New House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, spoke tellingly with US News and World Report’s Dan Gilgoff. Cantor’s comments are intriguing, especially those about the role of Judaism in his politics, the importance Jewish Republicans and his definition of support for Israel.
Noting that Jewishness is important to him, Rep. Cantor cannot name a specific instance in which it shapes his thinking. Why is that? Does he not really mean it? Having met him numerous times, that doesn’t seem the correct analyses. So what is?
Cantor, like many people, has a hard time simultaneously affirming that Judaism is both multi-faceted (two Jews, three opinions) AND capable of providing concrete guidance on specific issues. The inability to appreciate both of those facts creates people who either invoke their interpretation of Judaism as THE interpretation of it, or individuals who can make no real decisions because there are always alternatives in the offing.
Rep. Cantor could make a real contribution by helping those in his party, who are especially fond of using religion in the former way, to see that they can stand for a faith-based agenda without decrying those who happen not to share their interpretation of what faith demands. That would be a real Jewish contribution to American politics.
Cantor is certainly correct about the importance of his role as a Jewish Republican. Precisely because there are many ways to be Jewish, no party should have a lock on the Jewish vote. But his assertion that friends of Israel should be nervous about the Obama administration is entirely uncalled for. Even if Cantor’s assertions are accurate, what benefit accrues in lowering expectations on the President-elect about the US-Israel relationship?
None. It’s purely partisan politics and fear-mongering, neither of which is good for America or Israel.
The strength of the relationship between Israel and the US is not rooted in partisan politics, and Eric Cantor steps in dangerous waters by suggesting that it is. The strength of the relationship is rooted in shared values of democracy and freedom. While members of different parties may differ about the policy implications of those shared values, they remain the foundation upon which the relationship stands. Suggesting otherwise opens the door to a variety of claims about the abuse of “Jewish power” on Capitol Hill and a variety of anti-Semitic canards.
Eric Cantor is a good man and a great friend of Israel. In light of both, he should pull back from politicking an issue as close to his heart and important to this country.