The idea in today’s political process is to project an image that may not reflect reality. Those up for election in two weeks want you to think about their opponent in extreme and often distorted terms. The goal is to say and do anything that can maneuver and manipulate voters’ thoughts.
While many of us are extremely disappointed with New York Senator Charles Schumer and the denigrating way he speaks about President Trump, the reality is that Senator Schumer is not up for re-election this year. Perhaps people are more upset and disturbed by the ways of our junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand.
For starters, Senator Gillibrand has told Jewish leaders that she wants to be known as a key supporter of Israel and issues that are important to the American Jewish community. So far, however, some of her actions show her moving in the opposite direction.
Senator Gillibrand has created a created a schism between her and rank-and-file voters in the Jewish community by appearing in public with antisemite Linda Sarsour, an anti-Israel activist who has often spoken condescendingly about Israel and Jews in general.
Senator Gillibrand also surprised many of her prior supporters when she voted against congressional anti-BDS legislation and adapted the ACLU’s position that calling for the boycott of Israel is a matter of free speech that should be constitutionally protected. To many in the Jewish community, that does not seem different than the freedom to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
Why does Senator Gillibrand seem to have drifted from core issues of importance and prior supporters in the Jewish community? For some edification on this matter I spoke with Dr. Ben Chouake, chairman of NORPAC, the organization that has its finger on the political pulse of the Jewish community unlike any other.
NORPAC, along with AIPAC — a kind of sister organization with a similar agenda — exists primarily to make sure that the U.S.–Israel relationship remains good and positive and continues to grow stronger in numerous areas of mutual interest and concern to both countries.
The key formula to these Jewish community–congressional relationships is bipartisanship, which means demonstrating interest in, talking to, meeting with, and supporting senators and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, whether you agree with them on all issues or not.
This, for the purposes of this essay, brings us to Senator Gillibrand. Why would a senator with such a significant pro-Israel constituency become a visible proponent of positions that disturb and upset that very community? There is the matter of Senator Gillibrand being seen with a Jew-hater like Linda Sarsour. There is the issue of her withdrawing her name as a sponsor of anti-BDS legislation in the Senate while 14 other Democratic senators remain as sponsors of the legislation.
It is on these matters that Dr. Chouake of NORPAC is able to provide some unique insight. You see, it has nothing to do with a shifting outlook or a change in values of priorities. After hearing what it is that leads to these decisions, one is struck by the fact that it is as interesting as it is repugnant.
None of this has to do with a change of heart on the part of Senator Gillibrand. Rather, it is the outcome of a political strategy that is in the works to prepare the senator for a run to become the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States in 2020.
For me, this was an eye-popping revelation: A senator from New York positioning herself for the possibility that by some outside chance she will be the Democratic Party nominee for president in the next presidential election cycle.
Dr. Chouake explained that conventional political wisdom dictates that those who are predisposed to voting in primary elections — the necessary prelude to the presidential election process — are those on the more extreme parts of any given party, either Democrats or Republicans.
In order to appeal to those Democrats, strategists determined that Senator Gillibrand needed to be seen associating herself with anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour and withdrawing her name as a sponsor of the anti-BDS legislation in Congress.
On that subject, Dr. Chouake adds that lately the senator has been more circumspect about associating herself with Sarsour, and he believes there is a good chance that at the end of the process she will indeed vote in favor of the anti-BDS bill when it is finally before the Senate.
The NORPAC chairman remarks that at present Senator Gillibrand is enjoying an independence that does not have her beholden to or in need of economic support from any PAC or special-interest political group. To that end, Dr. Chouake says, Senator Gillibrand is in “a safe seat” in the Senate as she does not fear losing to the Republican challenger, Chele Farley, a proficient and good candidate who just does not have the financial wherewithal to seriously challenge the incumbent.
With a bit more than 10 days to go to the all-important midterm elections, Dr. Chouake says that one race he is concerned about is the one in his home state of New Jersey. That is where incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Menendez is facing a formidable challenge from Republican candidate Bob Hugin. Mr. Hugin is spending $1 million a week of his own money on the campaign, and the race is very tight as of this writing.
Whether it is NORPAC or AIPAC, the debate about whether Democrats or Republicans are better for Israel does not enter into the discussion. Both groups are committed to supporting, either morally or economically, elected officials who work in a positive fashion on maintaining a healthy U.S.–Israel relationship. To that end, even though someone like Senator Menendez has been a blistering critic of President Trump, his record on Israel has been strong and exemplary.
NORPAC is a great group, and I can report that I have traveled to Washington, D.C. for a day of lobbying elected officials several times. It is a wonderful and important mission to observe and be a part of as around 1,500 people ascend on the nation’s capital to express their support of any senator or congressperson who values this country’s connection to and relationship with Israel.
Despite what is going on now in Washington, some day Democrats will inevitably return to the majority in Congress and some day to the White House as well. When that happens, both NORPAC and AIPAC and these organizations’ thousands of members and supporters will be able to say that those in power are our friends.
So is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a problem? It looks on the surface like she is, but if you listen closely to people like Dr. Chouake, the answer about her being an issue for the Jewish community is that she’s not really. And as the doctor says, if you are concerned about Democratic Party support for Israel, rest assured that the Democrats who are anti-Israel are in the extreme minority.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles here.