By Larry Gordon
Lee Zeldin is going to Washington, not simply as a vital cog in the new Republican Congressional mechanism, but, perhaps just as importantly, as the only Jewish Republican currently in Congress.
In the aftermath of the loss in a June primary of Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), who previously held that special distinction, Zeldin, a state senator serving the 3rd District in New York, in effect moves into his place at a unique time in our nation’s history and this country’s relationship with the State of Israel.
While Congressional support, on both sides of the aisle, for Israel is vast, one cannot neglect the reality that comes with being a member of Congress, a Jew, and a Republican today. The uniqueness of the matter is not lost on Mr. Zeldin, an issue we had the opportunity to discuss on Wednesday morning after I congratulated him on his great victory this week over Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop in the Suffolk County district that includes the Hamptons.
“I place a great deal of importance on the U.S. relationship with Israel,” Zeldin said in our phone conversation. “Our foreign policy at present is very strange and we have entered into a trend where the rhetoric with Israel has become adversarial. And that is something that needs to change,” he said.
Zeldin was especially critical of the current Obama foreign-policy apparatus, pointing out that the president’s strength overseas seriously waned when he warned Syria about using chemical weapons, then they did anyway, and the president did not respond. The congressman-elect also expressed criticism of Mr. Obama’s talk with Iran–the lessening of sanctions in exchange for Iranian promises on nuclear weapons that were almost immediately reversed by Iran.
Lee Zeldin, 34, has not yet been to Israel, but he says he is excited about the prospect of visiting soon and is hoping over the next week or so to finalize the details of a forthcoming trip.
As to what he would like as the first order of business for the new Republican-controlled Congress, he says that the gridlock that has been created by the Democratic-controlled Senate needs to be addressed immediately. He adds that as of today there are 400 bills that have been passed by the House that have been blocked by the Senate. He hopes that the Republicans will, over the short term, develop a plan that can begin passing these bills into law.
On a personal note, Lee Zeldin says that he has fond memories of growing up in a traditional Jewish household in Suffolk. While his parents were divorced when he was a child, he says he recalls going to services with his father and grandfather on Friday night and over the Jewish holidays. He recalls the Passover Seders and his bar mitzvah at Temple Bnai Israel in Oakdale in Suffolk County.
He says that his rabbi, Steven Moss, with whom he still has a close relationship, always talked with him as a youth about leadership and the qualities that it takes to be a leader and has been a great inspiration to him. Today Zeldin resides in Shirley, N.Y., and is looking forward to serving his district in Washington and, in addition to that extraordinary task, by virtue of who he is, proudly representing the Jewish community in the nation’s capital.
On Wednesday afternoon, I reached out to the Nassau County District Attorney to congratulate her on her victory on Election Day over Republican Bruce Blakeman. Ms. Rice was gracious and said that she was proud of her great victory and now is looking forward to serving the 4th District in Congress.
I asked her about her thoughts on the overall Republican nationwide victories, and she responded that indeed Democrats did suffer big losses but that, contrasted with her victory, illustrates that she is not a partisan politician and that she has the ability to represent the district in an effective fashion that crosses party lines.
The Rice victory was significant as well as hard-fought. She is adept at her ability to perform inside government in a way that yields results for those she represents. Not at all lost on Ms. Rice is the fact that many in her district down here in the Five Towns and surrounding areas are ardent supporters of Israel, many with family members who reside in the Jewish State. She says that she is looking forward to being part of the great support that Israel enjoys in Congress and is looking forward to the opportunity of serving. v