Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, for those of you who may not know, is US representative to Florida’s 23rd congressional district and chair of the Democratic National Committee. This would make her not only among the most powerful Jewish women in the United States Congress, but among the most important people in national politics, period.

Shmuley Boteach has a piece published in the Jerusalem Post concerning Representative Wasserman-Schultz. Boteach notes that although Wasserman-Schultz supports the Iran deal, she nonetheless cried about it on national television. Her heart was torn.

Boteach writes:

She cares deeply about her Jewish family and relatives and would never want any harm to come to the Jewish people…

And yet she chose to support the deal but cried while doing so. A friend of mine who is a financial supporter of hers told me she did the same at a private meeting a few weeks before the vote.

But while tears are nice, resisting the barbarity of Iran is nicer.

Indeed. Everyone agrees that even if Iran does not cheat on Obama’s non-treaty, the deal paves the way for Iran to get the bomb in ten to fifteen years, just in time for your children or grandchildren to have to cope with the possible consequences.

Boteach compares Wasserman-Schultz’s stance on the deal with the action of two American presidents vis-à-vis Israel, neither of whom were crazy about Jews, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. Truman, you may be unaware, despite his longstanding friendship with his old Jewish partner at the haberdashery, Edward Jacobson, clearly had a low opinion of Jews.

He wrote in his diary that Jews

“…when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.”

Yet, Truman recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the very day that Ben Gurion declared it to be. He did so over the strenuous objections of his popular Secretary of State, George Marshall, and others within his government.

We, also, have Nixon on his famous White House taping-system claiming,

“You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana are Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.”

The “Bob,” of course, might refer to Nixon White House Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman.

Boteach goes easier on Truman’s anti-Jewish racism than Nixon’s who he says “expressed constant anti-Semitic beliefs.”  Nonetheless, during the hair-raising 1973 Yom Kippur War, despite significant opposition from Congress, Nixon airlifted the weaponry and supplies that the Jews of the Middle East needed to prevent themselves from being driven into the Mediterranean Sea by Arabs armies.

At the end of the day, Boteach tells us that he would rather:

…take the anti-Semitism of a leader like Truman or Nixon who nonetheless stands up with courage to save Israel over the river of tears shed by a proud Jewish woman who fails in her responsibility to stop an Iranian nuclear holocaust. It is ironic when a non-Jew with prejudiced opinions is in touch with the Jewish principles of action and responsibility more than a prominent Jewish leader who forgets that saving life overrides every other consideration.

Along with Boteach I do not doubt the sincerity and depth of Wasserman-Schultz’s feelings for the State of Israel or for the Jewish people. Of course, I also could hardly care less about Wasserman-Schultz’s feelings for the State of Israel or for the Jewish people.

Wasserman-Schultz knows as well as anyone else that the Iran non-treaty does not prevent Iran from getting the bomb, but paves the way for Iran to get the bomb… just not this Tuesday. It will be a number of Tuesdays hence, but it is coming and Wasserman-Schultz is doing her part to see that it happens.

She seems to represent a good example of the kind of left-leaning American Jew who thinks that Judaism – or, at least, ‘being‘ Jewish – is more or less synonymous with support for the Democratic Party. Harvard scholar of Yiddish literature, Ruth Wisse, has discussed this tendency with great insight.

The broad idea is that Judaism is fundamentally a religion grounded in ethics. Islam is about submission. Christianity, despite the behavior of many Christians, is about peace. Judaism is about ethics and justice, and thus, law.

The tradition of Tikkun Olam, a medieval mystical notion which translates as “repairing the world,” was an obscure idea within the Kabbalistic tradition until yanked from that obscurity toward the end of the twentieth-century among well-meaning Jewish liberals. Tikkun Olam, we were told, means social justice and universal human rights and that this is the very heart of the Jewish tradition. To be Jewish, we were to understand, means to fight for social justice and, within the United States, the political party doing most to stand up for social justice is the Democratic Party. Thus in order to be a good American Jew, one must be a Democrat. It is, in fact, considered a moral imperative by very many Jews in the United States to this day.

From the 1930s until now, the tendency among Jews to support the Democrats has become embedded within the American Jewish soul. This is at least part of the reason why, despite Barack Obama’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, he received 70 percent of the Jewish vote his second time at bat.

Many American Jews would prefer to gnaw off their right arm and beat themselves silly with it rather than vote for a Republican.

The problem with this kind of long-term consistent devotion to a political party is, obviously, that political parties change and evolve over time. What may have been a barely noticed, or entirely unnoticed, malicious trend within the party might at some point come to the fore. This is what we are seeing with the increasingly obnoxious presence of anti-Zionists and BDSers within the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. It is not a coincidence that Democrats are trending away from Israel. The party leadership may denounce BDS, as they should, but this does not prevent antisemitic anti-Zionism, as a political ideology, from having an influence on how regular Democrats view the Jewish state as time goes by.

This is the broader context that Wasserman-Schultz is operating within and it puts her in a very tough spot. Whether she realizes it or not as an American Jewish progressive her own political movement has forced her into a choice between supporting Israel and the Jewish people or supporting the progressive-left and the Democratic Party.

I made this choice quite consciously only a few years ago and my choice could not have been easier.

But, then, I was not chair of the DNC, now was I?

Ultimately, though, I wonder if Wasserman-Schultz, in her heart, knows the difference between what it means to be Jewish – whatever that might be for the individual – and what it means to be a Democrat. In the meantime, she has attacked fellow Floridian, presidential candidate Marco Rubio because Rubio dared to visit the home of Harlan Crow, a wealthy supporter and collector who includes among his holdings an Isaac Newton first edition book, a Benjamin Franklin first edition book, and, along with other items of historical interest, a pair of paintings by Adolph Hitler.

Wasserman-Schultz said:

There’s really no excuse for such a gross act of disrespect… It is astounding that the presence of these items that represent horror for millions of Jews the world over would not stop Rubio or anyone on his team in their tracks when planning this event.

This is nonsense, particularly on such a flimsy and cynical charge, and I would I would peruse Mr. Crow’s holding with much gratitude if given the opportunity. What there really is no excuse for is using the Holocaust as a political club against one’s partisan opponents. It is, in fact, disgraceful. But, again, the question is, does she understand that being Jewish is not in any essential way the same as being a Democrat

The two are synonymous for untold numbers of American Jews, including perhaps the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

No wonder she cried.

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Also posted at Israel Thrives

Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. Recently he joined  Vocal International  a news magazine out Brussels, Belgium, as an analyst, writer, and a member of the Academic Board of Trustees. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel, Elder of Ziyon, and at his own blog, Israel Thrives. He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at mike.lumish@gmail.com

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2 comments

  1. Leon Poddebsky

    Living in the Dispersion of the Exile for two millennia has wrought strange effects on the psyches of some Jews, as well as creating agonising dilemmas.

  2. Michael, people like Debbie need to make an ethical choice, even if it means alientating many of their peers. I often think of the admirable Phyllis Chesler, an ardent Jewish feminist who became aware that her feminism was starting to diverge considerably from that of her ‘progressive’ feminist peers. She made a choice to stick to her principles, which meant she was no longer invited to join her fellow academics in feminist forums. Making an ethical choice might mean you become unpopular and lose career opportunities, but at least you can live with yourself.

    As a former progressive way back, I too was forced to make a choice when I realised the strong current of anti-Israel and anti-Jeiwsh feeling there was withinmy progressive-left ‘friends’, who were so concerned with social justice issues – unless it concerned Jews. For a long time I felt bereft and betrayed, but there was no other position to take. I could no longer ignore what was happening. Let’s hope Debbie is prepared to re-evaluate.