Editor’s note: Ed Weintrob, editor and publisher of Long Island’s The Jewish Star newspaper, covered former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman’s visit to Fleetwood Synagogue in Mount Vernon on Feb. 6. The topic was, “American Support for Israel — Fading, Firm or Floundering?” and the former senator spoke with Orthodox Union Executive Vice-President Allen Fagin. The article below appeared in this week’s edition of The Jewish Star.
Hillary Clinton’s track record on Israel is a good one, former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman told a Westchester shul on motzei Shabbos.
To be clear, Lieberman wasn’t dishing out an endorsement — he emphasized that all of the Republican candidates have sold pro-Israel credentials — but his remarks on Clinton were in contrast to widespread skepticism about the sincerity of her support for the Jewish state.
The only presidential hopeful whose position on Israel worries Lieberman is Clinton’s Democratic rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Lieberman said Sanders would not necessarily be bad, “but I don’t have confidence because he doesn’t have a track record.”
As for Clinton, “You can point to times when she’s done things about Israel that you’ll wonder about, but overall, certainly when I worked with her most closely when she was a senator from New York, she had pretty strong positive feelings about Israel,” he said.
“She’s certainly an internationalist,” he added.
While support for Israel used to be largely non-partisan, there is now an overall difference in emphasis between the parties, Lieberman said.
“I say this painfully as a Democrat: The Republicans know, mostly because of the Christian evangelicals who constitute such a large part of the Republican Party, that they can go to a Republican rally pretty much anywhere in the country and make a strong statement of support for Israel and there will be loud applause.”
“There’s a lot of empathy among the average American toward Israel and its plight, [but] we’re beginning to see a difference of favorable feeling toward Israel between the two parties,” although not yet in Congress, he said.
Lieberman regretted the bad feeling generated during debate over the Iran nuclear deal, and said it should not have been decided on partisan lines. It’s not rational that party loyalty would be “more important than the substance of the argument,” he said.
Lieberman, an observant Jew and lifelong Democrat, was Democrat Al Gore’s vice-presidential running mate in 2000, losing to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. After losing a Democratic primary in 2006, he held onto his Senate seat by running as an independent. He endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008, and retired from Congress after 2012.
He was at the Fleetwood Synagogue in Mount Vernon for a discussion of “American Support for Israel — Fading, Firm or Floundering?” with Orthodox Union Executive Vice-President Allen Fagin.
Support for Israel in the United States remains strong among leaders in Washington and people throughout the country, but “it is fraying a little bit,” with a challenging drop in support among Jewish millennials, Lieberman said.
“The American Jewish community hasn’t ever been of like-mind in support of the state of Israel,” he said, and for a growing number of young Jewish Americans, “Israel and Israeli security is of lesser concern or frankly of no concern.”
“There is this wonderful tradition that we have, which I think comes from Torah values and which stays alive even among people who are not Torah observant — we believe in social justice,” and for many Jews, that takes precedence over concern for Israel, he said.
Which is why it is vital that the Orthodox community, for which Israel is of paramount importance, flex its political muscles.
“The Orthodox community in America will be playing an increasing role in years to come because [it’s] growing and the other [Jewish] communities are not,” he said.
Even if most Americans, or most American Jews, relax their support for Israel, Orthodox Jews, although a minority of American Jewry, can have an outsized impact.
“Organized minorities can make a real difference in our democracy,” he said.
He added that it is important to vote in every election, since politicians watch to see which communities vote.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.