| Text Messages |

Playing It Safe

Extreme partisanship is never to our advantage. Because in the end, we’re the ones paying the price



The only truly effective means to help keep the Jews of Eretz Yisrael safe is by turning to the Shomer Yisrael in tefillah and generating increased merits through learning Torah and doing mitzvos. But as in other areas of life, there is also an obligation of hishtadlus, going through the motions to employ the system of material cause-and-effect.

This is easy enough to implement when it comes to things like pursuing a livelihood and seeking medical care; indeed, if anything, the challenge in those areas is to make sure we don’t go overboard with reliance on our efforts and instead remember that the true Provider and Healer is the One Above. But when it comes to the security of our brethren in the Holy Land, what can the individual do?

The answer is: very little on his own, but perhaps quite a bit more in coordinated partnership with other Jews. I have long wondered why our major communal organizations don’t have dedicated “departments of public comment,” staffed by people whose job is to marshal the koach hatzibbur through campaigns to communicate to public officials, and perhaps media organizations too, our positions on the issues important to us.

Of course, such efforts arise from time to time when the community as a whole perceives a potential calamity, but they’re usually spur-of-the-moment and weakly run, and thus, unsurprisingly, bring tepid response (the campaign that solicited comments on proposed changes in yeshivah curriculum by the New York State Education Department was a very successful exception to the rule). Imagine the benefits of running muscular campaigns of this sort on an ongoing basis, before a moment of crisis arises.

A good example of applying this in practice is the recent House of Representatives vote on funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The initial funding was approved by Barack Obama in the summer of 2010. When approached by Defense Department official Eric Lynn, a tireless advocate for the Iron Dome concept, Obama said, “This is absolutely something I want to support. Let’s move forward,” thus initiating a stream of American funding ever since to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

This fall, Israel requested an additional $1 billion in funding to replenish the system’s depleted batteries, and Democrats inserted that amount into legislation to provide emergency stopgap funding to avert a federal government shutdown. Then things got complicated. A small number of progressive Democrats said they would oppose the Iron Dome funding. A larger number in the progressive caucus pushed to separate the Iron Dome funding from the larger spending bill, arguing that the normal legislative process called for debate before approving such a large sum.

And so, two days later, the House Democratic leadership brought the Iron Dome funding up for a vote as a stand-alone bill, and after a brief debate it passed by an overwhelming tally of 420-9. The vote in favor included 85 of the 95 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including most of those who had sought the removal of the funding from the larger spending bill.

As of this writing, however, the bill passed in the House has yet to be voted on by the Senate because it’s been held up by Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a longtime critic of aid to Israel, who has refused to allow it an expedited vote on the Senate floor.

But how could the opposition of a handful of progressives block passage of the funding when it had such overwhelming support? The progressives were given that leverage by Republicans’ own refusal to support the stopgap funding bill to which the Iron Dome funding was attached.

To explain: The Democrats’ initial bill was intended to achieve two main goals: to provide stopgap funding to keep the federal government running in the short term, and to raise the debt ceiling until October 2022. Republicans agreed, of course, that the debt ceiling must be raised. The raising of the debt limit is needed to pay off existing debt regardless of whether Democrats ultimately succeed in passing their huge spending bills now being debated.

But as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “The debt ceiling will be raised, as it always should be. But it will be raised by the Democrats.” Translation: Since Democrats control Congress and are capable of surmounting our filibuster if they choose to, we will saddle them with the political price to be paid for raising the debt ceiling (although when Republicans controlled Congress under Trump, Democrats joined them several times in voting to raise the ceiling).

Powerless to stop the Democrats from using the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to ram through their multi-trillion dollar liberal wish-list, Republicans decided to force them to use that same process to raise the debt alone, even if it meant playing brinksmanship with the solvency of the country. And so, Republicans uniformly opposed the initial bill encompassing both the debt ceiling and the stopgap funding measure, purely for political advantage, thereby endangering the attached Iron Dome funding in the event even a tiny number of Democrats opposed it.

The upshot of this saga is that there was the good news of the lopsided 420-9 vote, including the great majority of progressives. Apparently, the five or six members of the “Squad” are not the leaders of the progressive caucus, let alone the Democratic party, despite Republicans’ best efforts to depict them as such.

But there were also reasons for concern. First, as JTA’s Ron Kampeas noted, “last week did mark a significant change: the way the funding was ultimately approved…made clear that from now on, Israel can no longer expect a blank check for defense assistance, at least from progressives.”

Second, as Daniel Silverberg, the Orthodox Jew who was national security advisor to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from 2014-2021, observed in an op-ed in The Hill,

what the vote actually revealed [was]…a new willingness by congressional Republicans to obstruct legislation in a narrowly divided Congress, even at Israel’s expense…. One party could previously dare the other to oppose a bill with Israel funding. As Republicans demonstrated last Tuesday, that is no longer the case….   

The proverbial Israel shoe might drop at some point, and Democrats need to wrestle with ever-changing dynamics within the party, but last week’s vote was not that moment….Fortunately, the episode led to an extraordinary statement of support for Israel and provided a realistic indication of where Congress stands on this issue….

How one responds to all of this depends on what his priorities are.  So, for example, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “While Dems capitulate to the antisemitic influence of their radical members, Republicans will always stand with Israel.” Putting aside that he distorted what actually happened,  politician McCarthy speaks with obvious glee at the prospect of Democrats turning on Israel because his number one priority is regaining power in Congress, not protecting Israel’s best interests through bipartisan support.

We, however, are neither politicians nor pundits, but believing Jews, and our only interest is protecting the security of acheinu Bnei Yisrael. As maaminim, we know that no Congressional vote will determine Eretz Yisrael’s fate. Only the Borei Olam can do that, and the lobbying that tips the scales for Him is tefillah and teshuvah and maasim tovim.

But we also have an obligation of hishtadlus, requiring us to marshal all the political support we possibly can. And in a situation like this one, shouldn’t our communal organizations be coordinating a national campaign for Orthodox Jews in their thousands to thank the 420 House members, right, left and center, who voted to ensure the safety of our brethren and encourage their future support, and to convey our view that support for America’s most dependable Mideast ally must never become a political football?

Indeed, the more one believes future support for Israel’s security among progressive Democrats is at risk, the more eager he should be to a) cheer on their current support, b) to show support for up-and-coming progressive stars like Bronx congressman Ritchie Torres, who says the “notion that you cannot be both progressive and pro-Israel is a vicious lie, because I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive,” and c) strengthen the existing majority of moderate, pro-Israel Democrats.

Extreme partisanship is never to our advantage. Because in the end, we’re the ones paying the price.


Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 880. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

Oops! We could not locate your form.