Playing Politics with Jews


This post previously appeared in the Algemeiner on August 1, 2012.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in his best Captain Renault form – which includes being entirely insincere and unconvincing – is shocked, shocked to discover that there is politics going on in the U.S. of A. Never played any of that sort of thing himself.

Though, actually, feigning shock at the discovery of politics going on right there in the city of the Casa Blanca is, well (cover the children’s ears) an act of playing politics.

Reported The Hill (and everyone else covering the jerk-my-chain political beat), Cantor,

said in a statement Sunday that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) suggestion Jewish voters were “being exploited” was “deeply insulting” and “patronizing.”

Cantor, who is Jewish, was responding to comments Pelosi made during an interview during which the Democratic leader suggested Republicans were trying to unfairly depict President Obama as having a strained relationship with Israel to further their domestic agenda.

“It is both patronizing and deeply insulting for Nancy Pelosi to suggest any Jew is ‘exploited’ for their political beliefs or that support for Israel is somehow an ‘excuse’ for anything,” Cantor said. “Such thinking diminishes the importance of issues affecting Jews everywhere.”

Oh, dear. That Cantor, such a sensitive one.

Politics – that’s politics, not policy – is about wrangling votes. Everyone knows this. That is, all but those whom the politicians – excuse me, policy makers – believe are innocent or ignorant enough not to know. The electorate is made up of constituencies, economic, ethnic, racial, geographic, religious, and interest-based constituencies to which it is the task of politicians to appeal. Go for the gun owners, appeal to the farmers, empathize with Hispanics, curry favor with Jews. That’s the way it is done, and this is why we write and read without pause about who has what percentage of one group or another in the polls.

Professional campaign managers and communications directors seek every advantage and develop every opportunity to increase an old or gain a new voting bloc. Speak Spanish even though your party opposes any policy but deportation for illegal immigrants? Habla, amigo, y rápido. Think many Jews, who vote overwhelming Democratic, care about nothing more than the certainty of the U.S. commitment to Israel? Think there may be an opening? Then it’s time to recall that old joke from the 1980 presidential campaign:

“What’s flat and glows in the dark?”

“Iran after Reagan takes office.”

(Turned out to be very far from the truth, too.)

The far left and some liberals are sadly misguided in relation to Israel and Obama made some diplomatic errors right from the start. The Israeli left collapsed and Likud governs in Israel. So, increasingly, support for Israel is identified with political conservatism. That is, then, a political opportunity. Tell the children Republicans don’t seek to exploit it. Don’t say that to the adults. In contrary circumstances, so, too, would the Democrats.

However, only one definition of exploit is “to take selfish or unfair advantage.” The other meaning is to “use or develop something in order to gain a benefit.” We exploit natural resources, and we should. To make good productive use of a thing is to exploit it as well.

The task for the knowledgeable, the sophisticated voter in any instance is to determine which kind of exploitation is taking place. Pelosi made her case:

But [Republican Jews] have to know the facts. And the fact is that President Obama has been the strongest person in terms of sanctions on Iran, which is important to Israel. He’s been the strongest person on whether it’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, any of these weapons systems and initiatives that relate to Israel. He has been there over and over again.

It is regularly repeated in U.S. and Israeli security circles that despite diplomatic missteps and the lack of rapport between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the security relationship between the two nations has never been closer or stronger. Would you believe Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, just two days ago?

But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.

It is in response to this reality that Mitt Romney and his supporters are forced to ever newer and higher levels of bellicosity. Soon, the only place to go in addition to denying the actual record will be a call to bomb Iranian nuclear reactors yesterday.

Let us, for clarity, examine the example par excellence of just the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. Let’s look at the Emergency Committee for Israel. Exploitation often begins with alarmist language.

Emergency, indeed. Is it 1948, 67, 73?

Sound good, though. Draws the blood up.

The Emergency Committee for Israel is just two years old, 2010 being, apparently, when the emergency arose, and it exists for one reason, to defeat Barack Obama. William Kristol, a founding board member, says it was inspired by J Street. By their models, viewed even in the mirror, ye shall know them. Even AIPAC, for Kristol, is too moderate. Why? Because it cooperates with the Obama administration. Which sounds like a good thing to do if what one is interested in is aiding Israel, and to judge by Ehud Barak doing a pretty fair job of it. But not if one’s greater, more immediate interest is the domestic political one of unelecting Barack Obama. However, that would be exploiting Jewish concerns for political ends, and that would be, according to Eric Cantor, insulting and patronizing even to allege, never mind actually do.

The ECI website is sparse. There is an Issues page: Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, all very relevant to concern for Israel. Click on their links: nothing. There are, in fact, only two items on the Issues page – the most recent eighteen months old. Return to the Home page, though, and the raison d’etre for the ECI is quickly apparent. There is one item opposing Ron Paul by board member Gary Bauer – most recently found defending Chick-Fil-A’s anti-Gay advocacy in a very un-Israeli-like fashion. All of the remaining nine items are anti-Obama.

Ehud Barak says, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Gary Bauer says the Obama administration is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

Whom to listen to. Tough choice.

Tellingly, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, ECI produced a putrid and cynical video ad, the purpose of which was not to dispute the beliefs or claims of Occupy protesters or respond to any, um – emergency – for Israel. ECI scraped up, from months of demonstration footage, seconds of video of only two different people making anti-Semitic remarks and edited the footage to make the bigoted speech appear more plentiful. ECI did this not even to take a stand against OWS, but in order to try, then, to connect the anti-Semitism to OWS and OWS to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and thus, by clear implication – well, need I?

As I wrote then, in “’Emergency’ Committee for Israel Uses Israel as a Wedge Issue,”

the true purpose of the ECI video distortion is not to identify a new source of anti-Semitism. Kristol, Bauer, and company are not trying to warn the good people of OWS off a bad element in their midst. They actually could not be more delighted to find it there. They are, merely by the way, identifying that element as if it were itself the character of OWS, but even that is not ECI’s true purpose. The video, as I indicated, takes a further, more clearly pointed step in identifying President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other well-known Democrats with OCS (sic), which ECI has by that point in the video smeared with anti-Semitic accusation. Thus, so, too, are Obama and the Democrats smeared.

That is the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. And, at the same time, it is “deeply insulting” and “patronizing,” as Eric Cantor chose the terms for unbecoming behavior toward Jews. They form together a kind of trifecta in crass political opportunism.

I have no doubt Eric Cantor is outraged.

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