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January 30, 2012 10:15 am

The National Jewish Democratic Council Versus Newt Gingrich

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Newt Gingrich. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

A January 23rd article on the NJDC – National Jewish Democratic Council – website was entitled “SC Winner Newt Gingrich: A Closer Look.” The NJDC declared that the GOP has “yet another candidate whose positions and behavior stand in direct opposition to the values of the vast majority of American Jews…… Gingrich appears to have adopted far-right policies towards Israel that place him at odds with the democratically-elected government of Israel as well.”

The article, by a David Streeter, made clear to me that the “values of the vast majority of American Jews” have little to do with Judaism, reminding me of the pundit who described the Reform movement as “the ultra-liberal wing of the Democratic Party – with holidays.” While presumably, the NJDC means more than just Reform Jews, still one has to wonder from their list of complaints against Newt Gingrich, what is Jewish about them?

Newt Gingrich supports the pro-life position on abortion, which is far closer to the traditional Jewish position on abortion. For people who really practice Judaism (i.e.: follow the tenets of traditional Jewish Law in their daily lives), abortion is forbidden except in specific cases where the mother’s life is in danger, etc. But for the NJDC “pro-choice” is a “Jewish value.” The conclusion: liberalism is their perception of the real religion of “the vast majority of American Jews.”

Gingrich is taken to task for his opposition to “mosque construction in America and using the Islamic faith as a straw man.” A reference to his website posting last year stating his opposition specifically to the mosque at Ground Zero, not mosques per se. “Islamists and their apologists” ……ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in NYC,” Mr. Gingrich wrote. “Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.” He then called for an end to “double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission.”

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Taken in proper context his statement makes eminent sense. Even were one to hold a differing opinion, one couldn’t honestly claim that Mr. Gingrich opposes mosques. But what this has to do with Jewish values escape’s me.

As long as liberalism serves as the benchmark for Jewish values, then I suppose it is reasonable, if not accurate, to view Mr. Gingrich’s opposition to Obamacare; his lack of blind allegiance to the quasi-religion of “global warming”; and his wariness, if elected Commander-in-Chief, to blindly follow the diktats of a hyper-activist Supreme Court stepping over the bounds of its Constitutional purview; as being in contra to the values of the “vast majority of American Jews.”

Let’s not forget the issue of gay marriage which for the NJDC, irrespective of clear Biblical prohibitions, is apparently a Jewish issue. Again damning Gingrich for his “Oppos[ing] equal rights for all and believes “[T]here is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us.” Unfortunately, for the NJDC, context counts.

On the November 14, 2008, Fox News program “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bill O’Reilly asked Newt Gingrich to comment on the violent actions by protesters of Proposition 8 that had been recently passed on the California State ballot amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Gingrich replied: “I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.” Mr. Gingrich further said after the leftist “radicals lost the vote in California, they are determined to impose their will on this country no matter what the popular opinion, no matter what the law of the land.” Does the NJDC believe that such violence is permissible? And how does this become specifically a Jewish issue?

In fact the only point one can say relates to Jews is the Israel related issue. But here the NJDC gets cute. First claiming that Mr. Gingrich’s pro-Israel statements and his challenging President Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides, is only to create a “partisan wedge issue”, Mr. Streeter then writes that Gingrich “appears to have adopted far-right policies towards Israel that place him at odds with the democratically-elected government of Israel.” And how did he do that?

Newt Gingrich “Urged both houses of Congress to condemn the President for articulating the vision of a two state solution based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps as a starting point for negotiations—a formula that has been the basis of talks for decades, through both Republican and Democratic administrations.” In fact, Mr. Obama introduced the “1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps” in his speech at the State Department the day before Israel’s Prime Minister arrived in Washington for discussions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected President Obama’s call for Israel to pull back to the pre-1967 lines, or 1949 armistice lines. Mr. Netanyahu called those lines militarily “indefensible”, which was polite considering Abba Eban, as Israeli Foreign Minister speaking at the United Nations, labeled them: “the Auschwitz borders.”

President Obama, apparently unbeknownst to the NJDC who must have been out of town that week, surprised both Washington and Jerusalem by endorsing the Palestinian position demanding the borders of a Palestinian State be based on the pre-1967 lines. Mr. Obama broke with longstanding US policy, including the official 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon. The Israeli position is, as was the US position until Mr. Obama, that the borders of any future Palestinian state would be determined through negotiations.

The NJDC also decided that Mr. Gingrich’s description of the Palestinians as an “invented people” “delegitimized the Palestinians” and is a position “that is against US and Israeli policies.” Since Gingrich never said he opposed the two-state solution pushed by Obama and accepted in concept by Netanyahu, his historically accurate remarks only suggest that in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has a better case, and the US should not be pushing the Palestinian position.

Israel neither challenged nor complained about Mr. Gingrich’s remarks. Nonetheless, the NJDC followed the lead of a December 9, 2011 report in The New York Times quoting unnamed “Middle East experts” who “said that Mr. Gingrich’s views did not represent those of Israel’s conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or a majority of the Israeli people, and that they might be counterproductive to establishing peace.” But the truth is, that the Israelis, who are all nameable, are quite happy now that Mr. Gingrich has identified the elephant in the room.

The NJDC may well be right that Mr. Gingrich’s positions are not those of the “vast majority of American Jews” if one accepts the fact that many American Jews are “ultra-liberals” first, foremost, and by and large, last. Their Judaism is not one of their lifestyle priorities. According to the National Jewish Population Survey, only 27 percent of American Jews attend synagogue even once a month and only 59 percent of American Jews bother to fast on Yom Kippur. Hence, traditional Jewish values, or for that matter, Israel, do not necessarily influence their political choices.

But the polls in recent months belie the “vast majority” the NJDC wants to claim are still loyal to Mr. Obama after three years of his presidency and his actions towards Israel and its “democratically elected government” and prime minister. The September 2011 polls of both Gallup and the AJC indicate that while Mr. Obama can expect a majority of Jewish voters, it will be far below the 78 percent he garnered in 2008. Thus the majority is no longer vast, and is shrinking.

“…I’ve been hearing from my constituents a lot of dissatisfaction with the statements on Israel that have been coming from the president and the administration,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) told The New York Times (September 14, 2011). According to Engel, Obama tends to blame Israel and the Palestinians equally for the Mideast impasse which many Jewish voters find objectionable.

According to the NJDC Mr. Obama can do no wrong, but as the old line goes, the definition of a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. So too, as more American Jews prove they can distinguish between verbal slogans and the real thing vis a vis Obama’s Mideast policies, it will show in both Jewish voting and financial support, to the chagrin of the NJDC.

The author is a veteran journalist specializing in geo-political and geo-strategic affairs in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Nativ, The Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon. His articles have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the US Congressional Record.

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