Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Robert Wexler

 

Weiner’s downfall a reminder of perils of Jewish pride

NEW YORK – He was supposed to be one of Congress’ rising stars, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn with great ambition and promise.

A truculent Democrat with a penchant for media attention, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was an unabashed liberal on domestic affairs and a hard-liner on foreign policy, particularly Israel. Like his predecessor in his U.S. House of Representatives seat, Sen. Charles Schumer, Weiner had larger ambitions — in his case, mayor of New York City.

But then came his shamefaced news conference Monday, when the 46-year-old congressman, who was married last year, admitted to lying about sending a lewd photo to a woman he met on the Internet.

It was the culmination of a week of dissembling since the conservative blog biggovernment.com had posted the photo. In all, Weiner confessed to carrying on inappropriate online relationships with six women. He said he would not get a divorce from his new wife — Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is Muslim — nor would he resign.

In the Jewish community, which long had regarded him with pride, Weiner’s spectacularly public downfall was a reminder of the perils of associating a particular person’s successes or failures with his Jewishness.

Weiner’s perennial prefixes — “Jewish congressman, from New York, staunch supporter of Israel” — clearly identified him in the public mind, said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor in chief of the feminist Jewish magazine Lilith.

Just as Italian Americans worry about blanket generalizations with “The Sopranos” or “The Godfather,” Jews sigh reflexively when there is a Jew whose bad judgment and bad behavior are in the spotlight, Weidman Schneider said.

“Only this isn’t fiction,” she said. “There’s a foolishness to Weiner’s attempted cover-up, no pun intended, that’s as embarrassing and cringe-inducing as the acts themselves.”

“When the Son of Sam turns out to be David Berkowitz or the greatest Ponzi scheme ever is perpetrated by Bernie Madoff or a humiliated politician is named Eliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner,” Democratic political consultant Steve Rabinowitz said, “you can almost hear it as a community: Why did he it have to be our guy?”

Weiner’s political identity has long been intertwined with his Jewishness. He has been celebrated by the pro-settlement Zionist Organization of America for his positions on the west bank, and he routinely introduces a bill that would deny assistance to Saudi Arabia, even though that wealthy country does not receive U.S. assistance beyond a small program that trains Saudi army officers in democracy.

ZOA President Morton Klein said the Weiner scandal represents a “terrible loss for the pro-Israel community.

“As long as Anthony Weiner remains in Congress, his position on Israel will be among the best,” Klein said. “The only issue now is whether his influence will have diminished and whether his credibility will have diminished.”

Robert Wexler, a Democrat and former Jewish congressman from Florida, said regaining voters’ trust will have to be a top priority for Weiner.

“Up until last week, Anthony was an excellent congressman and a fine public servant,” said Wexler, who runs the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. “The bottom line is that he’s a good and decent person that made some grave errors.”

With sincere and honest repentance and a reminder of the Jewish value of “seeing the other person in the image of God,” there’s a way for Weiner to put the scandal behind him, said Orthodox feminist activist Blu Greenberg.

Judaism appreciates forgiveness, and Weiner has the chance to atone by making changes to his life and way of thinking, Greenberg told JTA.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to be a condemned man the rest of his life,” she said. “If others are big enough to forgive him, then his life isn’t over.

“He’s not an ax-murderer. He’s a very foolish man in power lacking a sense of appreciation for what he had.”

But whether Weiner can recover to the degree where the American Jewish community will proudly count him again among its ranks is a tougher question.

“He provided a negative example for our children,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We appropriately feel outrage for that.”

JTA Wire Service

JTA Washington Bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

 
 

Democrats launch major pro-Obama pushback among Jews

image
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, right, shown speaking at Obama inauguration festivities in January 2009 with former Jewish War Veterans chief Ed Goldwasser, is among Democrats speaking out forcefully now on President Obama’s Israel policies. Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON – President Obama is a stalwart friend of Israel.

That’s the message some top Democratic Jewish figures are promoting to push back against the notion that Obama is out of step with the pro-Israel and Jewish communities.

Within the next two weeks, two figures associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — past AIPAC president Amy Friedkin and board member Howard Green — will be among the hosts for a major fundraising event for the president, charging $25,000 per couple. The target of 40 couples — bringing in $1 million — is close to being met, insiders say. Notably, the organizers have received a nod from the AIPAC board’s inner circle to solicit donations.

Last week, top Jewish Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), blitzed the media with Op-Eds denying any split with the president in the wake of his call last month to base Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps.

And the White House has taken the unusual step of posting a lengthy defense of Obama’s Israel record on its website.

Some of the Op-Eds were coordinated, insiders said, and meetings will take place over the coming weeks to hammer home the message.

“The White House has a very strong record to defend, and the objectives are misrepresented and in some cases maligned, so yes the White house is pushing back,” said Robert Wexler, the former Florida congressman who was Obama’s chief Jewish proxy during the 2008 campaign.

Wexler wrote one of two pro-Obama Op-Eds in the South Florida Sun Sentinel in recent days. Florida, a swing state with a substantual Jewish population, has been a key Jewish battleground in recent years.

Republicans have taken notice, and they have attributed the pushback in part to the success of attacks on the president by conservative groups. The Republican Jewish Coalition has targeted Jewish voters with automated phone calls, and a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel is running an ad thanking congressional Democrats it claims have split with Obama over his Israel policy.

“Clearly, the White House is playing defense after President Obama inserted himself into Middle East policy that put him at odds with Americans who support a strong Israel,” Reince Preibus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in an e-mail to JTA.

Democrats say two distortions have fueled their fury: the notions that Obama broke with U.S. policy to force Israel back to the pre-1967 lines and, as a result, that Jewish voters, a key base, are slipping away from the Democrats. A flurry of media stories in recent weeks have suggested that Obama is losing Jewish donor support, although few past donors to the president are reported to be reconsidering their support.

Where the Jews stand on Obama matters not just because of the Jewish vote, which is significant in key swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but also because of Jewish money. The 2012 presidential election will be the first since a Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited corporate giving to candidates. The Obama campaign has said it will need more money than ever because big business tends to lean Republican.

Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and estimates over the years have reckoned that Jewish donors provide between one-third and two-thirds of the party’s money.

“Every two or four years Republicans say, ‘This is the year Jewish voters, or donors, or activists, are going to trend Republican,’” said Steve Rabinowitz, a strategist who advises Democrats and Jewish groups. “Every November it turns out not to be true.”

Republicans made clear that they see a new opening, given the “1967 lines” brouhaha.

“We’re stepping up our game with Jewish donors and other potential Jewish supporters that feel like Obama turned his back on them,” an RNC official who is not authorized to speak on the record told JTA.

Obama’s appointment earlier this year of Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee came in part in response to concerns that Republicans were making headway among Jews. Wasserman Schultz also contributed an Obama defense to the South Florida Sun Sentinel over the weekend.

“They’re taking proactive steps that ensure they get in front of this,” said a Democratic operative close to the Jewish community who requested anonymity. “They’re explaining to the Jewish audience what’s going on so it doesn’t become a problem down the road. It’s better to get ahead of this and tell people what’s actually been said than play catch-up.”

The White House posting begins by addressing the “1967 lines” controversy.

“This territorial formula, which has been used in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for decades, means that the parties themselves will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years,” it said, adding that the formula “is fully consistent with the positions of earlier U.S. Administrations, including the 2004 Bush-Sharon letters.”

In fact, while previous administrations — including President George W. Bush in his letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — have acknowledged the 1967 lines as an aspiration for the Palestinians, Obama has gone further in embracing them as a basis for talks. That frustrated Israelis who say it narrows their options by setting parameters.

In the same May 19 Middle East policy speech, Obama also set restrictive parameters for Palestinians, for instance, in declaring that their state would not be militarized.

The difference between Obama and his predecessors is not as drastic as Republicans have portrayed, however, especially in statements like the one recently from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus that refer only to the “1967 lines” without noting “mutually agreed swaps.”

The White House is convening meetings of top Democrats in the coming weeks and months to coordinate message discipline.

Jewish Democrats are frustrated with their inability to bury perceptions that Obama has distanced himself from Israel, noting especially that officials in both countries agree that the defense relationship is closer than ever.

Democrats say their concerns extend to the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which for decades has been predicated on bipartisan support. Wasserman Schultz forcefully raised the issue in a meeting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held with top Jewish representatives of both parties last month.

Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, shot back with a public letter accusing Wasserman Schultz of trying to gag debate by suppressing legitimate criticism of Obama.

Mark Mellman, a top Democratic pollster, dismissed talk of a “gag order.”

“They have the right to say whatever they want, but Democrats have the right to say it’s not wise,” he said.

Noah Pollak, the director of the Executive Committee for Israel, has acknowledged that Obama’s policies are not substantially different from his predecessors.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30