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Jewish World Review August 8, 2003 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Second-guessing Tom DeLay | 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.

Going beyond the usual formula used by American politicians, DeLay told reporters there he was "an Israeli at 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, like 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.


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' 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."

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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 t he 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 that 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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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here. This past month Mr. Tobin won first places honors in the American Jewish Press Association's Louis Rapaport Award for Excellence in Commentary as well as the Philadelphia Press Association's Media Award for top weekly columnist. Both competitions were for articles written in the year 2002.

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