It’s Not Just about Israel

It has happened many times. I meet someone. The person finds out that I am Jewish. The person then starts carrying on about how much they love Israel and hate President Obama because he doesn’t support Israel.

First of all, the president does support Israel. In fact, they were singing his praises all over Israel just weeks ago when he rescued the Israelis from their embassy in Egypt. Republicans repeat over and over that President Obama does not support Israel and that Democrats do not support Israel.

If you say the lie often enough people start to believe it. It is not true. If it were, we would not have a Jewish DNC Chair (Debbie Wasserman Schultz) or a new Jewish member of the Supreme Court (Elena Kagen). If it were true, then the 39 current Jewish members of congress would be Republican. Instead, 38 are Democrats and 1 (Eric Cantor) is Republican. It is just not true. Democrats do support Israel.

However, there are many reasons why Jews tend to lean toward the Democratic Party. There are reasons beyond Israel that Eric Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in congress.

We Jews are notoriously argumentative. I have always heard that if you ask any three of us a question, you will get a minimum of 9 answers. That said, there are certain issues where we are pretty close to unanimous.

An extremely large majority of Jews believe in the separation of church and state, at least here in America. Many of our ancestors came to this country seeking religious freedom. Many had experienced firsthand how horrible religious theocracy can be. Our ancestors came here to escape the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms, the Italian Inquisition, the Crusades and the Holocaust. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.

When Jews see Governor Perry sign legislation in a church or host a giant religious shindig like “The Response” as governor of Texas, we get very concerned. When we see the phrase “dispelling the myth of separation of church and state” in the Texas Republican Party Platform, we worry. During the race for speaker of the Texas House, one email had the following, “Straus is going down in Jesus’ name.” The race for speaker was riddled with anti-Semitism. When Jews see these sorts of things, we know that the Republican Party is not with us on this issue.

It is not just about Israel.

Even more than the separation of church and state, Jews support education.

One common joke amongst Jews is, “When do Jews believe life begins?”  There are 3 different punch lines for this joke: “…right after medical school”; “right after law school”; and “right after getting their CPA”.

Most Jews expect their kids to go to college. They consider education essential, not optional. With only the occasional exception, our kids are more likely to be mathletes than athletes.  This is why when Republicans block money for Pell grants or lay off tens of thousands of Texas teachers, or propose a tax cut for mega yacht buyers while simultaneously cutting 4 billion from the education budget, we Jews recoil in horror. Jews care about education.

It is not just about Israel.

In the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 [the first platform of the Reform Judaism Movement in America] it states the following with regard to science:

We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives.

Clearly the above statement is a very early acceptance of evolution and the research of Charles Darwin. There have been 49 Jewish Nobel Laureates in Physics, 30 in Chemistry, and 53 in Medicine/Physiology. When we see 21st Century Republican candidates and public office holders declare that they don’t believe in evolution, most of us are dumbstruck and embarrassed. When we see efforts by Republicans across the country to teach creationism/intelligent design in our public schools, most of us are horrified.

Jews care about science. We make up a much larger portion of the scientific community than our percentage of the population. Much of the scientific research supporting evolution was done by Jewish scientists.

It is not just about Israel.

Jews care about the environment. Note the following publication:

The Founding Statement of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

Issued by the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Washington, D.C. March 10, 1992

We, American Jews of every denomination, from diverse organizations and differing political perspectives, are united in deep concern that the quality of human life and the earth we inhabit are in danger, afflicted by rapidly increasing ecological threats. Among the most pressing of these threats are: depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, massive deforestation, the extinction of species and loss of biodiversity, poisonous deposits of toxic chemicals and nuclear wastes, and exponential population growth. We here affirm our responsibility to address this planetary crisis in our personal and communal lives.

This publication goes on to cite portions of the Torah going all the way back to Genesis as a religious obligation. We are responsible for taking care of the earth, air, and water. We are responsible for keeping it clean. The many doctors among us see the detrimental health effects of pollution and their oath requires them to act.

Therefore, when Jews hear candidate after candidate, and public office holders deny climate change, it goes against their obligation of Tikkun Olam to repair the world. When candidates and office holders declare that they want to get rid of the EPA, they see these politicians positions as morally and ethically challenged.

It is not just about Israel.

Education, the environment, science and separation of church and state are just a few of the issues that concern Jews that have nothing to do with Israel. Now, let’s look at the issue of Israel.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called for Democrats and Republicans to sign a pledge to keep Israel from becoming a partisan wedge issue.  The response to that call to action by both parties is very telling.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) responded with overwhelming support. Keeping support for Israel nonpartisan has long been its position.

Republican-aligned Jewish groups, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) by contrast, opposed the efforts by AJC and ADL to leave Israel out of partisan attacks.

‘This effort to stifle debate on U.S. policy toward Israel runs counter to this American tradition. Accordingly, the RJC will not be silenced on this or any issue.’

It is easy to see with the above attitude, why Republicans find it so easy to lie about the Obama Administration’s and the Democratic Party’s record in regard to Israel. Now I know you aren’t supposed to use the word lie. But the plain and simple fact is that Republicans are not telling the truth. Facts matter.

In September of 2011 alone, President Obama earned the praise of Israel’s leaders on two very important events. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu was lauding the president for his support for Israel in its time of need.

The first of these two events was the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Egypt. President Obama took swift action to help get the embassy employees out safe and sound. Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about that:

I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’ And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United   States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East. [September 10, 2011]

Later in September, President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly and voiced America’s “unshakable” commitment to the security of Israel. For his speech, he was again praised by Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as, President Shimon Perez.

The facts show that contrary to what the Republicans have been saying, the Obama Administration has strongly supported Israel from the beginning.

Shortly after taking office, President Obama restored Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME). Israel’s QME has been a priority of the president and his state department. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro recently spoke to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about the steps taken by President Barack Obama to strengthen Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME).

President Obama led the effort to fund Israel’s Iron Dome which is saving lives of Israelis from the Hamas rockets.

President Obama authorized the sale of bunker busting bombs to Israel shortly after taking office.

The administration opposed efforts by the Palestinian Authority to unilaterally declare statehood at the United Nations.

In June, the Obama administration issued a statement calling for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

President Obama and his administration stood with Israel against the Gaza Flotilla.

A member of the Obama administration confronted Saudi leaders about the anti-Semitism in their textbooks.

The State Department’s Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal recently toured the region and, according to JTA, specifically “confronted Saudi officials with examples of anti-Semitic statements in the kingdom’s texts used as far afield in Saudi-funded schools in Pakistan and Argentina.”

Over and over again the Obama Administration and Democrats have shown their support of Israel in both word and deed.

It is not just about Israel. But even when it is, Jews know who is on their side. There is a reason that 36 of the 39 Jewish members of congress are members of the Democratic Party, and the two independents caucus with the Democrats. Eric Cantor is the only Jewish member of the US House that is Republican and there are no Jewish Republicans in the Senate.

Most know that Senator Joe Lieberman is Jewish. Take a look at the rest of the Jewish Caucus in Congress:

  • Senator Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut)
  • Senator Barbara Boxer (California)
  • Senator Benjamin Cardin (Maryland)
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein (California)
  • Senator Al Franken (Minnesota)
  • Senator Herb Kohl (Wisconsin)
  • Senator Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey)
  • Senator Joe Lieberman (Connecticut) (Independent)
  • Senator Carl Levin (Michigan)
  • Senator Bernard Sanders (Vermont) (Independent)
  • Senator Charles Schumer (New York)
  • Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon)

House of Representatives:

  • Representative Gary Ackerman (New York)
  • Representative Shelley Berkley (Nevada)
  • Representative Howard Berman (California)
  • Representative David Cicilline (Rhode Island)
  • Representative Steve Cohen (Tennessee)
  • Representative Susan Davis (California)
  • Representative Ted Deutch (Florida)
  • Representative Eliot Engel (New York)
  • Representative Bob Filner (California)
  • Representative Barney Frank (Massachusetts)
  • Representative Gabrielle Giffords (Arizona)
  • Representative Steve Israel (New York)
  • Representative Sander Levin (Michigan)
  • Representative Nita Lowey (New York)
  • Representative Jerry Nadler (New York)
  • Representative Jared Polis (Colorado)
  • Representative Steve Rothman (New Jersey)
  • Representative Jan Schakowsky (Illinois)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (California)
  • Representative Allyson Schwartz (Pennsylvania)
  • Representative Brad Sherman (California)
  • Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Florida)
  • Representative Henry Waxman (California)
  • Representative John Yarmuth (Kentucky)

If the claims by the GOP that Democrats hate Israel were true, would so many of our Jewish members of Congress be Democrats? Wouldn’t more than just one be Republican? Clearly that claim is false.

The message that needs to be heard is that for most Jews, it is not just about Israel. Above I listed some of the issues that concern Jews where Democrats by a greater share are on the side with most Jews. That list is far from complete. For example, there is a call to action on the ADL website on behalf of ENDA and legislation against bullying.

On issue after issue including Israel, the Democratic Party takes the side of most American Jewry. But please pay attention GOP, it is not just about Israel.