Lessons From A Debacle

Lessons From A Debacle

By Manny Behar

Last week, a shock wave rolled through Queens politics. Congressman Joe Crowley, the heir apparent to the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, and a usually reliable supporter of Israel and sensitive to the needs of the Jewish community, was defeated in the Democratic Primary. The winner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and a supporter of BDS who has accused Israel of perpetrating a “massacre” in Gaza.

How should we react to this disastrous result?

Respected political pundits have pointed to the Ocasio-Cortez victory as part of a wave of victories for “progressive” Democrats who are hostile to Israel and to Torah values, and it is time for Jews to abandon the Democratic Party and enroll as Republicans. While this argument has emotional appeal, seichel – intelligence – points in another direction.

The Democratic Party’s move to the left and the erosion of its support for Israel are real but far from one-sided. There are Democrats, notably including Queens’ own Grace Meng, who remain steadfast in their support for Israel. It is important for us to back the pro-Israel forces within the Democratic Party.

The need for us to remain engaged in the Democratic Party may be even more vital at the local level here in Queens.

We cannot afford to have support for Israel become a partisan political issue. Israel’s security depends on having friends on both sides of the political aisle. Donald Trump will not be President forever. There will be future Democratic Presidents and Congresses. The only way to make sure that they will be supporters of Israel and sensitive to the needs of our community is to engage in and win the battle going on right now for the soul of the Democratic Party. Failure to engage that battle would mean surrendering the future of the Democratic Party to forces that are hostile to Israel and to Torah values.

The need for us to remain engaged in the Democratic Party may be even more vital at the local level here in Queens.

I have spent more than 40 years in the forefront of obtaining permits to build eiruvim, shuls, and mikvaos, protecting the right to be buried in accordance with halachah, winning a city-wide ambulance permit for Hatzolah, and securing funding for our community institutions. Every one of those battles could have gone the other way. We prevailed because Democratic public officials like Claire Shulman, Nettie Mayersohn, Mike Simanowitz a”h, Morton Povman, and Jim Genarro – and current ones like Melinda Katz, David Weprin, Daniel Rosenthal, Karen Koslowitz, Rory Lancman, and Barry Grodenchik – stood by us when the chips were down.

I have pointed out in previous columns that while Donald Trump took 70 percent of the Orthodox Jewish vote, he did not even carry Kew Gardens Hills. Here in Queens, our elected officials are chosen in the Democratic Primary, not in the General Election in November. Since turnout in primaries is often low, a relatively small group of people can have a huge impact. The only way in which one can vote in the Democratic Primary is to be enrolled in the Democratic Party. Being an enrolled Democrat does not require you to vote for the Democratic candidate in the General Election. You can be an enrolled Democrat and vote Republican in the General Election as I have done many times. Being enrolled as a Democrat does mean that you can vote in the Democratic Primary where the real decisions about who will represent us in public office are made and where we can really make the difference.

As a small minority, we cannot expect our public officials, who represent much larger constituencies, to agree with us on every single issue. Future primaries are likely to see staunch supporters of our community challenged by “progressives.” We need to engage in and win those battles.

If last week’s primary has taught us anything, it is that when less than perfect but pretty good incumbents like Joe Crowley are defeated, the alternative is not likely to espouse the platform of Likud, the Jewish Home, Shas, or United Torah Judaism.

For a secure Israel and a strong Jewish community in Queens, enroll as a Democrat, vote in the Democratic Primary, and vote your conscience in the General Election.

By Manny Behar

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