By Jack Rosen
With midterm elections once again around the corner, Democrats, Republicans, and people of all different political beliefs are anew vocally encouraging all Americans to get out and vote.
Yet, for many of us, this election is different from others. Our politics today feel more divisive and existential in a way not seen in recent memory. For Jewish Americans across the country, rising anti-Semitism and a chaotic and ever-changing world with rapidly evolving U.S. policies have left many with critical choices that will have a lasting impact on the direction of this country and the world for years to come.
As a lifelong Jewish American activist and president of the American Jewish Congress, I cannot recall an election when anti-Semitism was so visible on the national stage. Hate crimes rates are up, including toward Jews. Just this week, in my home city of New York, two Orthodox Jewish men were brutally assaulted in the streets of Brooklyn, in separate incidents, two days in a row. This is not normal.
White supremacists have gained an unprecedented nationwide platform from which to spew hatred toward Jews and people of color. Last summer, hundreds of them gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, a college town, to chant, “Jews will not replace us.” That is not normal either.
Meanwhile, several candidates for national office represent profoundly anti-Semitic and white supremacist viewpoints. Among the candidates who have won their state primaries and who will compete for election to Congress are:
- Russell Walker of North Carolina has stated that Jews are descended from Satan.
- Steve West of Missouri said on the radio that “Hitler was right.”
- Arthur Jones of Illinois, a self-proclaimed member of the American Nazi Party, proudly denies the Holocaust and even brags about protesting Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
None of these men are likely to win an election, but the representation of their hate-filled views on the most important stages of national discussion is concerning.
In addition to emerging candidates, current members of Congress and of the administration have made historic decisions on matters affecting Jewish Americans, the U.S.-Israel relationship and global politics, and will continue to do so in the near future. Some policy items, such as our approach to Iran or the status of Jerusalem, are ongoing. The 2015 Iran Deal (JCPOA) is an item that continues to dominate discussions at the United Nations and in between American and European counterparts.
Likewise, the United States recently recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated its Embassy while several other countries, such as Guatemala, are now following in the U.S.’ footsteps.
Regarding any future peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, it will be up to the U.S. government to back up Israel and demonstrate that Jerusalem is not up for grabs. And as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to pick up steam on college campuses and beyond, it’s important to have a Congress that understands BDS’s discriminatory and anti-Semitic nature.
Who we elect now will significantly impact the progress and challenges that we have faced on these issues. For this reason, The American Jewish Congress has compiled data and mapped out where candidates stand on the issues that are most important to Jewish Americans. The data also shows how candidates who have previously served in Congress voted on matters affecting Jewish Americans and the U.S.-Israel alliance.
For centuries, the Jewish people, scattered around the world, lived at the mercy of governments and rulers they had no say in. In some parts of the world, that is still true for us. But here in America, we have the spectacular gift of having a voice. Here we can vote and speak freely, seek education and take part in a free press, and fight to keep those who would harm us out of power. We can never take that for granted.
In a day and age where our politics feel more divisive and in jeopardy, now more than ever, it is critical that we use our political voice — not only by voting but by coming together as a community as Jews and as Americans to discuss what issues are important to us and what we will do to fix them. Some like to say that for every two Jews, there are three opinions – a joke, but one with a degree of truth. In spite of disagreements, we must always strive to unite our community around our common values and devotedly participate in the most valuable political process known to man.
Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress, which created an interactive tool showing where midterm candidates stand on issues relevant to Jewish voters.