Alan Newman

Biden and FDR: Lessons for today’s apathetic and apologetic Jews

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia

Roosevelt’s catastrophic indifference to the Holocaust should motivate Jews to press Biden for unequivocal support of our threatened ally Israel.

Some eighty years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when petitioned to rescue Jews from the Holocaust, toyed with American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. Roosevelt largely silenced the ineffective Wise and, in the end, did the bare minimum to limit the Nazi’s extermination of European Jewry. He took for granted the adoring support of the Jews, and he acted without fear of alienation or retribution. Democrat Roosevelt, on learning about a possible demonstration for his support, sensed their cowering fearfulness, and uttered, “The Jews should keep quiet.”

Historian Rafael Medoff stated, “Franklin Roosevelt took advantage of Wise’s adoration of his policies and leadership to manipulate Wise through flattery and intermittent access to the White House.” And David Wyman, author of The Abandonment of the Jews wrote, “Franklin Roosevelt’s indifference to so momentous an historical event as the systematic annihilation of European Jewry emerges as the worst failure of his presidency.” Regarding the leadership of Rabbi Wise, Wyman opined, “In return for visits to the White House and Roosevelt calling him by his first name, Wise undermined Jewish activists who demanded the administration let more Jewish refugees into the US.”

American Jews before and during World War II were understandably cautious and only a few spoke up. Most saw Roosevelt as an economic savior and a leader who supported a liberal agenda consistent with Jewish principles. They were mostly immigrants, and but one generation removed from the shtetl, and they were glad to move past the centuries of expulsions, violence, and limitations. Ben Hecht, the wildly successful writer but often forgotten partner of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s protege Peter Bergson (aka, Hillel Kook), called out these “Jewish souls” as having been “…trained by disaster and calumny to live in caution, to hide itself cozily behind good deeds, to overlook insults, to charm its enemies, and to avoid getting its enemies angrier that they are.”

Jews of these earlier times were weak, fearful, and lacked Israel’s geopolitical power and presence. Organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) or Christians United for Israel (CUFI) had not yet been created or lacked real traction to lobby on their behalf.

Between the Roosevelt era and today, it was a time many identify as the American Jews’ Golden Age. They were a segue from the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers, and had achieved unprecedented social acceptance, amassed material gains and prestige, and became a key part of the American success story. But, along with this success, many fell prey to complacency, indifference, and assimilation. It has sown seeds for yet another disaster.

By contrast to the earlier epoch, today’s Jews are a stronger minority, have Israel as a burly alter ego backstop, and AIPAC, ZOA and CUFI are forces representing Jewish and Israeli interests in Congress. At the same time, too many Jews are apathetic and apologetic. Their well-documented attachment to liberal, progressive politics with intersectional oppressor-oppressed dogma somehow transposes Israel and Jews into privileged oppressors. Self-defeating organizations like J-Street and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) play along with this dangerous dissonance. In a recent outrageous anti-Israel statement regarding the war in Gaza during the Oscars, Jonathan Glaser, director of the Auschwitz film The Zone of Interest, self-righteously identified with: “…men who refute their Jewishness.”

While today’s Jewish-American circumstances are decidedly different, President Biden also avoids full support for Israel, an ally which suffered a vicious attack on October 7, and which faces an existential threat from Iran and a closing circle of terrorist proxies. Biden, like Roosevelt, expects the great majority of Jews to vote for him. He watches most Jewish voters subordinate support for Israel behind many other liberal causes.

Where Roosevelt was supported by fearful Jews, Biden instead is supported by woke Jews who undervalue the centrality of Israel to their religion and of America’s moral connection to Israel. It’s a scary parallel.

Regarding President Trump, who has also fired off confusing and unhelpful messages about Israel, Salena Zito, in The Atlantic insightfully said, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” His credibility regarding Israel comes from some mix of unprecedented achievements and Jewish grandchildren. We’ll see where his real loyalty lies if he is re-elected.

Jonathan Alter, journalist, and the author of The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, observed about Biden, “…he framed his portfolio of social policies as mirroring those of his party’s legend FDR.” And he concluded, “Whatever the future holds, Mr. Biden and Mr. Roosevelt are now fused in history by the size and breadth of their progressive ambitions.” Biden’s play for an impactful legacy can be viewed as either an antidote to heal a career damaged with plagiarism, a reputation of never being on the right side of an issue and his son’s mysterious business success with our enemies.

In the fog of war, a war thrust upon Israel, Israel will make mistakes. Other countries, most of whom have demonstrated animus towards Israel, will level unfair criticism. The pressure to move on and to ignore the complexities of Israel’s seventy-five-year battle for survival, will mount. The billions invested by Arab nations, like Qatar, in anti-Israel propaganda will continue to source    the mobs and distort the truth.

American pro-Israel activists need to aggressively reach out to their apathetic, apologist Jewish neighbors and teach them about past failings, and also to consider what is at stake. They need to be uncompromisingly brave: avoid universities or employers that are hostile to Jews, drop relationships with Jews, or anyone, who equivocates on Israel’s righteous fight for survival. If friends are asleep, wake them up…educate them, ask for contributions and involvement.  Press Jewish organizations to toughen up to prioritize Israel’s safety over all other issues.

Presidents and political leaders watch which way the Jewish winds blow. Jews have been disappointed, disregarded and abandoned before, and it can happen again.

About the Author
Alan Newman is a life-long supporter of the Jewish community and Israel. His commitment is evident with his hands-on approach and leadership positions at AIPAC, StandWithUs, Ben-Gurion University, Ethiopian National Project and Federation’s JCRC. He has traveled to Israel almost two dozen times and is an enthusiastic supporter of pro-Israel Christians including critical organizations like CUFI, ICEJ, USIEA and Genesis 123 Foundation. Alan’s compelling novel, GOOD HEART, published by Gefen Publishing House, is a multi-generational story about a Christian and Jewish family. He was a senior executive at Citigroup and holds two US Patents. He lives with his wife in West Palm Beach and enjoys time with his two sons and their families.
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