By Samuel Sokol
A few weeks ago, I got the chance to chat with Dan Halloran, New York City Councilman from Queens, an Irish-American and a devout pagan, on the occasion of his first trip to Israel. Halloran will be running for Congress in the November elections on the Republican ticket and hopes to boost his electoral support among his many Jewish constituents in the 6th district.
While a local politician visiting Israel, even one running for Congress, isn’t usually big news, Halloran, by virtue of his religious views, has been of special interest to Israeli and Jewish publications. He is currently the leader of a small polytheist congregation in Queens, where he has lived all his life.
Described by the Village Voice as “America’s first elected heathen,” Halloran believes that his minority religion gives him a certain affinity for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Speaking with me in Jerusalem, Halloran noted that his support for Israel comes both from his political philosophy as well as his religious worldview. “My support of Israel is based on the rule of law,” he said. “Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East with stability. It is the only one that actually follows through in practicing the rule of law when many other countries in the region have feigned adherence to the rule of law. Israel has, sometimes to its own detriment, been willing to follow the rule of law, and I admire that. I also admire the tenacity of the Jewish people, having come through so much and so many trials and to still be here, looking to the future.”
However, he said, he also supports Israel because his “religion, as a minority religion, also has a kinship in that respect because the Jews have always been a minority in the greater scheme of the world stage yet they have played such an important part in shaping history. And so, that kinship, coupled with the respect for the rule of law, [Israel being] our natural ally in the war against terror, and their help in the spread of democracy and bringing liberty and freedom to the world is why I am so able to readily identify with them.”
Asked to describe his beliefs, which have been called neo-pagan, and which are based on a revival of Nordic and German polytheism, the councilman explained that “that is how the press likes to depict it because they choose to make things sensational.”
“I am a polytheist,” he continued. “I believe in God, the great creator in the background, much like the founding fathers of my nation, who were Jeffersonian deists. We see him as the great watchmaker.”
During his trip, in which New York-based Zionist activist Dr. Joseph Frager brought the councilman on a whirlwind tour of Jewish settlement sites in east Jerusalem, Halloran explained why he made a point of viewing settlement activity. “The United States is a nation of laws. Could you imagine someone telling someone that you cannot live in Spanish Harlem because you are not Spanish?” he asked rhetorically. “That would never happen. It is unthinkable to me that people who have legitimately purchased land, because they are Jewish, cannot be there.”
“The notion that we can segregate our populations because somebody, somewhere, thinks that there should be an artificial line is anathema to anyone who respects the rule of law–and the fundamental notion behind that is that somehow Arabs and Jews can’t get along.”
A former police officer, the councilman continued the conversation by explaining that beyond any ideological reasons he may have to be sympathetic to Israel, he also sees it as an American (and New York) strategic asset in the Middle East.
“We’ve had a long-standing relationship in the intelligence community [between] our police and Israel, because of the nature of terrorism in the region and the top-notch work that Israel has always done in providing information on the front. So that is critical,” he explained.
When asked why he was making Israel, no matter how important he may see it, into a campaign issue, Halloran responded candidly, telling me that “a lot of this is from the natural alliance and friendship that existed between Israel and the United States on national security issues. But more importantly for this particular congressional race, I have a large ethnic Jewish population inside the district that is concerned about the tenor of America’s foreign policy right now.”
Addressing concerns among the New York Jewish community regarding his support for former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, who is seen by some as hostile to Israel, Halloran said that while he is now 100 percent behind Mitt Romney, he believes that “Ron is a liberty-oriented Republican, somebody who believes in shrinking the size of government. On domestic issues I think he is a great candidate, but from the beginning I have criticized his foreign policy.”
“He believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy and he correctly points out, by the way, that we give seven times as much money to Israel’s enemies as we do to Israel. So that discrepancy, in and of itself, is a problem. It’s something that he addressed. But make no mistake about it, the president has an obligation to the bigger picture of the world, and I think that is something that Ron’s positions have been problematic on, and I’ve said that from the beginning of my support of him.”
As a congressman, Halloran says, he would push for the U.S. and Israel to “work more closely together to make sure that the world is safe. Iran is a big threat and something that we are going to have to deal with sooner rather than later, unfortunately. I just hope that people understand and appreciate that.”
Only time, and elections, will tell if Halloran’s support for Israel will be enough among a religiously conservative Jewish community to overcome a probable aversion to his neo-pagan religious views. He certainly is making the effort.