The legions of protestors around the nation demanding more economic parity, coupled with anger over the Obama administration’s Israel policies, will drive more Jews to vote Republican next year, said the Jewish majority leader of the House, who recently referred to those protestors derisively as a “growing mob.”
“There’s no secret that most American Jews are Democratic, but I do think [the 2012] election will be different,” said Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, in an exclusive interview with The Jewish Week during a New York visit Sunday. “I do think the attraction that American Jews have to the Republican Party is reflected in the party’s unabashed commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship as well as its commitment to a thriving free- market, free-enterprise America.”
Cantor’s comments came as the Wall Street protest movement nears the one-month mark, with similar demonstrations in other American cities. In response to a question about the scarcity of Jewish Republicans, Cantor cited the New York protests.
“You look at what’s happening right now, in New York especially, and other places where individuals are enjoying their right to protest and speak out,” Cantor said. “But at the same time, their Democratic elected leaders are giving support and prodding individuals who want to pit one piece of America against the other.”
Cantor also expressed his sense that the viability of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian dispute is in doubt as a result of intractability among the Palestinians.
“A two-state solution is premised upon mutual recognition,” he said. “The block in place right now is the failure on the part of any of the Palestinian entities to even entertain the notion of a Jewish state. I think it is that reality that is beginning to impact the outlook for peace in the Middle East. Without mutual recognition with the Palestinians and the Arab world’s willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state there can be no two-state solution.’’
Cantor came to New York for a panel discussion held Sunday evening with philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and author and lecturer Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at the West Side Institutional Synagogue entitled “Are American Values In Decline and How Can They Be Fixed?”
While defending the rights of the protestors to be heard, Cantor told The Jewish Week prior to the panel discussion, “We in government and elected leaders should be working toward bringing people together and solving problems rather than to aggravate and divide, exacerbating what is a very tough economy right now.”
His tone about the protests was markedly different than that of his appearance just a few days earlier at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, convened by the Family Research Council. Speaking to a largely conservative audience, he said, “I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country,” according to press reports of the event.
Cantor’s Democrat counterpart, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, recently said of the movement, “It’s young, it’s spontaneous, it’s focused and it’s going to be effective.”
In response to Cantor, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said “I don’t understand why one man’s mob is another man’s democracy,” citing Cantor’s support of the often-raucous Tea Party protests across the country sparked by the health-care debate in 2009, according to CNN.
In a follow-up question e-mailed to Cantor’s office — the interview was cut short because of his tight schedule in New York — The Jewish Week asked Cantor to explain his view of the difference between the Occupy Wall Street rallies and the Tea Party protests and the respective support of political leaders on both sides. Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore did not respond as of publication time Tuesday.
At a press conference Tuesday, Cantor said the Tea Party protests were different because “The tea party were individuals attempting to address their grievance from the government they elected,” according to the Los Angeles Times. He said the Wall Street protesters “are pitting themselves against others outside government in America. That’s a difference.” At that event he also said he understood the motivation of the protestors: “People are upset and they are justifiably frustrated. They’re out of work. The economy is not moving. Their sense of security for the future is not clear at all. People are afraid and I get it.”
In the Jewish Week interview on Sunday, Cantor said he did not believe concern about extremists within the ranks of the Tea Party would offset any gains by the GOP in the Jewish community.
“Remember what the acronym of tea party is: Taxed Enough Already,” he said. “The Tea Party was tremendously successful and helpful in allowing what I believe is the common sense conservative majority to take hold in the House. It’s with their support that we have now begun a robust discussion, often very contentious, about the fiscal future of our country.
“There have been so many promises made over the decades that now cannot be kept,” Cantor continued. “The arithmetic doesn’t lie. We have tremendous liability on the books in the U.S. and that is bringing on the need to borrow more money to spend money we don’t have. And that will result in higher taxes and frankly a much bleaker future for our children if we don’t address the problem.”
Cantor said this summer’s election in the 9th District here to succeed Anthony Weiner, with its upset victory by a Republican, had national implications for the Jewish and pro-Israel vote next year.
“It was an election that I think reflects a growing dissatisfaction among the American Jewish electorate toward the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel,” he said. “There are a lot of questions now being raised about this administration’s commitment to stand up for Israel, for our ally, and insist upon its security first before we in this country begin to press Israel into a compromising position.”
Democrat leaders have said the outcome of that race, in an off-year election with special circumstances, should not be seen as a sign of how people will vote in 2012 after months of national debate.
The president’s approval rating has been slipping among American Jews, with 45 percent giving him thumbs-up in the American Jewish Committee’s survey of American Jewish opinion released last month, down from 51 percent last year. But the respondents did not seem thrilled about the Republican field, either, giving front-running former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the highest grade, at 32 percent approval.
In the wake of the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, Jewish leaders have praised Obama’s opposition to the unilateral move, and a Jerusalem Post poll last month found that 19 percent of Israelis consider him pro-Palestinian, compared with 54 percent who see his policies as pro-Israel.
Cantor said U.S. aid to the Palestinians, which Israel has said is necessary for the peace process to continue, would fall under increasing scrutiny because of the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid.
“Right now the House has taken a position in opposition to granting U.S. taxpayer support to a Palestinian Authority that has any relationship with a terrorist entity,” he said referring to an agreement between the PA and Hamas, which controls Gaza. “I don’t think many Americans would like to see their taxpayer dollars at work in support of terror.
“There is also great concern about the Palestinians’ unilateral move at the UN seeking increased status at that body. So obviously there has been a growing concern about that and it will affect extension of aid. And the latest is the UNESCO vote which has gone the opposite way that we hoped, and people are very upset on both sides of the aisle in Washington.”
Last week the executive committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization gave the Palestinians a diplomatic victory by voting in favor of their statehood bid. Cantor said this would fuel movement in Congress to try to reduce funding to UNESCO as a consequence.
But the majority leader said he anticipates no difficulty in justifying Israel’s extensive aid package, despite sweeping across-the-board budget cuts.
“I think most Americans understand that Israel’s security goes hand in hand with that of the U.S.,” he said. “We look at Israel as if it’s fighting on the front lines of the same war that we are. Israel is fighting the spread of militant Islam, it’s fighting against … those who detest everything that we in the U.S. stand for — those terrorist forces and those regimes and state sponsors that do not accept our desire for freedom and our promotion of human rights and the rights of minorities and women.
“I believe very firmly that Israel fights the same war that we do, and if Israel goes, we all go, and it’s essential for the U.S. to recognize that Israel is a pillar in the security strategy of the United States,” he said.
Cantor declined to offer any opinion about the case of Israel spy Jonathan Pollard, at a time when a growing number of current and former officials are calling on President Obama to commute his sentence to the 25 years he has served.
“I am not familiar enough with the facts of the case as it was adjudicated, and I have not taken a position,” Cantor said.
Cantor also declined to express any preference in the field of Republican presidential contenders. “Whoever is our nominee will be successful in turning around the very damaging policies we have been witnessing over the last two years,” he said. “I’m not going to endorse anyone in this interview.”