Last year in Jewish politics was bananas


By Ron Kampeas

What a year 2019 has been for, well, everyone, but especially for watchers of Jewish politics — and Jews in politics.Two elections in Israel (with a third to come), three Jewish
candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination (Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson and Michael Bloomberg) and two of Jewish heritage (Tom Steyer and Michael Bennet). Not to mention the too many to mention other Jewish connections among the candidates: Joe Biden’s three adult children have all married Jews; Kamala Harris’s husband is Jewish; Beto O’Rourke’s father-in-law is Jewish; Cory Booker is conversant with Torah; it goes on. Here’s our roundup of the candidates’ Jewish connections and positions.

(Weirdest Jewy presidential candidate coincidence ever: Biden has confessed to wanting to date his daughter-in-law Hallie’s mother when they were teenagers; O’Rourke’s father-in-law, William Sanders, actually went on a date with O’Rourke’s mother.)

President Donald Trump has his own Jewish connections, of course: His daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are both senior advisers, and his most trusted Middle East hands — ambassador to Israel David Friedman, top negotiator Jason Greenblatt, and
Greenblatt’s successor, Avi Berkowitz — all are Jewish.

As he did in 2017 (recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital) and in 2018 (walking away from the Iran nuclear deal), Trump continued to advance major changes to Middle
East policy in 2019. He recognized the Golan Heights as sovereign Israel territory and abandoned America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. He and his aides also continued to tussle with critics who said Trump’s nativism has empowered white nationalists and anti-Semites.

There was also the emergence of two supergroups of freshmen female lawmakers at opposing ends of the Democratic spectrum:

*The squad, consisting of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, made headlines when Tlaib and Omar seemed to insinuate in statements that Jews wield excessive power. Both also back the boycott Israel movement. (Omar has apologized for some of her statements and both have denied anti-Semitic intent.) Trump weaponized the Squad to
depict the entire party as radical and anti-Semitic, although the four have a nuanced range of opinions on a variety of subjects, including Israel. (Their final squad-y act, however, did have to do with Israel: for a variety of reasons, they were the only four Democrats who voted no on a resolution that endorsed the two-state outcome as well as defense assistance for Israel).

*The badass caucus, five moderate Democrats with national security backgrounds from swing districts, come from the party’s opposite flank. They made headlines with an op-ed they co-wrote in September backing an impeachment inquiry because of revelations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden. This hechsher from Democrats who could lose their jobs for saying Trump should lose his was critical to advancing impeachment,
which passed largely along party lines this month. Two of the badasses, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, are Jewish. A third, Chrissy Houlahan, says the experiences of her Holocaust survivor father helped drive her into the military and then into Congress. (The other two are Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.)

So it’s been a crazy year, and now we’re all ready to relax… as if!
—JTA News and Features

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here