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Spurning Tom DeLay: Why Are So Many Jews Unhappy That A Political Leader Loves Israel?

By Jonathan S. Tobin Jewish Press August 13, 2003

A lot of people don’t like Tom DeLay. As the majority whip and,
since January 2001, the majority leader of the U.S. House of
Representatives, DeLay is the fellow who has been leading the charge for
the Republicans on Capitol Hill the last few years. He is a hard-core
conservative, and believes in scorched-earth tactics in the bitter partisan
warfare that he has helped incite.

Democrats in Washington and Texas, and liberals in general, view
him with a distaste that borders on horror. It’s more than the fact that he is
unflinchingly conservative on social and fiscal issues; to them, he is the
personification of the far right and all its works.

Liberals around the country use the former insect and pest
exterminator’s name as a

rallying cry to raise funds for Democrats. In particular, fear of DeLay and
his Christian conservative allies is still the trump card Democrats can play
among predominantly liberal Jewish contributors and voters.

But there is more to the man than opposition to abortion,
gerrymandering in

Texas and bare-knuckles politics in Washington. He is also a fervent
Christian Zionist.

DeLay proved that once again last week by going to Israel and
delivering a stirring speech to the Knesset that ought to be seen as the gold
standard by which all pro-Israel rhetoric should be judged. [Editor’s Note:
Highlights of that speech were featured in last week’s issue of The Jewish
Press and can be viewed on our website — www.jewishpress.com —
under the title “Be Not afraid.”]

Going beyond the usual formula used by American politicians,
DeLay told reporters there he was “an Israeli of the heart.” He proclaimed
the alliance between Israel and the United States as one between two
fellow democracies with a common terrorist enemy, saying that “Israel’s

fight is our fight.” He expressed support for President Bush’s effort to
empower the Palestinians — but, as in Bush’s now-abandoned June 24,
2002, policy speech, he thinks anything they get should be conditioned on
their abandonment of terror and embrace of “liberal democracy.”

But while DeLay’s support was warmly welcomed by Israelis, a
number of American Jews are distinctly uncomfortable with it.

Why?

First, some on the left worry that he and the many American
Christians who share his views on Israel are a little too enthusiastic about
the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and far too skeptical
about the Palestinian Authority’s new leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the
road map to peace that he has seen as appeasement of terrorists.

M.J. Rosenberg, spokesperson for the Israel Policy Forum, the
dovish group coordinating the campaign to promote Abbas’s image in this
country, sent out a special e-mail message to downplay the impact of
DeLay’s ardent pro-Zionism. Saying publicly what some other Jewish
leaders say in private, Rosenberg dismissed DeLay’s pro-Israel fervor as
one that was “fueled by apocalyptic religious fundamentalism.”

But that slur and his own strong Christian faith notwithstanding,
DeLay has made it clear that his love for Israel is not contingent on a mass
Jewish conversion after the second coming of the Christian messiah.
Denigrating the sincerity of conservative Christian support for Israel is not

new, but under the current circumstances, it is particularly troubling. After
three years of a terrorist war, Israelis are catching their breath as the
Palestinian terrorists use a three-month cease-fire to rearm and refit. Like
Sharon, most Israelis hope that Abbas will make a difference. But unlike
the Israel Policy Forum, they want to judge Abbas by his deeds and not by
his soothing rhetoric.

The controversy over a security fence built to keep suicide bombers
out of the Jewish state is threatening to poison the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Acting as if the whole point of the process is merely to force Israel back to
its June 4, 1967 borders, Secretary of State Colin Powell says the fence is
allowing Israel to take disputed land. Bush’s own criticisms of it seem to
make the same wrongheaded point.

The latest twist is that the administration may use aid and loan
guarantees (given to Israel to offset costs from America’s first war on Iraq,
as well as for the damage done to its economy by the Palestinian intifada)
to pressure Israel to abandon the project.

Under these circumstances, it would seem more important than
ever for friends of Israel to applaud the fact that one of the most important
politicians in the country is ready to fight a possible White House tilt
toward the Palestinians.

But to listen to the Israel Policy Forum and the rest of the Jewish
left, their war against the Christian right should take precedence over the
Arab war against Israel.

Some Jewish Democrats pooh-pooh the pro-Israel attitudes of
DeLay and other Christian conservatives as a transparent attempt to win
Jewish votes. It is true that Jewish Republicans dream of putting an end to
the stranglehold on the Jewish vote still held by the Democrats, and there
has been some evidence of a slight shift in recent years. But many (though
not all)

congressional Democrats are just as avid in their support for Israel as
DeLay. Anyone who really believes that we are on the verge of Jewish
political realignment has probably been standing in the Texas sun for too
long.

But if we take the liberals’ advice and tell DeLay to take his
Zionism and stuff it, we would be making a tremendous mistake. Oddly
enough, the Jewish left’s critique of DeLay found an echo this week in the
voice of Washington’s leading anti-Israel pundit, Robert Novak.

According to Novak, who has been bashing Israel since the Lyndon
Johnson administration, “DeLay represents the unconditional support for
Israel that once was limited in Congress to Jewish Democrats, who are far
less influential than the born-again Christian. He is an important
counterweight to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has convinced Bush
to lead in pursuing the road map for the Palestinian state….”

Novak is right. DeLay can play a crucial role in the months to
come. If Abbas continues to refuse to disarm the terrorists and if these
murderers call off their cease-fire, Israel will need all the support it can
muster in Congress to offset those in the State Department and the media
who will call for Israel to make further concessions to restart the process.

Jews who fear DeLay’s influence here are wrong to place their
support for Abbas and the process ahead of that given Israel’s
democratically elected government. At a time when Hamas, Islamic Jihad
and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade stand ready to start slaughtering Jews
again, we should realize that Tom DeLay is not our enemy.

We don’t have to agree with him on other issues, just as we don’t
have to share the religious beliefs of our non-Jewish neighbors. But we
should celebrate the fact that this Texan with few Jewish constituents is an
ardent and faithful friend of Israel. He deserves our thanks, not our
contempt.

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