True: In America, a person is innocent until proven guilty. True: Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, is innocent unless a jury says otherwise.
Too True: While DeLay is innocent until proven guilty, his penchant for unethical conduct is well documented. So egregious are his ethical lapses, in fact, that even while "the Hammer" was still ruling the House, his own colleagues hammered him three times for flaunting the rules of the House.
Those three instances are very instructive.
In one, DeLay was publicly chastised by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (a/k/a the House Ethics Committee) for offering to support a congressional candidate in return for the candidate’s father’s vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill. To "offer or link support for the personal interests of another member as part of a quid pro quo to achieve a legislative goal" is improper conduct, the committee wrote.
In a second case, the ethics panel noted that an energy company, Westar, expected that its $56,500 donation to DeLay bought it a say in energy legislation. The committee also noted that "just as the House-Senate conference on major energy legislation … was about to get under way" in mid-’00’, DeLay publicly participated in a major Westar function. That "created such an improper appearance," the ethics panel said, especially because the pending legislation "was of critical importance to the attendees" and DeLay was "in a position to significantly influence" the outcome.
In a third instance, the oversight committee found that DeLay violated House rules by involving the Federal Aviation Administration in a blatantly partisan political incident.
"In view of the number of instances to date in which the committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged," the panel wrote DeLay at one point, "it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House rules and standards of conduct."
How DeLay responded to these rebukes also is instructive. First, he hammered through changes to the ethics committee’s rules (these were reversed following a public outcry). Then he saw to it that the three most independent Republicans on the panel got the axe. Two of them were replaced by Republicans who had contributed to DeLay’s defense fund.
Then there are those expensive trips DeLay went on that were paid by lobbying groups. One trip, to South Korea, ranks among the most expensive in the history of the House.
There also is his callous misuse of a children’s charity as cover for raising corporate funds to help pay for fund-raisers and events during the GOP’s ‘004 convention in New York City.
DeLay’s bad behavior becomes a "Jewish issue" because of the central role played by a Jewish lobbyist in his troubles, and the very prominent presence of Jewish names on a list of contributors to DeLay’s defense fund.
In the third quarter of ‘005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and DeLay’s own filings, 70 individuals donated to the so-called "Tom DeLay Legal Expense Trust." Nearly half have obviously Jewish names, most with addresses in the greater metropolitan area. Englewood, located far from Sugar Land and DeLay’s ”nd congressional district, tops that list at 18. Even more obvious is that out of the 70 individual donors, ‘3 came from Texas (logical) and ‘3 from the Englewood-Teaneck-Cresskill portion of Bergen County (not so logical). All in the latter group have obviously Jewish names.
Why so many Jewish names appear on DeLay’s defense-fund roster is also obvious: His unwavering support for Israel gave someone the idea to hold a local fund-raiser for his defense last August. This, too, makes his problems an issue for us.
Here, then, is the central issue: Should American Jews support someone who is so obviously ethically challenged merely because he is in a position to do Israel some favors? Or do we have a double obligation — as citizens of this country and as God’s appointed example-setters for good behavior — to reject such people because they behave badly?
The number of Jewish names on the DeLay fund list — some of whom are rather prominent — seems to supply the answer, but it is the wrong answer.
"Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates…, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert judgment; you shall not respect persons, nor take a bribe; for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous." (See Deuteronomy 16:18-19.)
Can anything be more clear and unambiguous?
"Said Rabbi Yitzchak, ‘A judge who takes a bribe brings fierce wrath upon the world.’" (See the Babylonian Talmud tractate Bava Batra 9b.)
While supporting DeLay may not bring fierce wrath down on the world, it might do so on the Jewish world. Currying favor with a powerful legislator who supports Israel while ignoring his unethical behavior could actually harm Israel — and us.
With congressional elections only nine months away, congressional Republicans are likely to distance themselves from DeLay and anyone associated with either him or former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who last week pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, including several influence-peddling counts. This distancing will be especially noticeable if Abramoff sings the songs predicted by the media.
There is, of course, another aspect to this issue that must be explored. Tom DeLay and his ilk, meaning Bible-thumping right-wing Republicans, have demonstrated a contempt for some of the most basic rights we as Jews should hold dear. They believe that America is a Christian nation and should be ruled as such. They support Israel, not out of love for us, but out of a bizarre End of Days scenario that includes our disappearance from the world.
The Christian Right and their GOP allies are not our friends. It is possible to support a Conservative Republican agenda without also supporting a Christian one.
Sooner or later, we will pay a heavy price if we fail to learn that lesson.