By Ezra Friedlander
In the aftermath of the release of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, we’ve seen much jubilation. But that was followed quickly by speculation from members of our community regarding the role or lack thereof of Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in the advocacy pertaining to the president’s commutation of Rubashkin’s sentence. In the blogosphere especially, there have been efforts urging people to contact Senator Schumer’s office to express their “outrage” and calling him out on this issue. These recommendations were generally accompanied by lots of chest pounding and inflammatory language.
There have been those who suggested that even Nancy Pelosi, the non-Jewish woman who represents California’s 12th Congressional District, expressed her written consent for a commutation of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence. And yet, Chuck Schumer, who calls himself the “shomer Yisrael,” refused to write a letter.
I’m always amazed at how we manage to shoot ourselves in the foot and display our community’s political immaturity to the world. Perhaps the right verbiage here might be “political suicide.”
There’s an apt expression: “Those who know, don’t speak. And those who speak don’t know.”
Dear readers, do you think for one moment that Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, is not in contact with Schumer, Democratic leader of the Senate, on a daily basis? Do you think they don’t work together to formulate the official policy of the Democratic caucus? Wouldn’t you think that Schumer had given her the green light of approval before she decided to write a letter as sensitive as this to President Trump? Are we really so immature not to realize this? In my opinion, this proves that those who are writing these opinions have zero understanding of the governmental process.
Some may counter by asking why Schumer didn’t see fit to write his own letter as well. Honestly, I don’t have the answer to that question. Sometimes there are questions that beg for an answer, yet the answers remain unknown. But I can assure you of one thing. Nancy Pelosi would never write a letter of advocacy for Rubashkin without Senator Schumer’s advance notification and tacit approval.
Let me reiterate that I am not privy to inside information on this issue. I am just surmising what must have occurred based on my understanding of the political process. As a consultant who has been in similar situations in the past, this is my conclusion.
The Rubashkin case was very important to our community and I was as outraged as everyone else about the travesty of justice as I was elated at the news of his commuted sentence. We all have tremendous hakaras ha’tov to President Trump and appreciate this commutation.
But we need to understand that there is also a tomorrow. There was also a yesterday. And that yesterday included Senator Schumer coming out against the Iran deal.
It’s never a good idea to try to convince an elected official that he is not our friend. I’m not just addressing the Schumer issue on this. It’s something we have to realize when it comes to other officials as well. Because guess what happens? When you declare someone as your enemy, that is eventually what he will come to be. Once we write him off, this is how he will come to be perceived. And that is not responsible politics for our Jewish community.
The community must internalize that Chuck Schumer is as powerful as they come. In his capacity as Senate Democratic leader, there are myriads of issues about which the community approaches him for support. And in many cases he responds positively. The day might come when he will be even more powerful as Senate majority leader. Is it really in the best interests of our community to be in a situation where he views us as confrontational?
We need to conduct ourselves more pragmatically. For example, I personally supported Hilary Clinton for president. Yet the moment that Donald Trump was elected, I accepted him as my president and work with the White House accordingly. I treat the office of the presidency with the respect and honor that it deserves, and I’ve publicly condemned anyone who did otherwise. There is a time, a place, and a season for everything.
As a community, we need to internalize the larger picture. Yes, we are a vibrant and growing community, baruch Hashem, and we have much to be proud of. But our numbers are minuscule in the grand scheme of things. And we tend to shoot blanks. We sometimes declare war on an elected official, and when that happens outside of our local districts, we become marginalized. Elected officials at the highest level will pass us over and won’t even invite us to sit down at the table with them because of the immaturity with which we conduct our political and governmental relationships. While I understand the community’s frustration, we need to compel ourselves not to communicate our feelings in a way that damages our credibility or effectiveness.
I say this as someone who is professionally engaged as the CEO of a public-affairs consulting firm. I am in no way a community leader. But I see the handwriting on the wall and I feel it’s time for us to take stock of our actions and add real value to all of our political interactions and relationships.
As far as the wonderful news of the president’s commutation of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence is concerned–that’s something we can all be proud of!
Ezra Friedlander is CEO of the Friedlander Group, a public-policy consulting firm based in NYC and Washington, DC. He can be reached at Ezra@TheFriedlanderGroup.com and on Twitter at @EzraFriedlander.