As an American Jew, I can’t trust any political party
A few weeks ago, we Jews celebrated the feast of Shavuot, the feast that commemorates the gift of the Torah and the Ten Commandments to the Israelites by the Almighty (HaShem). It is a happy holiday for me, but it is also a day of solemnity. As part of the holiday service, we observe the Yizkor, the memorial service for the deceased.
Yizkor gets a little harder for me every year. I had the most wonderful parents, who sacrificed all they had so that I could receive an education in one of the best institutions of history and political science in America, Northwestern University, followed by studied at a premier law school, the University of Wisconsin. At Northwestern, by enlisting in the NROTC, I received an officer’s commission in the United States Navy.
This was all made possible by my father, Melvin “Moshe” Steinberg, who passed away suddenly at the age of 85 in 2011, and my mother, Harriet Jean Miller Steinberg, who died at the age of 89 in 2016. t a day of my life when I don’t miss them too much. The intensity of my relationship with them makes Yizkor’s service an emotional challenge for me.
For many years, I had a permanent disagreement with my father about the extent of anti-Semitism in America. I felt that anti-Semitism, for the most part, had receded, and my mother, Harriet Jean Miller Steinberg felt that the situation of the Jews had improved, but my father disagreed.
Dad’s life experience had taught him differently. He would answer me in Yiddish: âAlan, es is schwer zu sein a Yidâ (it’s hard to be Jewish).
During my swearing-in ceremony as EPA Administrator of Region 2 of President George W. Bush in 2005, I had the opportunity to thank not only my parents personally, but also my late grand -parents. That night I said to my dad, âWell, daddy, do you still feel like it’s hard to be Jewish? Dad replied, “I’m proud of you Good Kid (his nickname for me), but my answer is yes.”
October 27, 2018. It was the day I tragically learned how right my father was. It was the Shabbat on which the worst violent tragedy of hatred against American Jews, a literal pogrom, took place in my hometown and the place of my roots, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.
That night, I wrote for InsiderNJ the most sincere column of my life, “My roots are in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh – And I can’t stop crying.” https://www.insidernj.com/roots-squirrel-hill-pittsburgh-cant-stop-crying/
I then spent two weeks crying to fall asleep each night, but somewhat relieved that my parents hadn’t lived long enough to see the disaster of the Squirrel Hill Massacre.
And in the three years since the Squirrel Hill pogrom, the plight of American Jews has worsened in two most important areas: 1) the status of the Israeli-American alliance, a vital survival agreement, and the very security of the State of Israel and the protection of American interests in the Middle East region; and 2) the rebirth and increase of anti-Semitism, a continuing component and manifestation of the white supremacist movement.
The most alarming trend on these two issues for American Jews concerns our two major political parties.
There is a strong tendency within the Democratic Party to get rid of the Israeli-American alliance. Within the Republican Party, where Trumpism is the entrenched philosophy, the tendency is towards increasing tolerance and even an influence of anti-Semitism.
In such an atmosphere, the total domination of the political system by either party presents a clear and present danger to the future of the American Jewish community. Jewish voters can continue to trust the good and worthy candidates of either party whose views and policies are compatible with Jewish values ââand interests. But they cannot give the same confidence to one or the other of the political parties.
For American Jews, support for Israel is not just about loyalty to other Jews. The Holocaust taught us that without a Jewish state where Jews could find refuge in times of persecution and determine their own fate, our very physical survival would still be in danger.
Within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, there is a growing extremist fringe in the US House of Representatives that goes so far as to promote measures to prevent Israel from defending itself. This has recently become very clear during Hamas’s war on Israel.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, is a genocidal terrorist entity determined to destroy the State of Israel and annihilate its people. In the face of his current attacks on Israel, President Joe Biden has emphasized that Israel has the right to defend itself and has organized arms sales to Israel in order to allow the Jewish state to do just that.
Yet the extremist anti-Israel fringe among progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) of New York, is trying to prevent Israel from defending itself by stopping these arms sales.
AOC is supported in its efforts by other Democratic members of the House of Representatives like Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), Jamaal Bowman (New York), Betty McCollum (Minnesota) Marie Newman (Illinois) and Cori Bush (Missouri). Tlaib and Omar went so far as to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, an effort that would destroy Israel’s economy, and AOC endorsed their efforts.
I recognized the dangers AOC posed to Israel when it won the Democratic House primary elections in 2018 and wrote a column at that time for InsiderNJ about it. https://www.insidernj.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-national-new-jersey-democratic-party-disaster/ Since then my fears have intensified, due to the growing number and influence of his supporters.
The majority of Democrats in the House and Senate remain in favor of the US-Israel alliance. President Joe Biden has done a great job standing by Israel’s side and resisting the efforts of AOC and its supporters during Hamas’s recent war.
Yet my fear is that a Democratic successor to Biden will not stand up so firmly to the efforts and growing influence of the AOC coterie. In the 2020 election, more anti-Israel Democratic allies of the WCA were elected to the House of Representatives.
While American Jews have much to fear from future Democratic support for Israel, Republican support for Israel has remained steadfast, for the most part. Yet American Jews have an equal, if not greater, serious concern about Republicans. The GOP has become an arena of heightened tolerance for anti-Semitism and, indeed, of growing anti-Semitic influence.
Accommodation with anti-Semites and anti-Semitism has become a central element of Trumpism, the guiding philosophy of the current GOP. While not an anti-Semite himself, in the interest of improving his re-election prospects, Donald Trump warmly tolerated QAnon, embraced the Proud Boys movement, and legitimized the sympathetic Nazi protesters in Charlottesville as ” good people “.
The isolationist, anti-democratic, authoritarian and ultranationalist policies inherent in Trumpism are even more worrying for Jews. Such policies have historically always been accompanied by anti-Semitism.
It must be said that there are many individuals in the Democratic Party who are pro-Israel and many individuals in the GOP who are appalled by the growing influence of anti-Semitic elements in the party. But the dangers for Jews of total domination of government by either party are very real.
Before reciting the Yizkor prayers on Shavuot, we first chant the Hallel prayer, thanking HaShem for his miracles in saving the Jewish people over and over again. The Hallel contains the following words from the Psalms: âIt is better to take refuge in HaShem than to rely on the heads of state. As I recited these words this year, during this time of turmoil for American Jewish community, I was haunted by them.
In 1988, my book, American Jews and Conservative Politics: A New Direction has been published. One of the chapters in that book was titled “Democrats and Republicans – Who Gets the Ketubah?” A ketubah is the traditional Jewish marriage contract. I ended the chapter with the following words:
“What I am suggesting, however, is that when the Jews bestow their loyalty to one political partyâ¦ they will certainly be taken for grantedâ¦ neither party should get the Ketubah.
Thirty-three years later, those words are still true.
Alan J. Steinberg served as a regional administrator for Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
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