Did it matter to Floridian voters that Republican candidate Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, may have cut funding for kosher meals in nursing homes? Whether or not it made a difference is less important than the fact that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich felt the Jewish vote was so important that he needed to find some polarizing issue to throw at his opponent.
This begs the question, is the Jewish community so petty that wider domestic issues and looming foreign matters are less important than whether kosher meals for seniors are funded by the public?
Putting the facts into perspective, the bulk of the Jewish seniors whom Mr. Gingrich was targeting with his robo-call this week are registered Democrats and had little say in the Republican primary. He knew that though, as does any candidate who does the right research and homework before allocating precious time and limited resources in a presidential race. So why do it at all?
Clearly the impression the media — and many Jewish pundits and advocates — have made on the public and the candidates, including the President himself, is that the Jewish vote and Jewish opinion will matter enough to impact election results. What’s ignored is the historic fact that the “Jewish community” largely votes Democrat and that when Jews lean to the right, it is generally over issues such as tougher policies in the Middle East and not kosher meals in senior centers.
The point that Mr. Gingrich was evidently trying to make was that those who want to focus on Mitt Romney should know that Romney’s agenda is more in tune to what Jewish Democrats pay attention to and not what right-leaning Conservatives want to talk about. Betting that the media would give that cheap shot the attention it should not have deserved, Mr. Gingrich was painting his primary opponent as less of a Republican than he was. That’s the argument that Mr. Gingrich is hoping to win on — that he is the true Conservative. The former Speaker knew well when that robo-call went out that Florida would fall to Mr. Romney, but he used it to garner national attention.
He used Jews as a tool. He used the hype that the Jewish vote is so critical that the mere mention of kosher food would stir his coverage. He was right, but it does Jewish citizens no good to be targeted this way.
The national Jewish community stands for so many great things, from major philanthropic works to caring human services to, yes, financial success. Jews are on the right and left — George Soros supports President Obama and Sheldon Adelson supports Mr. Gingrich. Both are philanthropic and both express support for Israel – yet with different views on Israel policy.
When the Jewish label is used for a campaign pitch, as it was in Florida this week, it not only cheapens the value of the true Jewish contribution to the country, but borders on leveling an old anti-Semitic charge: Jews are cheap.
Notwithstanding that Jews have been, and remain, some of the biggest charitable donors around the world and that political candidates often seek campaign funds through Jewish channels and supporters, the ancient cheapskate joke is still told over and over again. There are still places in this country where the stereotype resonates, and when Mr. Gingrich makes what became a national issue out of whether Jewish senior citizens want their kosher meals subsidized, it only furthers the belief in this myth.
Mr. Gingrich’s campaign robo-call also invoked the unthinkable, the Holocaust. The recording intoned, “…Holocaust survivors, who for the first time were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought five dollars was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher.”
Not only did the candidate invoke the image of miserly Jews, he made a blatant attempt to tug at Jewish heart strings on the eve of United Nation’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. The memory of the worst human catastrophe to befall Jews was used as a cheap campaign plug, aimed at a group who were not likely voters in this primary, and for a race he knew he was not going to win.
Is that the way the Jewish community wants to be called on for public service? Are the social, human, legal, governmental and financial contributions made by Jews to the country as a whole and to individual political parties so marginal that the community can easily be trivialized and its population be taken in vain, as it was?
Jewish Americans have helped make the issues that matter to them very important to all Americans. On matters that come before legislators and judges — foreign policies, fiscal issues, social issues — Jewish opinions and activism have impacted what the United States stands for to the world and to our fellow Americans. Shameful stunts that make Jews seem almost clownish should bring the community together in disapproval, across both sides of the political aisle.