In Lee Zeldin, Long Island has sent to the United States Congress someone tough on Islamic extremism who in just his two months in office has become a national figure taking on radical Islam.
Zeldin’s rapid rise to prominence comes as ISIS conducts beheadings, burns alive a captured Jordanian pilot, abducts and rapes women and girls and carries out numerous mass-killings, and other Islamic extremists are also committing heinous, barbarous acts.
And it comes amid Democratic President Barack Obama’s strains with Israel and issues involving his administration’s stance on a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
Zeldin is the only Jewish Republican member of the House of Representatives (after the primary defeat of Eric Cantor of Virginia last year). The 1st Congressional District which he represents covers, in its east, the tourism and farming and fishing-based Hamptons and North Fork of the island, and to the west a sizeable portion of its suburban center.
Voters in the district have through the years fluctuated between electing Democratic and Republican representatives to the House, and several decades ago chose a Conservative Party member, too. I’ve lived in the district for more than 50 years.
Zeldin, 35, is very much a product of the district. He was raised and still lives in Shirley, a working class hamlet on its south shore named for developer Walter T. Shirley. In the 1950s, Shirley built 4,000 four-room houses which he pitched in New York City newspapers as, at $4,700, very affordable.
Zeldin graduated from the local William Floyd High School, named for a signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Floyd’s 25-room estate, a National Park Service site, is on 611 acres in Mastic Beach, adjacent to Shirley. A major general in the Suffolk County Militia in the Revolutionary War, Floyd was a delegate to the First Continental Congress from 1773 to 1776. Then he became a member of the new New York State Senate from 1777 to 1788.
Zeldin had his bar mitzvah at the B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale on Long Island. He and his wife have two daughters, and the family are members of the congregation.
He received a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany and a law degree from Albany Law School becoming, at 23, New York State’s youngest lawyer at the time (2004). He then joined the U.S. Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Military Intelligence Corps.
His Army experience included deployment with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq. He cited that at a recent meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to which he was appointed by the House Republican leadership, a rarity for a freshman member. At issue was ISIS and President Obama’s submission to Congress of a war powers measure to fight it.
Zeldin declared, “My litmus test is going to be very simple: are we doing absolutely everything in our power to insure that we win.” He spoke of a speech given by Obama in September in which he was “talking about dropping bombs and the reliance on Iraqi military and law enforcement to do the job. When I was in Iraq in 2006, it was an accomplishment to get them to show up for work,” and that was in spite of “expecting no threats that day.”
“So relying on elements on the ground who have no morale, no patriotism, they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the training, they don’t have the will,” he said, “is something that we have to take into account.”
The U.S., he continued, “has the best special operations forces in the entire world: Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy Seals, Marines, Delta Force. When we talk about boots on the ground, we’re not talking about restoring occupation. No one is talking about that. I don’t support that. But I tell you what I do want: for a member of ISIS to sleep with one eye open because they fear an Army Ranger may be visiting their house or their fellow terrorist’s house to put a round of lead between their eyes.”
Zeldin said there needs to be “understanding if we wait five years, what we are up against is going to be a hundred times greater than it is right now.”
“You cannot simply wish this conflict away,” he said. “Sometimes you look for conflict, but other times, like now, conflict finds you.”
Zeldin can’t be accused of being an armchair general. In addition to his active duty experience, he remains with the U.S. military as a major in the Army Reserve.
His critical position on Obama and ISIS is mirrored in nationwide U.S. polls. A CBS News/New York Times poll last year found 57 percent of those queried didn’t think the president was sufficiently tough in dealing with ISIS and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 68 percent had “very little” or “just some” confidence in Obama’s strategy on ISIS. CNN last week reported on its new poll that “found 57% of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling the threat posed by ISIS.”
Zeldin also believes Obama is soft in the negotiations with Iran on nuclear weapons. “I strongly disagree with the president’s continuing effort to win over the Iranian government through acts of kindness,” he declared last month. “It’s a strategy divorced from the reality that the Iranians do not respect weakness, only strength.”
Zeldin is outraged by what he views as Obama’s efforts to eliminate Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel. On NewsmaxTV this month, he cited a U.S. consulting group, 270 Strategies, its founding partner Jeremy Bird, national field director of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, working with other former Obama staffers with the Israeli political campaign group V-15 to defeat Netanyahu in Israeli elections next month.
Zeldin is irritated by the plan by some Democrats in Congress not to attend Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress. He sees this as linked to Obama’s refusal to meet with the prime minister when he comes to Washington for the speech. “Israel is our strongest ally, and in an area of the world that is facing the rising tide of radical Islamic extremism and state sponsorship of terrorism in pursuit of nuclear capacity,” Zeldin told Washington-based Politico. “It really should be a no-brainer to warmly embrace the leader of Israel, no matter who that person is ever, without missing a beat.”
Zeldin is also critical of Obama for a statement in which he cited ISIS as threatening various peoples, but left out Jews. Reported the World Israel News this month:“Republican lawmaker Lee Zeldin of New York has begun a one-man crusade in questioning the reason President Obama has left out any mention of Jews in a list of minorities threatened by ISIS.”
Zeldin defeated six-term Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop of Southampton last year to be elected to the House. Bishop, formerly the provost at Southampton College, is a descendant of the original English settlers of Southampton in 1640 and was a consistent Obama supporter—which Zeldin used as a major campaign issue.
Zeldin had run earlier against Bishop—in 2008 and was soundly defeated. In 2010 he ran for the New York State Senate and upset a Democratic incumbent to take that seat. He won re-election to it in 2012 and last year risked it to try again for the U.S. House of Representatives.
He is a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Jewish War Veterans.