The Political Shift of Orthodox Jews to the Right and Its Effects
This is chapter 2 of my book, “Who Stole My Relgion?”
There is no precedent, whether in the European experience or Israel, for the nasty political and ideological writing that has become standard fare in U.S. fervently Orthodox publications, particularly the stream of vituperation directed against the Obama administration and the collateral adoption of far right positions….I believe that the embrace of right-wing attitudes is a factor in the high rate of attrition among younger Orthodox, a rate that dwarfs any gains achieved through outreach….In view of the still too recent history of persecution and genocide, how can any who are Orthodox have a comfort level with the far right? The answer appears to be that Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and other right-wingers have become their ideological guides. This needs to be challenged. –Marvin Schick7
In the 2008 U.S. election, while about 78% of Jews voted for Barack Obama, roughly that same percentage of Orthodox Jews voted for the Republican candidate John McCain. This vote by Orthodox Jews was despite the horrendous economic condition the Bush administration left the country in, with the United States on the brink of a financial depression, and the fact that strong opposition from conservative Republicans forced McCain to drop his plans to choose Jewish Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. This led to McCain picking the unqualified, untested, and very conservative Sarah Palin to be potentially one heartbeat away from the U.S. presidency, under an aging president with a history of heart problems.
As further proof of the political shift, consider these results from exit polls during the 2010 U. S. midterm elections:8 Jewish voters voted for Democrats for Congress over Republicans on November 2, 2010 by a margin of 66% to 31%, or more than two-to-one, according to an election-night exit poll conducted by the progressive group J Street. Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and secular Jews supported Democrats far more than Orthodox Jews. Nationwide, J Street’s polling numbers show that Democrats won among Reform Jews by 72% to 24% and among Conservative Jews by 58% to 39%, but lost the Orthodox Jewish vote by 53% to 44%.
In some races, there was an even greater gap. In New York’s fourth congressional district on Long Island, Democratic incumbent Carolyn McCarthy bested Republican Fran Becker among Jewish voters by about two to one, according to a Republican Jewish Committee survey.9 McCarthy won Reform Jewish voters by 80% to 11% and Conservative Jewish voters by 61% to 21%. Among Orthodox Jewish voters, however, she lost by a lopsided 64% to 15%. Similar results occurred in other races.
A Pew Research survey released in October, 2013 reinforced the view that Orthodox Jews are more conservative than other Jews.10 They reported that while 70% of Jews are Democrats or lean Democratic and only 22% are or lean Republican, 57% of Orthodox Jews are either Republican or lean toward the Republican Party.
A personal experience reinforced my perception that Orthodox Jews increasingly support conservative candidates and positions. During the primary election in my district for the Republican nomination for Congress in 2010, a Republican candidate spoke at my synagogue after a Shabbat afternoon service. During the question period following the talk, I asked the candidate what policies he supported that differed from those of the Bush administration that had proved so disastrous and left the country in great economic peril. One member of the congregation applauded my question. When the candidate said to the applauder, “Oh, you liked that question,” another congregation member called out, “They are the only two liberals in the synagogue.” This was, of course, an exaggeration, but not by much, based on my many conversations with synagogue members.
For some time I thought that perhaps my modern Orthodox synagogue might be an outlier, out of the mainstream of the views of most Orthodox Jews. Then I read the article by Jerome A. Chanes, “Orthodox and Liberal, And Lonely On The West Side,” in the New York Jewish Week (October 26, 2012). The article starts as follows:
Looking around at my fellow worshippers at the late Maariv services at the Carlebach Synagogue the other night, I pondered political affiliation. Who, mused I, are the Obama supporters, and who are in the Romney camp? When I nudged my pew-mate, a prominent West-Side MD, and asked him “65 percent Romney?” he sputtered, “Get real! We’re talking 90 percent, maybe 99 percent. The 1 percent Obama is you!”
Another indication that Orthodox Jews have moved to the right is the large readership in that community of the conservative Jewish Press, which claims to be “the largest independent weekly Jewish newspaper in the United States.” Its editorials and articles generally support conservative political positions. Other Jewish periodicals read by many Orthodox Jews are also generally very politically conservative. An example of the extreme conservative views in such publications was the title of the December 7, 2015 online Jewish Press article: “Liberals: Disease of the Mind, Sickness of the Soul.” Yet, as I argue in the next chapter, Judaism is not just a liberal religion, but is a radical religion, in the best sense of “radical.”
One factor that impelled me to continue working on this book was an article by a Jewish Press columnist calling environmental activists “tikkun olam pagans.”11 He openly ridiculed Jews who apply the term tikkun olam (repairing the world) to ecology and social action. When I challenged him in a letter to the editor, several readers defended his reactionary stance.
The article’s position is inconsistent with that of contributors to the Orthodox Forum Series volume Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law, who clearly apply tikkun olam to social issues. The book cites many distinguished Orthodox rabbis, including Samson Raphael Hirsch, Abraham Isaac Kook, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, all of who stress that Jews have a religious and ethical responsibility to work with others to promote the welfare of society. In his anthology, Compassion for Humanity in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Dovid Sears, a Breslov Hasid, discusses numerous source texts that indicate our responsibility for working to benefit all people. The phrase tikkun olam is not an invention of the modern liberal mind, but occurs many times in the Mishnah and later rabbinic literature.12 Nevertheless, reactionaries continue to be hostile in connecting Jewish progressive teachings, such as tikkun olam with social action. A recent example was at a rally against the Iran nuclear deal in Manhattan on July 22, 2015 when the largely Orthodox crowd booed every time the names of liberals Chuck Shumer, Hilary Clinton, and Barack Obama were mentioned.13
Another example was the wave of ugly, very harsh criticism of Jewish Congressman Jerrold Nadler from members of his largely Orthodox Jewish district and other Orthodox Jews when, after much review and soul searching, he supported the Iran nuclear deal14. Although Nadler has been a consistent, very strong supporter of Israel for over 50 years, he was called a “traitor to your people and to Israel,” a kappo, a Jew who worked on behalf of the Nazis in a concentration camp, and one who “endangered the existence of the state of Israel.” Zev Brenner’s radio program, which has a large Orthodox audience, received so many calls and emails that he could not respond to all of them, and they all opposed Nadler’s decision. This reaction is despite the fact that the vast majority of U.S. and Israeli strategic, military experts and diplomats, most Democratic senators, and many former Jewish leaders, including a former head of AIPAC, supported the nuclear deal.
While Nadler expected criticism, he was stunned by the viciousness of the attacks on him. He told a Jewish Week reporter:
It’s one thing to be told you are wrong, it’s another to say you know you are wrong and that you are doing it for terrible motives….People are entitled to their views, but what bothers me is that people are saying, ‘You betrayed us.’ I have been a supporter of Israel all my life. This is my decision and I think it is best for the U.S. and Israel. I could be right or wrong, but to conclude that anybody who supports the deal is opposed to the Jewish people and Israel’s welfare is absurd.
My analysis in this section is reinforced by an article in the online Forward on August 26, 2015, “Pew Study Finds Orthodox Similar To Evangelical Christians – Not Other Jews,” by Nathan Guttman. According to the article, the Pew Research Center reported that Orthodox Jews “vote, believe, worship, act and raise their children more like white evangelical Protestants than like their fellow Jews.” The voting and acting (politically) are relevant to the present discussion.
Why the Shift to the Present Very Conservative Republican Party is a Problem
The recent shift of many Orthodox Jews to the Republican Party stands in sharp contrast to a long history of Jewish support for the Democratic Party. Of course, Orthodox Jews, like everyone else, are entitled to support any politician of their choice. And certainly there are problems with the Democratic Party, some of whose members also receive large contributions from highly profitable corporations that have spent billions of dollars in pursuit of obtaining “the best government that money can buy.” Democratic platforms are no substitute for basic Jewish values, and I certainly don’t agree with everything that Democrats advocate. But I wonder how the Republican philosophy, which has generally opposed Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, workers’ compensation, and other benefits that society now takes for granted, can be reconciled with Jewish teachings about concern for the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan, andabout working for a more compassionate, just, and peaceful world. In my opinion they cannot be reconciled.
Some might respond, “Yes, these goals are important to me, but the government should not be involved in implementing them – they should be left to individual initiatives and charity groups.” Certainly these private efforts are important and must be supported and encouraged, but considering the magnitude of the problems, including poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, and the resulting physical and emotional problems, private efforts cannot be enough. The U.S. Constitution states that one of the functions of government is to promote the general welfare of the citizens.
Judaism sees taking care of the poor and powerless as important communal and societal responsibilities. The Talmud and Codes of Jewish Law give broad authority to communal bodies to tax, regulate, and redistribute income.15 I know that many Orthodox Jewish (and other Republican) supporters are intelligent, sensitive, and caring people, but I respectfully wonder how they can support the Republican Party in view of the following examples, more of which can often be found in news reports:
- Today’s Republican Party has very few moderates like Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, John Heinz, Mark Hatfield, and Clifford Case, and the Tea Party’s increasing involvement is shifting the Party even further to the Right.
- As of November 2015, there are currently no Republican Jewish senators (the Democrats have nine and there is one liberal independent) and only one Republican Jewish congressman (compared to 18 for the Democrats).
- The positions of today’s Republican Party are generally consistent with the extreme, intolerant views of commentators like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, people who often deny realities (like human-caused climate change) to favor conservative interests.
- Current Republican leaders propose policies similar to or worse than these of the Republican George W. Bush administration, which converted a three-year budget surplus on track to completely eliminate the federal debt into a major deficit, created very few net jobs (none in the private sector), and left the economy in a major downward-spiraling economic freefall, with an average of 750,000 jobs per month being lost in the administration’s final three months.
- Republicans have been doing everything possible to keep the Obama administration from pulling the country out of these terrible economic conditions, often voting against and filibustering legislation they had previously supported and sometime cosponsored, in attempting to undermine the president and regain power.
- Republicans generally support the wealthiest Americans and high profitable corporations, rather than the middle class and poor people.
- Republican senators were so committed to helping the wealthy that on December 1, 2010, all 42 Republican senators signed a letter indicating that they would block all pending legislation, unless the Senate approved continuing all Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest two percent of Americans.1615 There is much in the writings of Rabbi Aaron Levine and Dr. Meir Tamari on Jewish teachings on economic issues. Please see bibliography.
- Republicans support gutting regulations that constrain Wall Street, crippling rules that promote worker safety and health, keeping the “starvation level” national minimum wage, and repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), even though it has sharply reduced the number of people without insurance and has significantly cut the rate of increase of medical costs. Yet they are doing so while they have no comprehensive plan to replace it, cutting back Medicare and Social Security, reducing corporate taxes, and, in general, moving the nation back to pre-New Deal days.
- Republicans oppose efforts to improve the nation’s infrastructure despite the fact that the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U. S. infrastructure a grade of D+, and they also oppose efforts to improve our educational system and research capacities and develop renewable energy sources. These activities would create many new jobs, bring in additional tax revenues, and help improve the economy, as well as save lives, improve the environment, and prepare the country for a far brighter future.
- In the summer of 2011, Republicans used the threat of a government default to hold the Congress hostage in order to force major cuts in essential programs, while making sure that there would be absolutely no tax increases for the wealthiest Americans or repeal of tax breaks for highly profitable corporations.
- In their 2015 budget proposals, Congressional Republicans continued their efforts to improve things for the wealthiest Americans, failing to consider benefits to average Americans. While proposing an additional $38 billion for the Pentagon and a continuation of major tax breaks for the wealthy, their plan would cut federal student loan programs and pre-school assistance for thousands of students, weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and repeal Obamacare, even though millions of people received insurance from it, and the rate of healthcare costs has been significantly decreased.17In view of the above and more, I would like to respectfully address the following questions to Jews who support the Republican Party:
- Are Jewish values of compassion, justice, environmental sustainability, and concern for the poor consistent with a Republican Party that seems mainly concerned with helping the wealthy become even wealthier beyond any need or reason, at the expense of the poor and the middle class, and with fighting to relieve corporations of legal accountability and social responsibility through deregulation?
- Is support for politicians who want to cut social services while keeping tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans consistent with Jewish teachings on caring for the most vulnerable members of society?Some may feel that I am too harsh on Republicans, but please consider the following words of the prophet Isaiah:
Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:1-3)
Denial on Climate Change and Other Environmental Threats
Another important reason I believe my religion has been stolen is the widespread denial by so many Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, about climate change, at a time when Jews should be leading efforts to work toward stabilizing the world’s climate. This issue is discussed in much greater detail in the chapter addressing the environment, so I will just mention here that (1) there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening, that it is driven by human activities, is a major threat to humanity, and could be close to a tipping point where it will spin out of control with disastrous consequences unless major positive changes soon occur; (2) reinforcing these views are the fact that polar ice caps and glaciers worldwide are rapidly melting, and there has been a recent increase in the number and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms and floods; (3) atmospheric CO2 levels reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2014, well above the 350 ppm that climate experts believe should be a threshold value to assure that the severest climate events will not occur; and (4) the Israeli Union for Environmental Defense has projected that due to climate change Israel will face many more heat waves, an average decrease of precipitation of up to 30%, increasing desertification, and a possible inundation of the coastal plain where most Israelis live from a rising Mediterranean Sea.
The many positive side effects of working to reduce climate change include a less polluted world with massive public health benefits, lessened dependence for oil on foreign countries (some of whom are leading supporters of terrorism), healthier people, new business opportunities, and the timely creation of a twenty-first century “green collar” workforce at a time of high unemployment. These are all good things to do even outside of the issue of climate change, as Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Joel Pett illustrated in his now-famous cartoon of a climate-change skeptic saying, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”18
One has a choice of believing mostly ideology and industry-driven “skeptics,” with little or no relevant scientific background, or the true experts: climate scientists and the world’s official scientific bodies, informed by the overwhelming cumulative weight of research and empirical evidence dating back to the nineteenth century. In other words, the simplistic rhetoric of misinformed conservative pundits or the sober consensus of the world’s leading scientists. Later chapters offer additional information about climate change and why Jews should be actively involved in responding.
Should Jews Support Republicans Who Are In Denial About the Environment and Climate Change?
In view of the fact that, as discussed in Chapter 11, Judaism has very powerful teachings about environmental sustainability, and considering the climate threats mentioned above, I find it very difficult to understand how so many Orthodox Jews can ignore the reality that the Republican Party is so out of touch with current environmental issues. The following are a sampling of the many facts that illustrate the negative approach of most conservatives about climate change and other environmental threats:
When the Republicans took over the US Senate in 2015, the strongest climate denier in national politics, Senator James Inhofe, became head of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that deals with climate and environmental matters. His eccentric, strong views about climate change are detailed in his 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. On February 26, 2015 he brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that climate change is a hoax.
- In a Senate vote in January 2015, 49 of the 54 Republican senators voted against a Sense of the Senate amendment that human activities are a major contributor to climate change.
- In addition to ignoring the strong scientific and military consensus on climate threats, Republican lawmakers shrugged off Pope Francis’ powerful June 18, 2015 encyclical on climate change.19
- In June 2015, Congressional Republican legislators promoted appropriation bills that promoted corporate interests at the expense of public health and safety, sharply cutting environmental spending and repealing major parts of regulatory authority, including the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.20
- On November 17, 2015, 51 of the 54 Republican senators voted to scuttle President Obama’s tough climate change efforts, hoping to weaken the ability of the U.S. to be effective at the Paris climate change conference in December. Fortunately their efforts failed and Obama’s efforts were a major factor in leaders of 196 nations agreeing to what many climate experts consider a historic, game changing, climate change agreement, an essential step toward reducing climate change. The Republican presidential candidates have vowed to end U.S. cooperation with the agreement if they are elected, a step that would make avoiding a climate catastrophe even more unlikely.In summary, it seems incredible that so many Orthodox Jews and others are in denial about climate change at a time when leaders at the Paris climate change conference, major science academies, and almost all the world’s climate experts agree that urgent steps are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Especially at a time like this when glaciers and polar ice caps are rapidly melting, when there has been an increase in the number and severity of storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, and other effects of climate change, and when atmospheric CO2 levels are far higher than the value climate experts deem to be safe.
Unfortunately, “denial is not just a river in Egypt,” and most people, including Orthodox Jews, are “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we head toward a giant iceberg.” When I talk to members of my modern Orthodox synagogue about climate change and other environmental threats, almost all deny there is a problem that requires a major response or tell me that God or a future Messiah will take care of the threat. Perhaps they should consider the following story:
A man’s house was caught in a big flood, but when the order to evacuate came he refused. “Don’t worry about me,” he said, “I’ll be safe. I am very pious, so God will protect me.”
The floodwaters rose higher and higher, eventually forcing him to climb up to the roof. But still he kept turning down the rescuers who came – first in a rowboat, then a motorboat, and finally a helicopter. Each time the man told them, “No thank you, I’m fine here; God will save me.” But the waters rushed over the roof and he drowned.
When he got to the Next World he asked God, “How could you abandon me like that? How could you let this happen to such a pious person as me?” God replied, “What more did you want? I sent two boats and a helicopter.”
Jews are not supposed to rely on miracles. A good approach I once read in a collection of statements given out in a synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur inspirational readings suggested that we should pray as if everything depends on God, and act as if everything depends on us. The key point here is that because of increasing evidence that the world is rapidly approaching a human-created climate catastrophe and faces many other environmental crises, it is extremely urgent that the Jewish community play a leading role in responding to these threats.
Since I have been especially critical of the lack of involvement of Orthodox Jews in responding to environmental threats, I would like to stress that there are Orthodox Jews who are actively working for a better environment. Especially noteworthy is the Orthodox group Canfei Nesharim (Wings of Eagles), which organizes events, produces considerable literature, and manages an excellent website to increase awareness of Torah teachings on environmental sustainability. More information about them and other activist Jewish groups is in Appendix C.
How Support for Israel Is Related to the Above Issues
As I will discuss in Chapter 6, I am a strong supporter of Israel. My wife and I visit family members there at least twice a year. Having a grandson in the Israeli Defense Forces, another in the reserves after serving for three years, and other grandsons who will soon be old enough to join the IDF, I pray especially hard for peace in Israel. I feel that the best way to support Israel is to promote a peaceful resolution of conflicts between Israel and its neighbors, while recognizing the many difficulties in bringing this about.
Members of my modern Orthodox congregation and other Orthodox Jews are properly strong supporters of Israel. A major reason they support Republican politicians is that they consider them to be fervent backers of Israel, which they often define as supporting extremely hawkish Israeli positions. They frequently disregard politicians’ positions on economic, environmental, and social issues. Fellow congregants have often told me that the only issue they care about is Israel. Many of my Orthodox co-congregants and other Orthodox Jews support conservative Republicans because these politicians will support hawkish Israeli policies, even though they might be counterproductive to the peace process and to other Israeli and American interests.
These Jews ignore the statements by the Bush administration in its final year about the need for a two-state solution, the very same policy for which they now oppose Obama. If you are a Republican leader, it seems you are given a free pass on positions for which Democrats are severely criticized. Conservatives also fail to consider that Israel urgently needs peace to avoid another intifada or war, halt her increasing diplomatic isolation, help address her many economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. Israel’s need to be constantly on the alert for possible terrorist acts and war makes it very difficult to meet her domestic needs and threatens her future economic well-being. Bottom line: a politician can be a denier of climate change and can support reactionary social and economic positions, but can still gain support from many U.S. Jews if his or her position on Israel is in support of Israeli hard-liners.
Larry Derfner’s July 7, 2010 Jerusalem Post article, “Israel is waiting for Palin,” indicates that many Israelis felt that Israel would benefit from the Republican Party’s being in power and were arguing — absurdly — that “you’re for Israel or you’re for the Democrats, you can’t be both.” Since when does a person’s political party define whether or not one supports Israel? Years ago, such a claim would have been unheard of. In any case, are the Republicans really that good for Israel if they blindly support Israeli policies that can have negative consequences?
Evidently, many Jews are ignoring (or simply do not care about) reactionary and/or outdated Republican positions on the environment, health care, education, helping the poor, and other domestic issues. Their position is largely based on a belief that a president who does not push Israel to make any concessions for peace is the best president for Israel. They fail to recognize that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran all became significantly stronger during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration’s mainly hands-off policies concerning Israel.
It is also important to consider that the major budget cuts that Republicans, especially Tea Party politicians, are promoting may have a major negative impact on foreign aid for allies, including Israel. According to many economists, such cuts will harm the U.S. economy, possibly making it more difficult for the U.S. to support Israel during difficult economic times.
I want to stress that there are Orthodox individual Jews and groups that have been actively involved in promoting a two-state solution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. One such group, Oz v’Shalom/Netivot Shalom, is discussed in Chapter 7.
Anti-Obama Attitudes of Many Religious Jews
Many Israelis and conservative American Jews, especially among the Orthodox, have very negative views about President Obama. Of course, like previous presidents, he has been far from perfect in trying to deal with some very complex problems. So, of course, some criticism is understandable, but not the outrageous charges that have no basis in fact or reason that I often read in Jewish publications for primarily Orthodox Jewish audiences or hear from members of my Orthodox synagogue. Some of these claims are listed below. (While Obama will no longer be president shortly after this book is published, I still think it is important to refute the false claims about him. Trying to demonize Democrats – not only Obama – by repeating false claims is a Republican policy, and it is important to not let them become common wisdom.)
Outrageous claim 1: President Obama has negative feelings about Jews and favors Muslims.
Facts in response: Obama’s initial chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is Jewish and the son of Israelis. One of his former key advisors, David Axlerod, is Jewish, and he was also a key strategist for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Obama appointed a Jew, Elana Kagan, as a Supreme Court Justice (even though that left the nine-member Court with three Jews and no Protestant members). (It is noteworthy that all the Jewish members of the Supreme Court in the past 80 years were appointed by Democratic presidents.) Obama also appointed another Jew, Janet Yellen, to be Director of the Federal Reserve, perhaps the most important economic post in the world. Orthodox Jew Jack Lew is currently Obama’s Secretary of Treasury, and he formerly served as his Chief of Staff. Obama is the first president to have Passover seders in the White House, and he has done so for the seven consecutive Passovers that he has been president.
Outrageous claim 2: President Obama has consistently acted against Israel’s interests. 25
Facts in response:
- Israeli strategic experts agree that strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has never been better.
- The US has supplied funding for the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that has saved many Israeli lives.
- The Obama administration has consistently backed Israel at the UN and helped prevent a declaration of a Palestinian State by the UN, an effort that led Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to declare that Obama deserved a “badge of honor.” Most recently, on July 3, 2015, the U.S. was the only country on the UN Human Rights Council to stand with Israel and oppose a resolution to investigate Israel for human rights crimes during the Gaza war during the summer of 2014. By contrast, 41 members of the Council supported the resolution, including England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
- Obama has supported Israel with regard to the Goldstone report that was critical of Israel’s actions in the 2009 war and the Gaza flotilla events.
- Obama helped save six Israelis who were trapped in the Israeli embassy in Cairo in response to a frantic, middle-of-the night call from Netanyahu. Afterward, Netanyahu stated that Israel owes Obama, “a special measure of gratitude.”
- In his talk to the U.S. Congress in March 2015, Netanyahu praised Obama warmly, indicating that Obama had done many additional things for Israel that only he and a few others know about.
- Some Jews have been critical of Obama because in 2009, his first year in office, he went to Cairo but did not visit Israel. However, his talk in Cairo was aimed at, among other things, improving relations with Muslims in order to increase the chances for a settlement of Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries. It is noteworthy that Obama said the following in Cairo, a major Arab capital:America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied….Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.21
Many who are critical of Obama’s behavior toward Israel generally forget or overlook the many times that Republican presidents treated Israel badly. For example,22 In 1956 Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai, Nixon postponed the sale of and delivery of 25 Phantom jets and 80 Skyhawks to Israel in 1970, and Gerald Ford stopped all major arms transactions with Israel for six months in 1975, while calling for a “total reassessment” of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Reagan condemned Israel at the UN, suspended military aid to Israel, and sold arms to Saudi Arabia over AIPAC’s strong objections. George H. W. Bush denounced Israeli settlements, opposed loan guarantees to Israel, and publically declared that he was just “one lonely little guy” up against “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.” George W. Bush abstained on UN resolutions condemning Israel, suspended cooperation on a fighter jet, and rescinded loan guarantees to Israel.
Outrageous claim 3: President Obama is a socialist.
Facts in response: Obama has appointed several members from Wall Street to his cabinet and other important positions, including his first Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geitner. The president has had great economic success turning a country on the brink of a depression when he entered office – with an average of 750,000 jobs being lost per month, and stock and housing values sharply decreasing – into one that has seen 68 consecutive months of private sector job growth (as of December 2015), record breaking stock values, a restored housing market, a revitalized auto industry, and greatly increased consumer confidence. Perhaps we need more such “socialists”!
Outrageous claim 4: President Obama is an ineffective leader with few accomplishments.
Facts in response: Like all previous U.S. presidents, Obama is far from perfect, but this claim ignores that Obama got the U.S. economy back on track from the very severe recession that he inherited from the George W. Bush administration. Despite consistent Republican efforts to obstruct Democratic proposals, Obama saved the U.S. auto industry, oversaw efforts that killed Osama bin Laden, put together a coalition of nations that applied the largest ever boycott of Iran, resulting in their agreeing to reduce their nuclear weapon capacity, and played a major leadership role in getting 195 nations to support the historic climate change agreement in Paris in December 2015.
Long-time Orthodox commentator Marvin Schick reinforced many of the responses above in his article “Right Is Not Right” in the January 21, 2010 issue of the New York Jewish Week. He sharply criticized the viciousness directed against President Obama by many Orthodox Jews who are “in bed with the far right” in an “unholy alliance,” which “means that, unbeknownst to them, they are in bed with tens of thousands of crazies, anti-Semites, and outright Nazi lovers.” Our moral and ethical guides should be Moses and the Prophets, not extreme conservatives like Limbaugh and Palin. In the next chapter, we will explore how Jewish leaders of old responded to social injustices.
7 “Right is Not Right” The Jewish Week. January 21, 2010.
8 The poll results are from an article by J. J. Goldberg in the November 19, 2010 issue of the Jewish Forward, “Jewish Voters, Obama and the Great Elephant Hunt.”
10 Alan Cooperman and Greg Smith, “Eight facts about Orthodox Jews from the Pew Research survey,” October 17, 2013.
11 Steve Plaut, “The Rise of Tikkun Olam Paganism,” Jewish Press. January 23, 2003.
12 Rabbi Jill Jacobs, “The History of ‘Tikkun Olam,’” Zeek, June, 2007.
13 Gary Rosenblatt, “How Not To Influence Friends In Congress,” The Jewish Week,” July 31, 2015, p. 7. 14 Stewart Ain, “Nadler’s Iran Vote Unleashes Vitriol,” The Jewish Week, August 26, 2015
16 “Senate Republicans Vow to Block Dem Legislation Until Tax Cuts, Budget Pass,” Fox News.com, December 1, 2010.
17 Associated Press, “Proposed GOP budget seeks Obamacare repeal and additional $38 billion to Pentagon,” The Guardian, April 30 2015.
19 Edward Werner and Matthew Daly, “Republican Lawmakers Shrug off Pope Francis Climate Message,” Associated Press, June 18, 2015.
20 Ben Adler, “Congressional Republicans: Damn the environment, full cuts ahead!,” Grist, June 22, 2015.
21 “Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo,” International New York Times, June 4, 2009.
22 The examples that follow are from (1) Peter Beinart, “Michael Oren’s wildly unconvincing, deeply trivial attack on Obama,” Haaretz, June 17, 2015, and (2) Steve Sheffey’s June 16, 2015 “Michael Oren ’s Misleading Op-Ed” National Jewish Democratic Council.
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