Jewish Republicans are a rare breed of American; I should know, because I am one myself. With no more than 30% of Jewish Americans identifying as members of the GOP, we are a small political minority inside a tiny ethnic minority. On top of that, Jewish Republicans lack consensus on a wide range of issues from abortion to Zionism. Consequently, the number of Jewish Republican officeholders at the local, state, and federal levels is insignificant when compared to Jewish Democrats. This disparity is most evident in Congress, where all nine Jewish Senators are either Democrats or Independent; out of the twenty-one Jewish members of the House of Representatives, only one is a Republican: Lee Zeldin, the freshman member from New York’s First Congressional District.
I was excited when Zeldin won his first election for Congress back in November. After the bungling mess of Eric Cantor’s primary campaign that saw the Majority Leader kicked out of office, it was nice to know that there would be at least one Republican Congressman who shares my religious and ethnic background. Congressman Zeldin gained a lot of media attention during his first month in office. With antisemitism returning in force to Western nations, Zeldin’s perspective is in demand as a Jewish American officeholder who is strong on Israel and tough on defense issues. With that in mind, I wish to voice my disagreement with Congressman Zeldin over his opposition to certain language in the President’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The language in question lies in the resolution’s introduction:
“Whereas ISIL has threatened genocide and committed vicious acts of violence against religious and ethnic minority groups, including Iraqi Christian, Yezidi, and Turkmen populations;”
Congressman Zeldin takes issue with this statement because it omits Jews from the listed minority populations under danger from ISIL. Commenting on the matter to CNN, Zeldin states that “I strongly believe we were reminded in Paris that these radical Islamic extremists, they want to wipe Israel off the map…They target not only Jews but our freedom, our exceptionalism as Americans — the whole western world.”
Zeldin goes beyond arguing that Jews should be included in that list of threatened minorities, though. When asked if he thinks that the White House “deliberately” left Jews out of the resolution, he commented “I think that when the White House is drafting a resolution for the authorization of force, that every single word, every phrase in there is done deliberately — it has to be.” This comment can logically be construed as Congressman Zeldin implying that yes, the White House intentionally left Jews off the list. That would certainly play into the criticism surrounding the President’s recent portrayal of the antisemitic terrorist attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris as a “random” assault on “a bunch of folks in a deli”. Let me clearly state here that I was upset with the President’s choice of words in that Vox interview, and especially his Press Secretary and State Department spokeswoman’s asinine defense of the comment. The statement portrays the President as unwilling to acknowledge the threat of violent antisemitism against Jews living in Europe. That the White House referred to the attack as antisemitic in previous statements makes this entire ordeal even stranger.
With that aside, I do not think that it is a deliberate slight to Jews if we are omitted from the list of threatened minority groups in the AUMF. First off, the AUMF clearly relates to any future United States military operations in the territory held by ISIL. Stretching over wide swaths of Iraq and Syria, these lands are home to tens of thousands of Arab Christians, Shiite Muslims, Kurds, Yazidis, and Turkmen. Those minority groups, particularly the Yazidis and Arab Christians, are indeed facing the threat of persecution and even genocide under their ISIL rulers. However, to the best of my knowledge, the Jewish population in ISIL controlled territory is almost nonexistent, possibly even zero. While the minority groups I mentioned earlier are indeed facing existential threats that justify American military intervention, I do not believe that Jews in Europe, North America, or even Israel face the same kind of danger from ISIL. Jewish Israelis certainly face more of a threat from ISIL than Jews in America or Britain due solely to geographic proximity, but Israeli security officials and experts have made it clear that they do not see ISIL as a direct threat to their country.
Furthermore, I disagree with the Congressman’s conflation of the Hyper Cacher terrorist attack with ISIL. It is true that ISIL calls for another Holocaust of the Jewish people, and has inspired lone wolf terrorist attacks from Australia to Oklahoma. It is also true that in the days leading up to the attack, the gunman Cherif Kouachi recorded a video in which he pledges allegiance to ISIL. However, as the hostage crisis was underway, Kouachi communicated to a French press outlet that his motivation was to defend “oppressed Muslims, notably in Palestine.” I see the Hyper Cacher attack incited more by the rise in antisemitism around Europe – which of course is unjustifiable and horrific – since Operation Protective Edge began. In addition, while ISIL claims responsibility for the Hyper Cacher and Charlie Hebdo attacks, no solid ties between the perpetrators and ISIL have been established. Given the available evidence, it is most likely that ISIL had no involvement in planning, financing, or directing the attacks. Kouachi could have pledged allegiance to Al-Queda in the Arabian Peninsula for all it mattered, but that would not have affected the outcome of his brutal and savage attack. Therefore, Zeldin’s conflation of the Hyper Cacher attack with the threats of extermination facing minority groups under ISIL control is inaccurate. European Jews are more worried about antisemitism from their Christian and Muslim neighbors (and rightly so) than the capacity for ISIL to attack them directly or indirectly. One could certainly argue that further ISIL inspired attacks in Europe should be of concern to European Jews, but the AUMF is for military operations over the skies of Mosul and Raqqa, not Paris and London.
Every Jew – Israeli, American, European, or otherwise – should be alert and aware of the rise in antisemitic rhetoric and incidents around the world. Just yesterday, South African media reported that the student body of a university in Durban agreed to a resolution calling on the school to expel their Jewish students. Jewish and Israeli college students throughout the West are harassed, intimidated, and in some cases assaulted for their support of Israel’s existence and right to defend itself from terrorism. More and more European Jews wonder how long their future on the continent can last. I strongly believe that more commitment and action from our elected leaders, including President Obama, must be taken to stop this societal shift towards ignoring or even condoning antisemitism in the name of “justice for Palestine.” That being said, the threat facing me as a Jewish American college student, or my Jewish friends from San Diego to Paris, is not the same as the threat of annihilation currently facing the Yazidis, or Arab Christians, or Iraqi Shiites. Perhaps Congress should make a resolution strongly condemning antisemitism, with a pledge to protect Jewish Americans from its rise. When it comes to authorizing the use of military force against ISIL, however, I do not want to marginalize the threat of genocide facing innocent religious and ethnic groups under the group’s control just to score a political point against the President.