Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

December 5, 2021

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • Don't be complacent. Be radically outraged by the damage the Republican minority is doing to our country and its institutions.
  • Votes and actions in Congress prove that we can no longer count on the GOP to support security assistance to Israel or oppose antisemitism. We might wish that were not the case, but we cannot ignore the truth.
  • We must fight not only antisemitism, but other hatred and bigotry, including Islamophobia in Congress, which should be as unacceptable to us as antisemitism in Congress. Yet too many Jewish institutions would rather cling to misguided notions of bipartisanship than call out the Islamophobia that has infected the Republican Party.
  • We no longer have to choose between believing Israel or our eyes on the Iran Deal. The eyes have it: Israeli security officials are admitting that Netanyahu's government misled the Israeli public for political purposes. Being pro-Israel does not require us to blindly follow any particular Israeli government or to suspend our critical thinking skills.
  • Read to the end for upcoming events with Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), and Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL)--Reps. Brad Schneider and Bill Foster endorsed Casten in his primary last week. Plus the usual fun stuff.

You're welcome to read for free, but you can chip in for the cost of the newsletter by clicking here and filling in the amount of your choice. You don't need a PayPal account; the link lets you use a credit card. If you have trouble, let me know. Or you can Venmo @Steven-Sheffey (if it asks, last four phone digits are 9479).


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement...get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

We cannot take the wonders of the world for granted, but neither can we cease to be amazed by the evil that surrounds us--which might explain why Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last week's school shooting should have shocked us. Instead, it was just another day. Unlike other countries, we have readily available vaccines against Covid. Thousands are still dying, millions choose to go unvaccinated, and that's the way it goes. The Supreme Court might gut Roe v. Wade. Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted. The President of the United States did not disclose that he tested positive for Covid three days before the first presidential debate, incited a violent insurrection against the United States, was the most ignorant, incompetent, and bigoted president in history, and leads the polls for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination--and the GOP is laying the groundwork across the country to suppress votes and overturn elections if necessary. That's life, I guess.

None of this is normal. We should wake up each morning amazed and radically outraged that any of this is happening. The question should not be whether we ban assault rifles; the question should be why any American should own any gun, and we should start from the premise that all guns should be illegal and add exceptions where necessary. No one should be allowed in an airport, on a train, or in a school without proof of vaccination. Congress must codify Roe v. Wade by passing the Women's Health Protection Act, protect voting rights by passing the Freedom to Vote Act, and enact other legislation passed by the House while we still have Democratic majorities--even if that means abolishing the filibuster (which should be abolished as a matter of democracy anyway). Democracy is a partisan issue: "when it comes to voting rights, the least supportive Democrat is more supportive than the most supportive Republican."

Congress should pass the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13. Even if the Senate abolishes the filibuster and passes the legislation we need, a court packed with Republican hacks could still reverse progress--overturning Roe v. Wade might only be the start. And yes, we need a tax code that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share and a healthcare system that provides quality, affordable healthcare for everyone. If other countries can do it, so can we. We should be amazed that we haven't.

For decades, we could count on bipartisan support for Israel and opposition to antisemitism. Jews overwhelmingly voted Democratic because only the Democratic Party shared the other values that most American Jews support. Republicans would try in vain every election cycle to highlight a few out of pattern Democrats to distort the Democratic record on Israel and antisemitism because those were the only issues the GOP had that could appeal to Jewish voters and if Jewish voters knew the truth about both parties, they would focus on where the parties differed, not on where the parties were in agreement, and quite rationally, they'd vote Democratic.

But lately, Republicans have let us down even on Israel and antisemitism. As requested by President Biden, the House passed $1 billion to replenish Israel's Iron Dome batteries on September 23 (it would have passed on September 21 if even a few Republicans had been willing to side with the overwhelming majority of Democrats in supporting a continuing resolution to keep the government open). It's been 73 days since the House approved the funding and the Senate has yet to act because Republicans will not allow it to come to a vote. Unless Republicans end their obstruction soon, the emergency funding might not pass until February 2022.

In July, the House passed the 2022 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs funding bill, which included $3.3 billion in aid for Israel. AIPAC and J Street supported the bill. Every Republican voted "no." The only "yes" votes were cast by Democrats, and the bill passed 217 to 212. Republicans also opposed the bill during the appropriations process in each chamber. Whatever your definition of "pro-Israel" is, it must mean supporting security assistance for Israel. Yet Republicans repeatedly failed this year to meet that criterion. The votes prove it.

With worldwide antisemitism on the rise, Republicans continue to block the appointment of Dr. Deborah Lipstadt as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Yair Rosenberg wrote that "in the past, the U.S. anti-Semitism envoy has effectively intervened around the world to support Jews under threat...But right now, American influence is MIA and real Jews are suffering while Republicans play politics with this position." Meanwhile, offensive coronavirus comparisons are proliferating in the Republican Party.

My guess is that most Republicans in Congress are neither anti-Israel nor antisemitic. The problem is that they haven't voted for security assistance to Israel, they haven't (not one of them) spoken out against Donald Trump's antisemitic rhetoric, and they are blocking the confirmation of our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Intentions are nice. Actions matter.

Organizations that build their brand on bipartisanship might look the other way and continue to talk about a Republican Party that no longer exists. That doesn't mean we should ignore the facts.

We must fight Islamophobia. Jewish Americans must speak out strongly against antisemitism because, as Hillel asked 2,000 years ago, "If I am not for myself, who will be?" But we cannot forget that Hillel followed up with another question: "If I am only for myself, what am I"? We notice when others do not join us in our fight against antisemitism, which is all the more reason not to ignore other forms of hatred--not as a substitute for fighting antisemitism, but because if we want allies, we need to be allies and more importantly, because it is right.

The Republican Party refuses to condemn repeated, blatantly Islamophobic attacks from Republican members of Congress. We would be outraged, and justifiably so, if members of Congress used rhetoric as crudely antisemitic as the crudely Islamophobic rhetoric that regularly spews forth from the mouths of Donald Trump, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and other Republicans.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said last week about Islamophobia in Congress exactly what we would have said about antisemitism: "We cannot pretend that this hate speech from leading politicians doesn’t have real world consequences."

Jewish Democratic Council of America joined the House Democratic leadership team in condemning this Islamophobia and called for Boebert to be removed from her committee assignments. The ADL condemned Boebert's Islamophobia. But more Jewish organizations and leaders must make their voices heard. If you wonder why others don't speak out more against antisemitism, ask whether the organizations you support are speaking out against Islamophobia from Republican members of Congress. As Hillel said, "If not now, when?"

Trump's Iran policy has become a disaster for the U.S. and Israel. We no longer have to choose between believing Israel or our eyes on the Iran Deal. The eyes have it: Israeli security officials are admitting that Netanyahu's government misled the Israeli public for political purposes. Being pro-Israel does not require us to blindly follow any particular Israeli government or to suspend our critical thinking skills. Politicians are politicians. Israeli politicians attempting to win votes by brandishing their hawkish credentials deserve less attention from us than Israeli security experts who are not trying to score partisan points.

Tom Friedman cites Israeli security experts to back up his contention that "Trump’s decision to tear up the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 — a decision urged on by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — was one of the dumbest, most poorly thought out and counterproductive U.S. national security decisions of the post-Cold War era."

The former head of the Iran branch in Israel's Military Intelligence’s Research and Analysis Division said in a lengthy interview that is worth your time, ''We can say a lot of bad things about Iran, but they kept their part of the agreement. Everything started going haywire when Trump left the agreement."

Alon Pinkus notes that Israeli security officials now concede that the Iran Deal "wasn’t perfect but perhaps it wasn’t so bad, and it was overwhelmingly better than the alternative Israel has to cope with now." The Iran Deal worked. Sanctions against Iran have not worked. That's the bottom line, and that's why Iran is much closer now to acquiring nuclear weapons than it was when Trump withdrew from the deal.

It is up to President Biden to clean up Trump's mess. For some people, any deal with Iran is necessarily a bad deal because Iran cannot be trusted. Yet the Iran Deal worked because it was not based on "trust but verify" but on "distrust and verify." Trump threw it all away for nothing. Those who claim to be concerned about Israel's security should listen to Israeli security experts and support Biden's efforts to re-enter the JCPOA.

Tweet of the Week. President Biden and Paul Musgrave.

Adam Sandler Update of the Week. HAIM.

Video Clip of the Week. Dozens Of New Hanukkah Movies.

Upcoming Events. For all events, contributions are welcome but not required:

Dana Gordon and I are hosting Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) on Zoom at 6:45 pm CT on Thursday, December 9. RSVP here to get the Zoom link.

We are hosting Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) on Zoom at 3:00 pm CT on Sunday, January 9. RSVP here to get the Zoom link. Last week, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) endorsed Casten in his Democratic primary over Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL). Casten is the only candidate in this race who shares our views on Israel and is good on all of our issues.

We and Democratic Jewish Outreach of Pennsylvania are hosting Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) on Zoom at 6:00 pm CT on Thursday, February 17. RSVP here to get the Zoom link.

I guess this is a good problem to have: This list is now so large that while many people are local, even more live outside the Chicago area and have no interest in local news. If you want to be on a list that will receive infrequent newsletters about local issues and events, reply to this email and I'll add you.

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The Fine Print: This newsletter usually runs on Sunday mornings. If you receive it as an ICYMI on Wednesday it's because you didn't open the one sent on Sunday. Unless stated otherwise, my views do not necessarily reflect the views of any candidates or organizations that I support or am associated with. I reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more. I am willing to sacrifice intellectual consistency for intellectual honesty. Smart, well-informed people may disagree with me; read opposing views and decide for yourself. A link to an article doesn't mean that I agree with everything its author has ever said or that I even agree with everything in the article; it means that the article supports or elaborates on the point I was making. I take pride in accurately reporting the facts on which I base my opinions. Tell me if you spot any inaccuracies, typos, or other mistakes so that I can correct them in the next newsletter (and give you credit if you want it). Advertisements reflect the views of the advertisers, not necessarily of me, and advertisers are solely responsible for the content of their advertisements. I read, value, and encourage replies to my newsletters, but I don't always have time to acknowledge replies or to engage in one-on-one discussion. Don't expect a reply if your message is uncivil or if it's clear from your message that you haven't read the newsletter or clicked on the relevant links. © 2021 Steve Sheffey. All rights reserved.