To judge a Jew justly

To judge a Jew justly

I do not normally use a column to respond to a letter, and I understand this newspaper’s reluctance to publish such a rebuttal, but for every rule there is an exception. Recently, a vicious letter to the editor attacked philanthropist Sheldon Adelson. A second letter attacked me. Together, the two letters spell out all that is wrong in the increasingly rancid political climate of the modern-day United States, and the divisiveness of Jewish communal politics. They combine to create that exception to the rule.

TRUTH REGARDLESS OF CONSEQUENCES In essence, the letter-writer who attacked Adelson did so because the philanthropist is a Republican and contributes to Republican causes. Here is a message to that writer: The United States is a democracy and a citizen can affiliate with, and indeed support, any party he or she favors. A Jew can be a Democrat, an Independent, and yes, even a Republican. Not one of those three is more Jewishly legitimate than the other, and any suggestion otherwise is a sad abuse of religion for political purposes.

We do not live in Iran. The United States has more than one party, thank God, and I salute Jews on both sides of the aisle who are politically active for the good of this nation and our community.

I can care less if Jews are Democrats or Republicans. I have my own personal preference, as we all do. The hatred that is being increasingly shown toward Jews who are political conservatives, however, undermines our community’s belief in the vibrancy of democracy.

I am a Jew who just ran for the Congress of the United States as a Republican, but who spent much of the campaign criticizing my own party for its social sexual obsession and its focus on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception to the exclusion of a national debate on divorce, materialism, and an increasing culture of narcissism, lovelessness, and loneliness. Yet there it was, a letter in last week’s issue of The Jewish Standard, calling me “American Jewry’s premier narcissist.” This is very sad.

Why am I such a horrible person? Because, wrote the letter-writer, “shamefully, [I] said nothing about guns” in a column following the Newtown horror, but instead offered a “religious” endorsement of Republican and National Rifle Association pro-gun policies.

Excuse me? For the record, in the column that so offended this letter-writer, I wrote, “Yes, guns make it easier for rage to become deadly – and only cowards would refuse to hold a national conversation now about gun laws, wherever that leads.” The letter-writer, however, has no problem villifying me because I am a Republican. He assumes that every Jewish Republican is an extremist nut who has abandoned Jewish liberalism, and therefore is fair game.

This appalling attitude was taken to an extreme by the Adelson attacker, who wrote that the victims of the Shoah would turn in their graves if they knew that Adelson is being honored by Yad Vashem for giving tens of millions of dollars in their memory. Such words are an abuse of the memory of our martyred Six Million for crass partisan reasons.

Yes, Adelson gave a million dollars to an independent superPAC that supported my campaign. By fraudulently claiming that Adelson “proceeded to promote politicians … who would advance his views,” the letter-writer errs against both donor and recipient. The Adelsons asked me for absolutely nothing, and, as per the law, I had no contact with the PAC and no control over what it did with the money it received. Adelson’s and the PAC’s generosity are legend. They are famous for supporting candidates who fight for Israel. With my 25-year history of fighting Israel-haters in live debates and the world’s media, I was proud and grateful to receive their support.

The letter condemns Adelson for the tens of millions he donates to Birthright, accusing him of using the program to “brainwash” Jewish youth. In doing so, the writer demonstrates not just his ignorance of how Birthright operates – through about 25 different independent contractors with whom donors have no contact – but his contempt for the indelible connection Birthright fosters between hundreds of thousands of young Jews and the ancient Jewish homeland.

This is how far we are prepared to take political partisanship within our community.

People can have selfless motivations when they give tzedakah. We ought to reject such cynical views of charity and instead salute and champion anyone – anyone, regardless of political convictions, from Sheldon Adelson to George Soros – who supports Israel and the memory of our k’doshim, our holy martyrs. Unfortunately, Soros, a man much admired by Democrats on the left, strangely does not support Israel or memorials to the victims of the Shoah, even though he himself is a refugee from the Nazi tyrany. There are plenty of Jewish Democrats who do, however, and I salute them all. Michael Steinhardt, the founder of Birthright Israel, is a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, and like Sheldon Adelson he is a man I revere because of his lifelong dedication to the Jewish people.

The politics of it all be damned.

I am Republican, yes, but coming from the worlds of academia and media, most of my friends are Democrats and liberals. I do not give a toss what a person’s politics are. I care about his or her character, her or his goodness, the person’s dedication to a higher good, and whether there is courage and righteousness behind this individual’s convictions. How shameful that in the Jewish community anyone should be judged first by the letter “D” or “R” in front of their name. Sheldon Adelson gives more money to Jewish causes than any man alive. His love for, and devotion to, Israel and Jewish causes should be celebrated and emulated, regardless of his politics.

Whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, those who make the defense of Israel and the future of the Jewish people one of their foremost priorities should be feted as heroes in our community. Mean-spirited politically-driven critics ought to hold their pens before attacking fellow Jews with such unmitigated vitriol.

We have a right to disagree, but there is no warrant for being disagreeable.