Column: Who Would Vote to Block Measure to End Antisemitism?

Once upon a time in America, Israel’s existence was held in as much high esteem as motherhood and apple pie. Even today, what reasonable person here would not want to stamp out antisemitism?

In Washington, 19 members of the House of Representatives Wednesday last week voted against a resolution to give Israel a mazel tov shoutout on its 75th birthday, many of them the usual suspects for Israel-bashing.

In New York, two members of City Council voted the preceding Thursday against a resolution to establish an “End Jew Hatred Day” in the city, with four others abstaining.

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat, said it all when he tweeted, “How can anyone vote against a resolution to end antisemitism?”

In Philadelphia and other large cities, so-called progressive members of Congress are reaching out to newly-elected mayors and mayoral candidates with implications for Israel.

These reminders that anti-Israel forces in government are growing need to be watched. It looks to me that they are trying to spread anti-Israel attitudes through politics. It appears likely that their influence will ultimately be limited. Their numbers remain small after more than four years of trying hard.

By now, “progressive” has evolved into a confusing term. Traditionally, a progressive is one who seeks social reform. For arch-conservatives, a progressive is akin to a communist. For progressives themselves, some are indeed social reformers. For many others, anyone who is pro-Israel cannot possibly be a progressive. Just being Jewish can exclude a person from this club.

A person who these days is viewed as a progressive should readily draw suspicion. They may genuinely attempt to address social issues, and they could also oppose Israel’s policies and even its very existence. I wonder about that in my hometown, where former Councilwoman Helen Gym piled up mayoral endorsements last week from three members of Congress who refused to congratulate Israel on its 75th birthday.

It was enraging when 19 representatives – one Republican and 18 Democrats – voted against the Israeli resolution. The vote was 401-19, but even the small no-vote minority is disturbing. What is their problem? Why can’t all representatives wish Israel well?

Americans for Peace Now, a liberal Jewish Middle East policy organization, explained that House Republicans forced the removal of any reference to a two-state solution that might resolve the ongoing conflict with Palestinians, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“The decision to strip support for the Two-State Solution from the text requires that we ask exactly what ‘shared values’ is Kevin McCarthy referring to?” said APN. “And more importantly, it begs the question, what future solution to the conflict do House Republicans support?”

McCarthy is speaker of the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the GOP.

Both parties agreed to language promoting the Abraham Accords. The resolution “encourages the expansion and strengthening of the Abraham Accords to urge other nations to normalize relations with Israel and ensure that existing agreements reap tangible security and economic benefits for the citizens of those countries and all peoples in the region.”

After the vote, Jewish Democrats signed a statement along with other House Democrats condemning the changes compelled by the GOP. “This resolution…broke the longstanding bipartisan tradition of acknowledging the importance of achieving a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians,” the statement reads. “We remain resolute in our aspiration to help Israel find peace with all its neighbors, including and particularly the Palestinians.”

To recognize Israel’s vitality, is it necessary to link it to diplomatic and military issues? I think Israel’s growth and progress must be distinguished from its conflicts. If the 19 House members who voted against the resolution are so concerned about Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, why can’t they address it in a separate resolution?

Three House Democrats who opposed the resolution also endorsed mayoral candidate Helen Gym in Philadelphia’s Democratic primary next Tuesday. She has proposed an ambitious agenda of social reforms. If history is any guide, the candidate who is nominated next week might as well measure the drapes at City Hall because the Democratic candidate will almost certainly win the general election in November.

I cannot recall that Israel was ever an issue in a mayoral election in Philadelphia, but questions can be raised about Gym’s position on Israel. Three of her endorsers are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, both of New York, and Ayanna Pressley of Boston. All three voted against the resolution and Ocasio-Cortez has called Israel an “apartheid” state.

Gym has consistently pressed for social reforms when she served as a councilmember at large. She was part of a small group that proposed a required mediation session for tenants who are threatened with eviction.

I personally benefited from this program after my former landlord demanded I pay double my longtime rental rate. Because the landlord did not provide sufficient notice of a rent increase, I won a year’s reprieve from any rent increase. I was fortunate enough to find affordable housing.

I am not aware of any of the other candidates helping me pull myself out of an existential crisis. I am certainly taking Gym’s action into consideration.

Brooklyn Democrat Charles Barron, who abstained in the New York council vote, contradicted the frequent denial that opposing Israel is not antisemitic because they were criticizing a sovereign nation – not the Jewish people.

The Times of Israel reports that Barron blames “Inconsistency of members of the Jewish community, particularly its leadership, in speaking out against hatred, like hatred of the Palestinian people, like the State of Israel murdering Palestinian women and children and stealing the land.”

He also accused Jewish leaders of supporting apartheid in South Africa.

Shahana Hanif, who cast one of the two no-votes, considered the source of the resolution – a Republican, Inna Vernikov of Brooklyn. “They have not stood up for Muslims, they have not stood up for trans New Yorkers or anybody.”

A Republican’s role did not stop most Democrats from voting for the resolution. They were obviously convinced by Vernikov’s arguments: “A disturbing trend of antisemitic hate crimes has engulfed our city…Jewish-Americans have begun to question whether their safety and future in our city is secure, and with identifiable Jews being beaten for their faith, identity and religion in broad daylight, who can blame them?”

Sandra Nurse, the other no-vote, did not comment.

Eric Dinowitz, who chairs the Jewish caucus, countered Barron and Sharif, saying, “It’s just incorrect to say that the Jewish community does not stand with our brothers and sisters in other communities, and if you don’t see that, it’s just because you don’t want to.”

It is not sufficient to argue that those in Congress and New York City Council comprise a small minority. They are hardly poor, uneducated citizens. They hold powerful positions, and they harm us every time they vote against Jewish interests and take advantage of their forum. Their numbers continue to grow.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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