Top US Jewish Leader: To Have Their Voices Heard, American Jews Must Get Out and Vote
American Jews must get out and vote on Election Day if they want to continue to be heard by politicians on matters of concern to them, a top US Jewish leader told The Algemeiner on Monday.
“I hear too many expressions of indifference, or people who are confused and conflicted and therefore say they are not going to vote,” Malcolm Hoenlein — the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — said in an interview with The Algemeiner. “That’s a decision, but it’s a bad one. It’s very important that people go out and vote their conscience. Commitment to American democracy requires giving expression to the privilege and fulfilling the right and obligation each of us has to vote.”
Furthermore, Hoenlein noted, “many politicians may have limited capacities, but they can all count. And they know who votes and who doesn’t vote. You have to vote if you want to have a voice. If you fail to do so, don’t complain about the results.”
Hoenlein said he was “bothered” by displays of antisemitism during the presidential campaign. “I’m worried about the aftermath of this election,” he stated. “This has been a very divisive race. The question for the day after is will the American people be able to come back together again at a time when we have so many serious challenges facing us?”
Fissures within the Jewish community, Hoenlein said, were less troubling.
“I think Jews will focus quite quickly on the challenges ahead and the issues we have to address together,” he predicted.
Referring to a possible end-of-term lame-duck Israeli-Palestinian peace push by the Obama administration before the inauguration of the next president on Jan. 20, Hoenlein said, “There has been a lot of speculation, but no decision [has made by the administration]. I do think the president is focused on his legacy and will use these months after the election to consolidate his legacy, in both domestic and foreign policy. But there is not a lot of time and there may not be a lot of options.”
“We should be careful not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, but at the same time we have to consider and be ready for any potential action or policy pronouncement, while also working with the incoming administration,” he continued. “The president acknowledged to me a year ago that there wouldn’t be enough time for a Palestinian state during his term, but he wanted to create the ‘predicates,’ and I think that could still be on his agenda. Or he could simply walk away and say the parties are not at a point where serious discussions can take place.”
Both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent Donald Trump “have spoken against attempts to impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians,” Hoenlein said. “They are the ones who will have to bear the long-term consequences of any actions that are taken in the coming months, so clearly their voices will be very important.”
“I think all of them — the current president and the candidates — recognize that while outside parties can facilitate, if you want to have a really meaningful peace agreement, you can’t impose it,” Hoenlein went on to say. “It’s got to come organically from the parties. And right now, [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas has clearly indicated he is not prepared to talk. Going to the UN on ridiculous issues shows he’s not prepared to accept the existence of the Jewish state. To fight the Balfour Declaration, is that really where their resources should be going? To deny the existence of the Jewish temples and denigrate Christianity and Judaism, is that really where their efforts should be going? Or does it reflect the fact that not only is he not ready to discuss the future, he’s not even prepared to accept the past.”
Hoenlein said the first post-election priority of his group will be to “see who are people who are going to be around the new president and get off on the right foot.”
“We’ve already been in touch with people in both camps to talk about policy,” Hoenlein revealed. “We’re not going to have a honeymoon period. We’re not going to have a time in which the president will have months to adjust. We’re in the middle of a vortex right now. The world is spinning fast and developments are taking place rapidly. We have real crises, in places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen, we have hot wars and cold wars. We have tensions between the United States and Russia. We have many countries that are teetering on the brink. So we have to do all we can to help assure that American policy moves in the right direction.”
Regardless of who wins the White House, Hoenlein expressed hope that the next administration will review America’s policy towards Iran and adopt a more aggressive approach.
“The renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act is coming up,” Hoenlein said. “I know there is strong support in Congress, and I hope the outgoing and incoming administrations will back even tougher sanctions. We know that Iran has taken advantage of this period [since the nuclear deal in July 2015] to expand its involvement in terrorism in the region and globally. We know that Iran is still moving ahead on its nuclear weaponization program and its missile delivery systems, and its provocative actions against the US and our allies are intensifying.”
“Today,” Hoenlein continued, “Iran claims it controls four Arab capitals — Beirut, Sana’a, Baghdad and Damascus. Its spreading its aggression across the region and also around the world, with its expansion of activities in places such as South America and Africa. We had better take this more seriously.”
Moreover, Hoenlein said, the next administration should look into “how we can help the people of Iran by promoting democratization. Iranians do not want the system of oppression to continue there.”
As Washington prepares the upcoming transition of power, ties between the US and Israel are on “very solid footing,” Hoenlein concluded.
“The American people are with Israel, Congress is with Israel and I think the Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to Israel in the military and security realms in many ways, such as the new MOU that was signed,” he said. “And both candidates have asserted their support for the US-Israel special relationship.”