We mourn for many tragedies on Tish’ah B’Av. From the return of ten spies who gave our ancestors a discouraging report of Eretz Yisrael, to the many defeats that the subsequent generations have suffered since then, reasons to fast and sit on the floor while reading the Kinos have increased. In our time, it has become necessary for Jewish advocacy organizations to confront leaders in the community who have put progressive politics ahead of security for Israel.
“Andy [Levin] frequently and one-sidedly criticizes Israel, defends and even fundraises for its worst detractors...and, from his seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, authors and supports highly problematic legislation,” former AIPAC president David Victor wrote in an email to supporters in January. “And he does so as a Levin, a name which, due to his uncle and father, commands respect and admiration on Capitol Hill. To make matters worse, Andy sincerely claims to be a lifelong Zionist, proud Jew, and supporter of Israel.”
With redistricting resulting in new districts where incumbents in the same party compete for the same seat, Rep. Andy Levin is running in a primary against his colleague Rep. Haley Stevens. To date, AIPAC has spent more than $3 million to defeat Levin, capitalizing on its momentum in Democratic primaries having backed Glenn Ivey in Maryland against former Rep. Donna Edwards, and in Ohio where its supporters had a key role in Rep. Shontel Brown’s win against Nina Turner, a former campaign chair for Bernie Sanders.
Levin argues that, as a former synagogue president, son of a Congressman, and nephew of a Senator, his views on Israel are mainstream, and this includes the two-state solution concerning Israel and the Palestinians. “I’ve got mezuzahs on all my doors, even the nonpublic ones. And, you know, I love Israel and I love Palestine,” he said last week on Democracy Now! a leftist radio news show. “I may be the clearest Jewish voice in the House of Representatives, saying that the only way to achieve a secure homeland for the Jewish people is to fully realize the political and human rights of the Palestinian people. That’s principled. It’s also practical.”
Levin’s appearance on the show came ahead of a rally in Pontiac where he stood alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, neither of whom can be remotely associated with Zionism. Whatever his credentials concerning aid to Israel, by standing alongside Tlaib and Sanders, Levin is allowing them to define him. That’s how badly he wants to keep his seat in Congress.
Ahead of this week’s primary in Michigan’s 11th District, Levin was trailing in the polls behind Stevens, and, as in other recent races where progressive candidates were defeated, his supporters are blaming an infusion of super PAC spending coming from donors outside his district and party.
Closer to home, the crowded race for New York’s 10th District also exemplified the divide between the Jewish mainstream and progressive Jews. “We need to have an honest conversation about JFREJ,” tweeted Brian Robinson, one of more than a dozen candidates running for the seat that covers the Lower East Side, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and Borough Park. “During primary time, JFREJ suddenly pretends to be liberal and pro-Jewish when they are consistently against both mainstream Jewish values and interests.”
JFREJ is the acronym of “Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,” a leftist organization that supports boycotting Israel and is associated with The Jewish Vote, a campaign that gives anti-Israel candidates the appearance of Jewish support. Robinson’s tweet was echoed by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who agreed that The Jewish Vote is not representative of most Jewish voters.
Unlike the race in Michigan’s 11th District, the one in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn is difficult to predict. In a crowded ranked-choice race, a candidate with a dozen percentage points could eke out a win with enough first-place and second-place votes. With the exception of Yuh-Line Niou, all other candidates in this primary have repudiated BDS, but it can still be her seat based on the motivated progressive voters in a low-turnout race, and the date of the primary – August 23 – when many voters are on vacation and unaware of this crucial election.
When progressive Jewish candidates are rejected by most of their tribe, it would be an ideal opportunity to rethink their views; but unfortunately with enough likes, shares, and retweets, the loser can still feel like an opinion leader on social media. “It was pretty hurtful to learn that the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine has been running around Coney Island telling Jewish voters that I’m anti-Semitic,” Noah Weston tweeted in April after dropping out of a District Leader race in southern Brooklyn.
Last week, this grandson of a Holocaust survivor whose namesake was among the six million killed, proudly shared a photo of himself wearing a shirt with the slogan “Globalize the Intifada.” Such individuals live in our districts, too. It would be nice if they would recognize their errors, but after many years of involvement in a movement and with supporters on social media, they will continue to cause trouble for the community and seek to harm Israel.
Kiruv won’t work with them, and instead we concentrate our efforts on defeating their candidates and movements, locally and in other states. For them, their parents, ancestors, and eventual lack of Jewish descendants, I mourn on Tish’ah B’Av.