The past few months have been challenging for pro-Israel activists as we’ve watched Israel become a political football to be punted around by both parties. First came the accusations that the Israeli Prime Minister was not really interested in speaking before Congress to highlight the genocidal danger from Iran but was rather interested in embarrassing President Obama and getting reelected. Then we saw the reaction of the Obama administration to Netanyahu’s reelection, what John McCain called a “temper tantrum.” The Republicans were not guiltless either, with some arguing that all this proves that Democrats can’t be trusted on Israel, when the truth is that some of Israel’s greatest supporters are Democrats, like the courageous Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
I ran for Congress as a Republican. But that does not change my deep conviction that Israel has had, and continues to have, incredible friends in the Democratic party. Some from the past, like Senator Scoop Jackson and Danny Inouye, are legend. Others in the present, like Senators Bill Nelson and Gary Peters, and Representatives Steny Hoyer, and Nita Lowey, are likewise so.
So why would Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chairperson of the Democratic National Congressional Committee, suddenly come along in the The Times of Israel and poison the well just when we were getting past all this? “Instead of changing their positions on the issues that matter to American Jews, Republicans have chosen the dangerous strategy of politicizing Israel’s security as their strategy to win over Jewish voters,” she writes.
Really? Republican concerns about Israel being shelled by thousands of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets, or being attacked with nuclear weapons by Iran is “politicizing Israel’s security?” I suppose Republican concerns about the radical Islamic genocide of Mideast Christians would be politicizing Christian security, according to Schultz.
And what’s up with the argument that Republicans are backward, human-rights denying neanderthals who are in violation of Jewish values? According to Schultz, apparently it is only Democrats who, “seek to right injustice, promote tolerance and constantly strive to move our nation toward a more perfect union. Jews overwhelmingly support women’s rights, workers’ rights, and civil rights for all Americans…These are values for which Democrats have fought and Republicans have not.”
So half of the country who vote Republican really don’t care about injustice, tolerance, or the rights of all people, and that’s why they vote Republicans into office?
Are we really going to do this? Are we really going to start arguing about which party Judaism supports? I thought we live in a country that separates Church and State.
In 2008 I published a column praising then-Senator Obama for the pride he had in using the name “Barack” and embracing, rather than running from, his African heritage. I pointed out that we Jews can learn from this pride in not changing our names or assimilating into oblivion. We should proudly affirm our Jewish identities. On the strength of that, it seems, the Obama campaign approached me and asked if I would be a national co-chair of Rabbis for Obama.
Not because I thought Obama would be bad for Israel – although I had my suspicions – but because I was opposed to any mixing on that level of religion and politics.
If I as a rabbi want to endorse a candidate, that’s my right as an individual. But the moment we get into religious leaders claiming that the faith points to a specific party, we’re all in trouble. To echo what Abraham Lincoln said of the North and South in his greatest speech, the second inaugural, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”
If a man as great as Lincoln was able to admit to the deeply held religious beliefs of his enemies in the South, how much more so should Debbie Wasserman Schultz not judge any of her political foes, or attempt to deny their fidelity to biblical teachings or Jewish values of kindness and tikkun olam.
Wasserman Schultz is way off the mark in these unhelpful and frankly destructive arguments, and I would say the same thing if it were a Republican rabbi arguing that Democrats are trampling on Jewish values. While I may favor one particular party, I am thrilled to live in America, a real democracy with real choice as opposed to China or Russia with their one-party systems.
But where Wasserman Schultz really begins to offend is where she talks about how much President Obama has done for Israel. “I am proud of the efforts made by the Obama administration to solidify the relationship with one of our nation’s closest friends and strongest allies. Under President Obama, the United States and Israel have had unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation and strong economic collaboration.”
But with all due respect, Congresswoman, do you really want to go there? Do you want to have to defend the President’s treatment of the Israeli Prime Minister? Come on. President Obama tried to stop the leader of a nation, which saw one-third of its number gassed and cremated 70 years ago, from speaking out against the new genocidal threat from Iran. Even if President Obama disagreed profusely with the Prime Minister’s arguments, since when is America a place that stifles free speech, especially on so important a subject? Not to mention that Netanyahu’s calls for extreme caution towards Iran reflected many of the concerns of the American people.
A recent Bloomberg poll found that “majorities of Americans in both parties say any deal Obama makes with Iran should be subject to congressional approval.” And it is a number of Democrats in the Senate who provided the votes necessary to subvert Obama’s push to circumvent Congress and hammer through a deal of surrender and capitulation to Iran without the approval of the people’s elected representatives.
The President’s actions towards Netanyahu have been deplorable. He refused to meet the Prime Minister. Refused to host him. And then blew a gasket in the most unseemly manner after the Prime Minister won the election.
Obama retaliated by threatening to stop using the veto in the UN that has historically protected Israel from unfair and harmful resolutions. When Bibi made statements that there would be no Palestinian state under his leadership, which he later clarified to mean the likelihood of a state in the near future given current realities, Obama refused to believe Bibi’s clarification. “We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership,” he told The Huffington Post. Obama threatened a “reassessment” of American ties with Israel. White House spokesman Josh Earnest threatened that there could be “consequences” to Netanyahu’s words.
A gallup poll from February of this year showed that Republican support for the State of Israel was extremely robust, with 80% supporting Israel. Democrats support for Israel was at 48%. The poll noted that “Democrats sympathizing with Israel fell 10 points this year to 48%, possibly reflecting the tension between Obama and Netanyahu.” So if anything, Obama’s public hostility and personal attacks against Netanyahu has over time likely influenced a sizable number of Americans to reverse and withdraw their support of Israel.
Things finally got so bad that Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) felt the need to pen a letter to Obama, telling him to stop with the threats of punishment against Israel. “We must make clear our willingness to use our veto power to block such efforts at the UN Security Council and our continuing defense of Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council and other agencies where Israel is under constant assault,” the Senators wrote.
Furthermore, Obama’s appalling treatment of Israel’s democratically elected leader stand in stark contrast to his cozy relationships with some of the world’s worst dictators. The President has a good relationship with Erdogan, the tyrant of Turkey, who has destroyed his nation’s democracy and allows fighters to pass through to join ISIS. President Obama traveled to Saudi Arabia to pay his personal condolences upon the passing of arch-misogynist King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a man who wouldn’t even allow women to drive a car. And he utters not an unkind word about Ayatollah Khameini, the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism.
In the end, the type of blame-game engage in by Wasserman Schultz is counterproductive and does nothing but divide us. There is fortunately a broad support of Israel among Democratic and Republican elected officials and their constituents. People can see through the attempts to label one party as inherently un-Jewish or lacking in values. The truth is that voters and officials from both parties are still sworn into office on the Bible, publicly admit their belief in God, and the majority truly want what is best for this country, though they may differ in how they believe we can best reach that goal.
Wasserman Schultz would do well to avoid these unhelpful attacks and political attempts to divide us as a nation. It is not for nothing that we have the words “In God We Trust” emblazoned on our currency. We are a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values and ideals and we would do well to avoid judging one another as lacking in this regard.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of “The World Values Network” and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.