For the Jewish community, the election of Barack Obama has presented a major dilemma. The candidate they voted for is not the president they got, especially when it comes to Israel. Even if you could conjure up the ghost of John Foster Dulles, you could not find an administration more hostile to the Jewish state and more unconcerned about the anti-Semitic fallout from pursuing policies based on antipathy to Israel.
Obama’s antagonism toward Israel has been eloquently addressed by such leading Democratic figures as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz. Recently, actor Jon Voigt, in an open letter to Obama, poignantly took him to task for his hostility toward both Israel and Jews.
Jews have been jumping off the Obama ship in droves, but leaving Obama and voting Republican are two different things. In a fashion reminiscent of James Baker’s offensive quip, “F*** the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway,” it is possible to think of Obama saying, “F*** the Jews, they’ll vote for us no matter what.”
Will they? The most palpable test of whether Jews are willing to move into the Republican camp can be found in the Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District.
Running up from Chicago into the very trendy suburbs of Evanston and Wilmette, the Ninth then heads west through Skokie all the way to Des Plaines. This is a very affluent district with a substantial Jewish, progressive population.
Jan Schakowsky, the incumbent, is a sycophantic Obama Democrat and proud progressive. Her strangely shaped district is so Democratic that the only Republicans one is likely to encounter are tourists. She always wins big.
Her positions on Israel are right out of the J Street playbook and Evanston’s ultra-progressive Beth Emet Synagogue, which has become J Street’s citadel on the North Shore. Schakowsky is a member. Schakowsky and much of the Beth Emet crowd can best be described as “anti-Zionist Zionists.” The difference between the thinking at Beth Emet and that of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement is that the ISM knows its policies will result in Israel’s destruction. The Beth Emet crowd engages in the delusion that they support Israel.
Beth Emet is so tied to the Democratic Party that it was the site of Evanston’s Democratic Party annual meeting, complete with appearances by major Illinois Democratic candidates.
Schakowsky is a politician right out of the Cook County Democratic Organization (the “machine,” as we like to call it) and is well regarded within the organization. Governor Rod Blagojevich even considered Schakowsky for the Obama-vacated Senate seat that the governor is under indictment for trying to sell. Weeks before her public fall from grace, Helen Thomas was the honored guest at a Schakowsky-hosted fund raiser. It was cynicism with a vengeance, as everyone in Washington knew Thomas’ long-standing, contemptible views on Jews and Israel.
Schakowsky’s opponent is thirty-three-year-old Joel Pollak: a Republican; a supporter of free markets, individual liberty, and responsibility; an orthodox Jew; and a strong supporter of Israel. Pollak is unabashedly for the Second Amendment, a difficult sell among gun-control fanatics in Chicago suburbs.
Pollak stepped into the limelight when at Harvard Law School he asked Rep. Barney Frank about his role in the nation’s financial meltdown. The televised exchange made Pollak a minor sensation, especially when his continued appearances provided an opportunity for people to see a Harvard student who could wax eloquently on any of a number of subjects without a teleprompter.
Although Schakowsky resents Pollak calling her to task on Israel, there are enormous differences between Pollak — who represents the traditional AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) position for a strong Israel — and Schakowsky’s embrace of J Street.
J Street believes that Israel’s military strength is a detriment that causes a hard line on negotiations. Forget that Palestinians of all stripes have never negotiated in good faith for a two-state solution if the creation of a Palestinian state also meant the existence of Israel. For J Street, a weaker Israel subject to manipulation and pressure is more likely to secure peace than a stronger Israel. This, of course, is the typical insanity of progressives cavalierly playing roulette with the lives of six and a half million people.
“Israel must take risks for peace” is the position of J Street. This mantra is typical of upper-middle class Jews living in the protective custody of American suburbia, people like Beth Emet’s Rabbi Andrea London — a member of the J Street Advisory Council — who can usually find a moral equivalence between a Palestinian act of violence and an Israeli policy position.
What kind of risks would the rabbi herself take? During her first year in rabbinical school, then-Andrea Coustan was studying in Israel when the Gulf War broke out. While her classmates were standing shoulder to shoulder with Israelis and putting on gas masks in anticipation of Saddam’s missiles, Andrea Coustan returned to and remained safely in America:
“We haven’t forgotten who stayed and who left,” one of her classmates says.
One of my Chicago-area relatives tells me that Jews in the Ninth are confused. They don’t want to support Obama, but Schakowsky has thrown up enough smoke about her position on Israel that they think there is a difference. I tell him to just explain to people the difference between Schakowsky and Pollak: a rabbi who advocates others taking risks for peace while running to the safety of America in a time of war, versus a man who will defend Israel along with your liberty. Do you stand for the values America and Israel represent, or do you stand with Obama and the quislings at J Street?