Tzvi Kahn is a senior analyst specializing in Iran affairs at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a prominent think tank in Washington, DC, which he joined after stints as a writer at AIPAC and an analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative. A graduate of Yeshiva University, he holds a master’s degree in Middle East Studies from George Washington University and has had his work published in leading media and policy publications.
Tell me about the experience of being an Orthodox Jew working in the field of foreign policy in Washington.
Some 300,000 Jews live in the greater DC area, but only a small fraction of them are Orthodox, concentrated mostly in Silver Spring. This makes me very conscious of my religious identity and the responsibilities it brings.
While mainstream Orthodox organizations have offices in DC, few Orthodox Jews pursue careers in politics, policy, and advocacy. I would encourage anyone in the Orthodox community who is passionate about any issue in American public life to consider exploring opportunities in Washington.
To be sure, I don’t minimize the challenge of living an Orthodox life here. DC lacks the robust Orthodox infrastructure that you have in the New York area. But the only way that’s going to change is if there are people willing to step up and decide this is important. The more people come, the more an Orthodox institutional framework will develop in response.
What are your thoughts about recent events in which anti-Semitism has reared its head in certain quarters of the Democratic Party — and has not been met with forthright condemnation — along with President Trump’s attempt to cast the party as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish?
We need to do everything we can to ensure that support for Israel remains bipartisan. I don’t think it’s helpful for any politician in any party to try to use Israel as a wedge issue for political gain. I do think there’s still vigorous support for Israel within the Democratic Party, and it’s wrong to claim that Democrats are anti-Israel across-the-board. Promoting such a narrative doesn’t help the pro-Israel cause.
At the same time, polling indicates that anti-Israel sentiment among Democrats is growing, particularly among younger voters. While I don’t think that Representative Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitic comments represent the views of the majority of Democrats, they didn’t emerge in a vacuum. Increasing numbers of Democrats have come to view Israel as an imperialist power that doesn’t seek peace with its neighbors. And most Democrats supported the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which poses an existential threat for Israel.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 759)