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A jewish voter's perspective on 2012


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  • 1. Democratic Leadership Assures the Security ofthe Jewish State without Sacrificing JewishValues in the United StatesBy: Howard Veisz February 16, 2012 Republicans are cynically attempting to peel Jewish voters away from theDemocratic Party by contending that President Obama has not supported Israel.The Republican pitch not only seeks to mislead Jewish voters about theadministration‟s support for Israel, but seeks to distract voters from a Republicandomestic agenda that undermines principles that are fundamental to the AmericanJewish community. The Republican Party has sought to claw its way back into power by aligningitself with the most extreme elements of the religious right – groups that seek todemolish the separation of church and state and conform American law to thereligious right‟s notions of “biblical truth.” In so doing, the Republican Party hascome to advance a different kind of two state solution – one that that ends with aJewish state in the Middle East and a fundamentalist Christian state at home. Fortunately, Americans do not have to sacrifice the separation of church andstate in America to safeguard Israel. President Obama has provided more militaryaid to Israel than any prior president, provided Israel with more sophisticatedweapons than any prior president and, as Secretary of Defense Gates testified toCongress, has taken more “concrete steps to improve the security” of Israel thanany prior president. And he has done so while reminding Americans of the“critical role that separation of church and state has played in preserving not onlyour democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice.” [fn.1]Strengthening Our Military Alliance With Israel President Obama‟s support for the State of Israel has been extolled by peoplefar more credible than the Republican candidates. One assessment that merits particular respect was delivered by Secretary ofDefense Robert Gates on March 2, 2011. Secretary Gates served both Republicanand Democratic administrations for 45 years, and gave his assessment not in acampaign speech but in testimony to the United States Congress. Secretary Gates 1
  • 2. testified, slightly more than two years into President Obama‟s administration, that“in terms of concrete steps to improve the security relationship between the twocountries, more has been done in the last two years than in any comparable periodin my entire career.” Dennis Ross, a career diplomat, a staunch supporter of Israel, a leading memberof the American Jewish community, and President Obama‟s hand-picked MiddleEast envoy, similarly stated in an April 4, 2011 speech to the Anti DefamationLeague Leadership Conference: In all the time that I‟ve served, in all the different administrations I‟ve been in, I have never seen the kind of strategic cooperation that exists today between the United States and Israel, and that‟s a fact. Ehud Barak, Israel‟s Defense Minister and former Prime Minister, echoedthese conclusions when he stated in a recent interview that the U.S. helps “preservethe military advantage of Israel more than ever before.” President Obama‟sadministration, in his words, “contributes to the security of Israel in anextraordinary way,” including its efforts “to prevent a nuclear Iran.” [fn.2] These assessments are consistent with reporting by the Wall Street Journal. Inan August 14, 2010 article, “U.S., Israel Build Military Cooperation” the Journalreported that increases in U.S. military aid to Israel, and a series of “joint militaryexercises in Israel over the past month” stem from “policy directives that the WhiteHouse gave the Pentagon early in Mr. Obama‟s presidency to „deepen and expandthe quality and intensity of cooperation to the fullest extent‟….” The Journalfurther noted that “U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year” to“a high of $2.78 billion” and “is slated to jump to $3 billion in 2011.” The increased quality as well as quantity of U.S. military aid to Israel isdemonstrated by President Obama‟s shipment to Israel of deep penetrating bombs– potentially useful in any strike against Iranian nuclear sites – that Israel soughtsince 2005. Israel‟s requests were rebuffed by the Bush administration, but fasttracked by the Obama administration. As President Obama himself put it, in a speech before the American IsraelPublic Affairs Committee: The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is 2
  • 3. ironclad …. It‟s why we have increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It‟s why we are making our most advanced technology available to our Israeli allies. It‟s why, despite tough economic times, we have increased foreign military financing to record levels. Beyond supporting Israel‟s military, President Obama has exercised his poweras commander in chief to destroy our common enemies – Islamic terrorist leadersand networks – wherever they exist. President Obama ordered the raid that killedOsama bin Laden in May 2010. During the same month a U.S. drone strike inPakistan killed Al Qaeda‟s third ranking leader. [fn.3] In August 2011, anotherdrone strike in Pakistan killed Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, who had become Al Qaeda‟stop operational planner, and its second in command, after bin Laden was killed.[id.] And in December 2011, President Obama ordered a drone strike in Yementhat killed Anwar al-Awlaki, whose jihadist rhetoric inspired plots against U.S.airliners and the shooting of 13 people at Fort Hood. [id.] By the end of 2011, theObama administration eliminated 22 of Al Qaeda‟s top 30 leaders. At the United Nations, President Obama blocked the Palestinians‟ attempts toobtain statehood while they refuse to recognize Israel‟s statehood. Abroad, hepersuaded the international community to impose tough sanctions on Iran –including a European boycott of Iranian oil – to deter it from pursuing its nuclearambitions. By strengthening our military alliance with Israel, destroying terrorist networksthat threaten both of our countries, and standing up for Israel on the world stage,President Obama has met or exceeded the level of support provided by every pastpresident. His actions abroad have been matched by his defense of principles thatare important to the Jewish community in this country.Preserving Religious Freedom and the Separation of Church and State at Home This country‟s defense of Israel‟s right to exist, not merely in name but as aJewish State, is firmly rooted in history. In the aftermath of World War I theLeague of Nations explicitly recognized “the historical connection of the Jewishpeople with Palestine” and “the grounds for reconstituting their national home inthat country.” [fn.4] The League gave Britain a mandate to “secure theestablishment of the Jewish national home” and empowered a “Jewish Agency” towork with Britain to “effect the establishment of the Jewish National Home and theinterests of the Jewish population in Palestine….” After the extermination of sixmillion Jews during World War II, the United Nations belatedly turned to the 3
  • 4. League‟s unfinished business, and adopted a Resolution that explicitly created the“Jewish State” of Israel. [fn.5] What is in question is not Israel‟s character but the character of this country –whether separation of church and state will prevail or whether this country will betransformed into a theocracy whose laws and policies are dictated by the religiousright. In 2005, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League warned thatthe religious right‟s agenda “goes well beyond legitimate engagement incontroversial social and political issues” and that it is “attempt[ing] to restore whatit perceives as the ruins of a Christian nation by more closely seeking to unite itsversion of Christianity with state power.” [fn.6] He further cautioned that while“the Jewish Community is not the prime target of this movement . . . we maybecome its major victim” [id.] The religious right‟s effort to use the power of thestate to impose its version of Christianity on all Americans is incompatible withAmerican ideals that are enshrined in the Constitution and that, not long ago, wereembraced by religious leaders of all denominations. In 1960, John F. Kennedy, then seeking to become the country‟s first Catholicpresident, felt compelled to assure a gathering of Protestant leaders that he believedin the separation of church and state and would not “accept instructions on publicpolicy from the Pope” or other leaders of his church. In his words: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote . . . . I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general population or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. . . . This is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe – a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private 4
  • 5. affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office. Today, the religious right is using its grip on the Republican Party to create adifferent kind of America and a different kind of presidency. The groups thatdominate the religious right seek to conform U.S. law to their interpretation ofbiblical law – or at least to policies that they seek to portray as biblical imperatives.To these groups, it is no longer enough to outlaw abortion; we must also legislatebirth control services out of existence, drive science from the classroom, denyclimate change, eliminate the minimum wage, abolish Social Security andMedicare, and make the tax code even more favorable to the rich – all in the nameof “biblical truth.” Forbes columnist John Zogby, writing about the GOP‟s “tightalliance with the Christian right” in April 2009, noted that “the national RepublicanParty remains closely tied to the Christian right and the narrowest issue positions ithas represented.” The Party, he continued, no longer has room for any electedofficial “who deviates from the tightest orthodoxy on these issues.” [fn.7] The2010 midterm election and its aftermath certainly bear that out. The dangerous alliance between the between the Republican Party and thereligious right can best be illustrated by examining one of the religious right‟sleading organizations, the American Family Association (“AFA”).In this election cycle the AFA sponsored, or co-sponsored, a series of events thatprovided a platform for Republican candidates and gave them an opportunity todemonstrate their allegiance to the AFA‟s cause. In March 2011, the AFAsponsored the Rediscover God in America Conference, at which Newt Gingrichwas a featured speaker. In August 2011, the AFA financed and organized a“national day of prayer” event that was the springboard for Rick Perry‟spresidential campaign – an event, in the words of AFA founder and chairmanDonald Wildmon, at which “anyone who wants to pray to Jesus to save our countryis welcome.” And in October 2011, the AFA and a few other likeminded groupssponsored the Values Voter Summit at which every Republican presidentialaspirant (Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul, etc.) dutifully appeared to seek thesponsors‟ support by pledging to use the presidency to advance their objectives. The AFA‟s website describes its vision for America in a “philosophicalstatement.” It asserts that “God has communicated absolute truth to mankind and .. . all people are subject to the authority of God. Therefore, AFA believes that aculture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation . . . .” 5
  • 6. The AFA has translated its call for a “culture based on biblical truth” into adetailed legislative agenda. Part of the agenda was spelled out at the AFA‟sRediscovering God in America Conference. David Barton, a speaker at theconference and a leading light of the religious right, laid out a vision for Americathat is a strange amalgam of God and greed. With respect to minimum wage laws,for example, Barton instructed the faithful that Jesus has an entire teaching on the minimum wage. . . . He has an entire teaching against it.On the subject of taxes, Barton laid out what “God has commanded” with respectto capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and the progressive income tax. He assertedthat “the Bible is so good on economic issues and specifically on taxation” thatthere is no need to look further “to know what kinds of taxes are good and whatkinds of taxes are bad.” Among other things, according to Barton, “the Bible isvery clear on what Jesus teaches about capital gains taxes” (he opposes them) and“condemns estate taxes as one of the most immoral taxes out there.” Jesus,according to Barton, also prefers a flat tax to a graduated income tax. The AFA reaches a broad audience through radio talk shows that are broadcastover its 192 stations. [fn.8] Bryan Fischer, the AFA‟s director of “issues analysis”and the host of a daily two hour talk show, is the AFA‟s voice. Fischer describedthe “campaign platform” that the AFA and likeminded groups demand from theGOP in a November 20, 2011 web posting. In his words, the “ideal GOPcandidate” will denounce Social Security and Medicare as “wealth transferprograms” and will make clear that “there is no such thing as an entitlementprogram” because “no one is „entitled‟ to somebody else‟s money.” The “idealGOP candidate” will “veto any budget or appropriations bill that funds PlannedParenthood” or “embryonic stem cell research.” The “ideal GOP candidate will“veto any increase in the national debt ceiling” and will “eliminate the departmentsof Education, Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing andUrban Development and the EPA by the end of the decade.” It is not only the substance of these positions that is alien and dangerous; it isthe attempt to transform them from a political ideology to a theology. To advancethat theology, moreover, the religious right has sought to denigrate the place ofother religions in American society. In a Speech that he gave at the Values VoterSummit, the AFA‟s Fischer declared that the next president must be a “man ofsincere, authentic, genuine Christian faith” – no Jews or other persons who do notsatisfy his definition of a “genuine Christian” need apply. In a July 21, 2011web 6
  • 7. posting [fn.9] Fischer explained why he sees no conflict between a religious testfor public office and the First Amendment: The First Amendment . . . was written for one specific purpose: to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion. . . . „The real purpose of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.‟. . . When the founders used the word „religion‟ they used it much as we did on the playground when I was growing up in America a generation ago. . . By the term „religion we meant some variety or brand of the Christian religion, since that was all that was represented among us. . . .Such was the case at the time of the Founding. Fisher‟s assumption that the Founding Fathers‟ experience was as limited as hischildhood playground experience, and his assertion that the First Amendmentprotects only “the free exercise of the Christian religion” – assertions he hasrepeated on the AFA radio network – are sheer nonsense. So it might be imaginedthat the GOP‟s presidential candidates would condemn such remarks, and distancethemselves both from the speaker and the organization that sponsors him. But theopposite is true. Gingrich, after speaking at the Rediscovering God in AmericaConference, joined Fischer in his broadcast booth and commended his work. Hethen joined Fischer in railing against what Gingrich derided as the “secularintellectuals and secular news media and secular judges [who are] trying to reshapeAmerica.” Gingrich warned AFA listeners that unless they take a stand “thepeople who want to reshape America into a secular model are going to win.” InJanuary 2012 Gingrich went a step further and made the AFA‟s Don Widmon anational co-chair of his Faith Leaders‟ Coalition – a group that Gingrichassembled, according to his website, to promote his candidacy among “Christiansthroughout the country.” Gingrich‟s courtship of the religious right, like that of many of his GOP rivals,has followed an alarming arc. He stirs their passions by telling them that theirreligion is under attack. He focuses their anger at “New York elites” and at “SaulAlinsky radicals” – turning a Jewish community organizer who has been dead for 7
  • 8. more than 30 years into a boogeyman and a focal point for the religious right‟sanger. Such tactics have never ended well, and have often ended disastrously. Romney is in a somewhat different position, since his Mormon religion hasbeen specifically assailed by some members of the religious right. Yet, like everyother Republican contender, he has had to conform his positions to the religiousright‟s agenda. The religious right‟s influence over the Republican Party is welldemonstrated by Romney‟s forced conversion on virtually every issue, including atleast one issue on which he had spoken forcefully for the other side. In 1994, when he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate, Romney ferventlydefended freedom of choice. In so doing, he recognized that the battle overfreedom of choice was largely a battle over freedom of religion – a battle overwhether one religious group could use the state to impose its teachings on others.In keeping with President Kennedy‟s remarks 34 years earlier, Romney asserted: One of the great things about our nation . . . is that we‟re entitled to have strong personal beliefs, and we encourage other people to to do the same. But as a nation, we recognize the right of all people to believe as they want and not to impose our beliefs on other people. I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. . . . I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it, and I sustain the right of a woman to make that choice, and my personal beliefs, like the personal beliefs of other people, should not be brought into a political campaign.On a personal level, he emphasized that he and his family were committed toupholding freedom of choice ever since “a dear close family relative that was veryclose to me . . .passed away from an illegal abortion.” When he campaigned forgovernor of Massachusetts in 2002 Romney reiterated that position. In his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, however, Romneyrenounced his prior beliefs and hopped on the religious right bandwagon.Demonstrating the completeness of his submission to the new Republicantheocracy, Romney assured the audience at the Value Voters Summit that he willnot only “nominate judges who” will “overturn Roe v. Wade,” but will “end federalfunding for abortion advocates like Planned Parenthood” – a group he previouslysupported. He has since pledged to “eliminate Title X family planning programs”that were created under the Nixon administration to provide family planning andwomen‟s health services to women who could not afford them. 8
  • 9. What is most significant is not that Romney changed his opinion about abortionor Planned Parenthood, but that he changed his opinion about America. Gone ishis belief in an America where no religious group can impose its will upon thegeneral public and in which the presidency cannot be the instrument of any onereligious group. Abandoning those beliefs and replacing them with subservienceto the religious right can have only two results. First, making the religious right‟sposition on abortion and family planning the law of the land will inevitably befollowed by the rest of its agenda, for all of it is presented as the will of God.Second, placing the religious right‟s view of “biblical truth” over competing viewswill effectively make it a state religion, diminishing the status of every religion andevery citizen with a different body of ethical and moral beliefs. President Obama has taken a different path – a path rooted in the Constitutionand in the American tradition that President Kennedy so eloquently addressed. Ina speech on religion and politics that he gave in June 2006, then Senator Obamastated that progressive leaders would be wrong to “ask believers to leave theirreligion at the door before entering into the public sphere” and that we would dowell to “recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular peopleshare when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country.” But,contrary to the views espoused by the AFA and its allies, Obama plainly stated thatwe are not “just a Christian nation” but “are also a Jewish nation,” as well as anation of other religions and nonbelievers. Democracy, Obama concluded, demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason . . . . Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims, based on a common reality . . . .Those on the other side of the debate, he stated, “need to understand the criticalrole that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only ourdemocracy, but the robustness of our religious practice” and need to remember thatsome of the denominations active in today‟s religious right were once “prosecutedminorities” that “championed the First Amendment.” Obama‟s view of the properrelationship between religion and politics is one that we can believe in, and that wehave to support if we are to preserve religious equality and freedom in America. 9
  • 10. Notes1. June 2006 speech by then Senator Obama.2. Will Israel Attack Iran, New York Times, January 25, 2012.3. Killing of Awlaki is Latest in Campaign Against Qaada Leaders, New York Times, December 10, 2011.4. League of Nations Palestine Mandate.5. United Nations Resolution 181, adopted November 29, 1947. 10
  • 11. 6. Address by Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, ADL National Commission Meeting, November 3, 2005.7. GOP‟s Christian Right Pact Costs Votes, Forbes, April 9, 2009.8. With Rally, Christian Group Asserts its Presence in ‟12 Race, New York Times, August 4, 2011.9. Bryan Fischer: No Longer Alone: Herman Cain Agrees on Banning Mosques. 11