of unilateral Palestinian statehood at the UN. Those who say that Obama is anti-Israel malign him against the facts and those who say he is anti-Semitic are guilty of character assassination. But what is undoubtedly true is that Obama cannot be trusted on Israel. Not because of any inner prejudice against the Jewish state but because of his belief that pressuring Israel is the royal road to Middle East peace. Whether calling in May, 2009 for a freeze on all settlement activity while making no reciprocal demands of the Palestinians, or disrespecting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in March 2010, or provocatively invoking Israel’s 1967 lines in his May 2011 speech that was supposed to be about the Arabs and their spring, the President has shown a resolute conviction that putting the screws on Israel will produce broader results for Middle East stability.
Cantor, the leader of the House Republicans, and I, see it differently. The only thing that will lead to peace is the Arabs foregoing their decades-long hatred of Israel and their belief that the Jewish State is a transient entity that can be overrun, either militarily, via a slow, grinding war of terror attrition that forces Israel to cede strategic lands that ultimately render its security untenable, or through the influx of millions of ‘refugees’ who flood the state, diluting it of its Jewishness. The war between the Palestinians and Jews is not one primarily of land but of values, with our brothers the Palestinians tragically embracing a culture of death that glorifies martyrdom and violence and with the State of Israel embracing a culture of life and being committed to democracy and the value of every citizen, be they women, Arab, gay, or anything else.
Yes, President Obama stood firmly with Israel at the UN. But is this change of heart sincere or the product of a devastating Democratic loss of the safest of seats in Queens, New York’s ninth congressional district, thereby betraying the fact that no place – solid-blue Jew Jersey where I reside included – is safe for the Democrats.
At Cairo in June, 2009 the President analogized the holocaust to Arab “dislocation” that resulted from Israel’s creation: “The Jewish people were persecuted. …anti-Semitism …culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust…. Six million Jews were killed…. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” These are ignorant conclusions that not only equate two utterly incomparable tragedies but overlook the fact that Israel has absorbed millions of Jewish refugees while the Arab nations have used the Palestinians as pawns in their never-ending war of annihilation against Israel. And who is to say that once Obama wins reelection and is no longer dependent on Jewish money or votes, he will revert to policies based on these erroneous comparisons?
Last week I wrote about Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey’s blood libel against the Jewish state, claiming it has killed “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians,” and his never-ending campaign of defamation against what he labels Israeli barbarity and cruelty.
Turkey is a member of NATO and America is the very anchor of the NATO alliance. Yet President Obama has been silent while an ostensible ally daily demonizes Israel and accuses it of murder in genocidal proportions.
President Obama knows what if feels like to be defamed. Last week country music superstar Hank Williams, Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler, a disgusting and loathsome comment that was rightly condemned. Surely the President, in experiencing such vile attacks, knows what it’s like to see one’s name dragged through the mud and could stand up to protect America’s most trusted ally, whether there is an election coming or not.
In our public discussion I was given a written question by a participant asking Majority Leader Cantor if he foresaw more Jews becoming Republican, breaking a decades-old Democratic lock on the Jewish vote. Before Eric even had the opportunity to respond there was a sudden burst of thunderous applause from hundreds in the audience.
Time will tell if a red wave is about to wash over American Jewry, and for now Eric still remains the only Jewish member in the entire United States Congress. But unless President Obama stands up clearly and unequivocally to declare that the problems in the Middle East stem not from Binyamin Netanyahu – who was recently gratuitously and shamefully attacked by another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, as an obstacle to peace – but from parties like the Saudis, whose laws declare that women cannot drive and must be chaperoned in public, Bashar Assad, who continues to slaughter his people before the eyes of the world, and Hamas and Ahmadinejad, who remain committed to Israel’s annihilation, the Jewish vote might prove decisive for an Obama opponent in 2012.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of GIVE, the Global Institute for Values Education, has just published “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself” (Wiley) and in December will publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.