A Tough Choice for Lakewood Voters

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Frum voters in New Jersey faced what was in many ways a wrenching decision in last week’s gubernatorial election. On the one hand, the incumbent Democratic governor John Corzine had proven to be highly responsive to the concerns of the Torah community in his first term in office, a fact attested to by Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey representative and the endorsement of the Lakewood Vaad and senior figures in Bais Medrash Govoha in their private capacities.

Given Corzine’s record on matters of immediate concern to the Torah community, including school funding, there was a strong argument to be made that he deserved the community’s support as an expression of the basic Torah middah of hakaras hatov. Even leaving aside any ruchnios considerations, the Torah community has an important practical interest in being seen as a community that remembers its friends. And that consideration applied even though the Republican candidate Chris Christie led throughout the campaign. Those who are seen as fair weather friends will end up not being trusted by either party.

Once the Lakewood Vaad endorsed Corzine, there was yet another practical consideration in favor of supporting the incumbent. The more that community leaders are perceived as being able to deliver a bloc of voters, the greater their pull in the corridors of power. That ability to deliver a bloc of voters is why, for instance, Hillary Clinton so assiduously courted Skver in her first run for the Senate from New York.

On the other side, there were a number of factors in favor of Christie, or, perhaps more accurately, against Corzine. As a liberal Democrat, Corzine staked out unambiguously anti-Torah positions on a host of social issues. Nor was his conduct in his private life anything to hold up as a model for our children.

I am neither a citizen of New Jersey nor the son of a resident of New Jersey, so I have little to say about local issues. Suffice it to say that Corzine started the campaign with extremely low approval ratings, even in a heavily Democratic state, in large part due to the nation’s highest property tax rate and increases in tolls on the state’s highways. The latter issues are of no less concern to homeowners in Lakewood than any other New Jersey resident.

COMPLICATING MATTERS FURTHER was the fact that the New Jersey gubernatorial contest was not just a local one, but was being touted as referendum on President Barack Obama’s term to date. With only two gubernatorial races on the 2009 ballot, those in New Jersey and Virginia were being closely watched for portents about the 2010 midterm elections and as an indication of voters’ feelings about the policies of the current administration.

And by no one were the results being so carefully watched as the more than eighty congressional Democrats representing districts that were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008. To the extent that the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats detected voter anger over the most ambitious attempt to transform the American economy and society since the New Deal, the less likely they would be to support the administration’s ambitious healthcare reform and cap-and-trade bill on carbon emissions, both of which come with a huge price tag in terms of taxes and likely job loss.

The Virginia electorate more closely resembles the make-up of the Blue Dog congressional districts than did that of New Jersey, and national issues played a much larger role in Virginia. But by election day it was a foregone conclusion that Republican Bob McDonnell would claim the Virginia statehouse (though the magnitude of his victory was still a shock). Thus all eyes were focused on New Jersey.

Because of Governor Corzine’s deep unpopularity, voters knew that the Obama team would have little trouble spinning a Democratic loss in New Jersey as a vote on local issues rather than an expression of dismay with Washington D.C. Still, the election had major national implications. If Corzine somehow managed to eke out a victory, after President Obama campaigned for him in the state three times in the last two weeks, it would be taken as a sign that the President retains his star quality and still has the coattails to aid Democratic candidates. That too would be an important factor for the Blue Dog Democrats to consider.

I think it safe to say that if most frum voters in Lakewood were given the chance to vote in a referendum on the Obama presidency to date, the vote would be overwhelmingly negative. And it is clear that many Lakewood voters did view the New Jersey governor’s race through that prism, as an extremely articulate letter to the American Yated Ne’eman from “A Working Stiff” the week before the election emphasized.

Obamacare can only result in severe rationing of medical care, particularly for the elderly. (In Britain, National Health will not pay for an arterial stent for anyone over 59, no matter how healthy he or she otherwise is.) One of Obamacare’s chief architects, Dr. Ezekiel Rahm, brother of the White House Chief of Staff, is not inappropriately nicknamed Dr. Death. He has written extensively on the lesser claims to health care of older citizens. Rationing will confront Orthodox Jews with many heartrending halachic shaylos.

Similarly, there is widespread skepticism in the Torah community about the global warming alarmism of the Obama administration, and certainly about the wisdom of the proposed cap-and-trade bill, which would constitute a massive hidden tax and lead to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, at a time when the real unemployment level in the United States is approaching 20%.

Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi managed to ram through a 220-215 House vote on Obamacare, even after the election results had been digested, 39 House Democrats deserted her. Obamacare is expected to have a much harder time gaining passage in the Senate, and the impact of the election results will be felt there. Cap-and-trade legislation was already bottled up in the Senate, after having passed the House, and the election results certainly reduced its prospects of eventual passage.

THE STRONGEST FEELINGS OF LAKEWOOD VOTERS about President Obama’s job performance, however, concern his foreign policy, particularly that towards Israel. From nearly its first day in office, the administration, including both the President and Secretary of State Clinton, adopted a confrontational tone with Israel diametrically opposed to its velvet outreach to the Muslim world. Indeed, distancing himself from Israel was the olive branch held out by tPresident Obama to Muslims. The administration called for an absolute freeze on Israeli construction beyond the 1949 armistice lines, including construction in Jerusalem. In another extremely worrisome step, which has gained too little attention, the administration put the legitimacy of Israel’s nuclear program on the table. Only tiny Honduras – whose constitution the State Department interpreted differently than Honduras’s own supreme court – has endured the same degree of American pressure.

The administration’s push for a quick Israeli-Palestinian settlement has only made the achievement of any such settlement less likely than ever. All Obama succeeded in doing was convincing the Palestinians that they need do nothing to achieve their maximalist demands because the United States will deliver Israel on a platter.

Even more scary to most of those in Israel – where President Obama’s approval ratings hover in single digits – is the total failure of the administration’s policy of engagement with Iran. Iran is ten months closer to achieving its nuclear enrichment goals, without having felt the first taste of American pressure and after having snubbed every American overture. Even the ruthless suppression of widespread demonstrations, after Iran’s stolen presidential election, aroused only a belated and timorous response from President Obama. American passivity has made Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, or the necessity of Israel undertaking a highly risky attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, almost a near certainty.

On the domestic front, the administration has closely allied itself with the new “pro-peace” group J Street. National Security Advisor General James Jones was the keynote speaker at the organization’s inaugural conference, where he promised that the administration would be an enthusiastic participant in all future J Street conferences. Just a few days earlier, Jones gave a flat address at an AIPAC conference, which left delegates sitting on their hands.

Though J Street sometimes claims to be “pro-Israel” (its campus wing has dropped that designation), it would be hard to think of one thing it has done to earn the title. It enthusiastically supported the U.S. administration’s call for a settlement freeze, including Jerusalem; has opposed every sanction resolution or bill aimed at putting pressure on Iran; and even hosted a staging of Caryl Churchill’s anti-Semitic play Seven Jewish Children, which draws an explicit parallel between Israel’s actions today and Nazi atrocities.

While considerations of the security of nearly six million Jews in Israel appear to have played a large role in the vote of Lakewood residents, it is far from clear that their votes will have the same impact on the implementation of Obama’s policies as they will have on the administration’s domestic agenda. Even weak presidents have much more control over foreign policy than over domestic policy, where Congress can be a restraining influence.

Ironically, by lessening the chances of the administration pushing through the most ambitious parts of its domestic agenda, voters may have actually increased Obama’s chances of being re-elected in 2012. Were the true implications of cap-and-trade and Obamacare to be fully appreciated by voters, they would constitute an electoral albatross around Democrats’ necks. But if these bills are defeated, Obama can run again in 2012 as a moderate conciliator, just as Bill Clinton did in 1996, after the early defeat of his health care proposals.

THOUGH I’M FAR FROM CERTAIN OF THE impact of the New Jersey results on the administration’s future Middle East policy, I must confess that as a Jew living in Israel I am heartened by the fact that so many of my fellow Torah Jews in Lakewood took our fate into consideration in casting their ballots. Christie carried every precinct in which Torah Jews are found in large numbers. From those who voted for Christie, out of a desire to protest the Obama administration’s foreign policy, I learn that those same concerns were felt even by those who voted for Corzine. The latter had perfectly valid reasons – the desire to express hakaras hatov to Corzine against the uncertain impact of a protest vote for Christie (ein safek motzi m’dai vadai.)

One of the hardest things about the past year in Israel has been the apparent indifference of the vast majority of American Jews to the threat to our existence. American Jews are the last group in America to have awakened from Obamamania. As I have quoted many times, half of Jews under 35 say that the destruction of Israel would not constitute a personal tragedy. Recently, the Forward carried a widely discussed piece by a young Jew who whines that it has simply become too fatiguing trying to defend Israel to his liberal friends.

To have detected such indifference and fatigue among Torah Jews would have been heartbreaking for those of us living in Israel. Baruch Hashem, we were spared. Thanks.\

Yated Ne’eman, November 11, 2009

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62 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by dovid — December 3, 2009 @ 3:40 pm :

    1. Citgo belongs to our enemy Hugo Chavez of Venezuela!

    2. Oil is traded such an extent that we may not know the origin of the gasoline in a pump at a given station Dovid favors.

    3. Regrettably, some genuine rabbis may have erred and voted for Obama, and they might have advised doing this last year.

    4. The suitability of a given car for a given owner or family involves many considerations beyond MPG and emissions. If a rabbi had to sort this out properly for each car-buying Jew in his jurisdiction, this would eat up an enormous amount of the rabbi’s valuable time.

  2. dovid says:

    “I personally could not be part of a group that demanded such total mind control that I would have to ask a infallible intermediary to tell me what color the Creator wants me to paint my living room.”
    LOberstein, you are mocking a feature of Yiddishkeit, the absence of which is responsible in a great measure for the mess we, Jews find ourselves. The problem of our time is not that we ask too many shaalos, but that we don’t ask often enough, on the assumption that we know the answer, or that the rabbi is ill-qualified since he is not Moshe Rabanu. I doubt anyone asks shaalos to the effect of “what color the Creator wants me to paint my living room.” This is your contribution to ridiculing the process. Shaul, who was among the גדולי הדור in the time of Shmuel HaNavi, did not hesitate to consult the Navi as to how he should go about finding his father’s donkeys. He did not find the issue too trivial. Three shaalos that few Gd-fearing Jews consider asking [I anticipate a torrent of scorn from LOberstein on account of this] are: (1) what type of car one should buy, (2) which gas station franchise one should patronize, and (2) whom one should vote for. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, said to the effect that every time we pump gasoline for our cars, we finance Arab terrorism, since Middle Eastern oil revenues are the grease that ‘oil’ the terror organizations. That being the case, Jews shouldn’t buy SUVs which use an inordinate amount of gas and whose utility is equal or inferior to cars that use substantially less gas. Nonetheless, Jewish locales (we know which they are) are littered with SUVs. We should also not buy gas from companies that import it from the Middle East, such as Shell, Texaco, Exxon, or Amoco, but rather from Citgo, Sonoco, Conoco, or Hess which import it from non-ME sources. With regards to elections, you, LOberstein, shared with this forum that you voted for Obama. Had you have asked a shaala from any Gd-fearing rabbi, he would have advised you against. The writing was on the wall. Everything Obama has done since he was elected is consistent with the information about him available before the elections. All one can say is that we are our worst enemies.

  3. Joe Hill says:

    L. Oberstein —

    The claim that the so-called Ultra-Orthodox believe in the infallibility of their Torah leaders is an old canard.

    Pollard hurt his case with his tactics prior to trial/sentencing. I don’t know of anything he’s done in the many years since his sentencing to hurt himself. Nevertheless despite his guilt under secular law, as Jews it is incumbent upon on all of us to work to win his release.

  4. L. Oberstein says:

    This post originally dealt with a definition of daas torah and then went off onto a tangent about Pollard. Is it possible that there is more than one correct way to look at these issues and there is no need to denigrate one who holds a different view. I personally could not be part of a group that demanded such total mind control that I would have to ask a infallible intermediary to tell me what color the Creator wants me to paint my living room. If that is Judaism, my religion needs a different name. As far as Pollard, everyone I speak to who works for NSA or other intelligence agencies feels he deserved what he got and that he did harm to the USA. I have no personal knowledge,but would hope he would get a pardon after all these years, enough is enough.Many people feel that Pollard himself is harming his own cause and that his tactics help keep him in prison. I do not know.
    Why are some orthodox Jews so angry at everyone and so judgemental of anyone who doesn’t share their way of looking at the world. They give Judaism a bad rap.

  5. Joe Hill says:

    dovid –

    Is one of the two possibilities (מש”ר or ל”ה) less of an issur than the other?

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by lacosta — November 19, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    This and previous comments by Lacosta assume that Jewish Lakewood residents as a group bought into a greatly expanded concept of Daas Torah which they have now violated in their recent voting. Maybe, just maybe, their concept has been more nuanced all along, which Lacosta, living in his rather different world, did not detect.

  7. dovid says:

    “you recognize you’ve slandered the Shomer Shabbos Jews”

    Where did you get this that I recognized I slandered? Where and when? You are attributing to me deeds and statements that I did not commit, just as you attributed to Pollard deeds he did not commit.

    “you’re calling them swindlers was equally reprehensible.”

    On what basis do you find it reprehensible? Because they are not swindlers and I am מוציא שם רע in a public forum? Or because they are swindlers but by calling them so, I commit לשון הרע?

  8. Sammy Finkelman says:

    Re: Comment 1. Rabbi Avigdor Miller did not merely “support” Representative Stephen Solarz’s opponent in 1984 – he got Rabbi Yehuda “Lew’ Levin into the race. I believe Rabbi Yehuda Levin was some kind of a Talmid of his. The issue that motivated him was some kind of “gay rights” bill that Solarz had sponsored, which actually was a throwaway position of no practical consequence at the time and that nobody else paid any attention to.

    Once the race started, other issues affected things. Solarz appeared before a lot of Rabbis and found he was having trouble. The district had a rather high number of refugees from Communism. His foreign and defense positions became a bit better known. Solarz was actually having the most trouble in portions of the district that previously had been considered the most solid for him – heavily Jewish and Democratic.

    By the way I never heard that about Iranian (visas I presume) as a reason for supoorting Solarz, but then I don’t know everything.

    In the end he got 66% instead of 82% or so, and later on the radio I remember one time he claimed that it was just that normal Republican vote was cast because there was a candidate – most Congressmen would “give their eyeteeth” he claimed, for such a district. But he knew he had had the beginnings of a close call, and a real campaign throughout the district might do something.

    I think he got himself on the subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee that dealt with aid to Israel – he had not been on it — I may be wrong about his going on it but I thiink he did – he wasn’t on it in 1984 – and he began searching for some foreign country issue to be anti-Communist – and to turn the entire Democratc Party in that direction with him, because he wasn’t going to be alone in anything.

    The issue he chose was: Pol Pot. Yes, Pol Pot.

    That is, he supported Pol Pot, or more precisely, the allies of Pol Pot in Cambodia. Vietnam had invaded Cambodia in 1979 after being provoked and put an end to the genocide, but, because of influence from China, and too much false legalism, first, Jimmy Carter (who had earlier stopped Thailand from invading Cambodia in 1977) and then Ronald Reagan took the position that that the Pol Pot government was the legitimate government or at least not illegitimate and they kept the UN seat – and a bit of a war near the border with Thailand – going for around 10 years. The United States was actually supporting some of these Communist Chinese created front groups – I think there was more than one of them – that were fighting alongside Pol Pot.

    So , after his too close for comfort call, Solarz chose to demonstrate anti-Communism’ – or love of liberty? – by supporting the allies of Pol Pot. He supported giving them more aid. That is Solarz.

    He is no longer in Congress because of redistricting in 1992. A good portion of the distruict was joined to the west side of Manhattan and some more carved out to create an “Hispanic” district. He decided to run in the Hispanic district claiming in part as sort of an excuse that since he was a Sephardic Jew he could claim to be Hispanic. This didn’t help anything – but then that was just to save face among liberals.

    Then, just before the primary, Congressman Ted Weiss died. The district leaders had to pick a new congressional candidate. But since first a candidate for the remainder of the term from November to January 3 had to be picked, it was only the people from the old district that picked, it even though the new district was 60% in Brooklyn. They picked Jerrold Nadler,, who did have some roots in Brooklyn, in Bensonhurst. and inasmuch as he was the candidate for the old district he was also picked as the candidate for the new district. The district wasn’t much changed after the 2000 Census so for all these years, a good portion of Brooklyn has had a Congressman from the Upper West side of Mnhattan who gets no primary challenges except the occasional super liberal. And Brooklyn is a majority of the population of the district.

    Now if Solarz had run in the primary for the closest continuation of his district, he would have been in. But he ran in a different district, and he lost the primary. That must be galling to him.

    Regarding Pollard – he probably got his sentence and is probably still in jail because of Saudi Arabia. It isn’t just that the Saudi Arabian Ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was close to Casper Weinberger, a man without whose efforts Pollard never would have gotten a life sentence.

    (Casper Weinberger was a man so malevolent against Israel – or close to the Saudis – that he inserted false notes into the library of Congress that had Ronald Reagan approving selling arms to Iran on a date in January 1986 that he did not in fact approve it – a note which also said that the idea came from Israel. This note was later used by Iran-contra Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh to indict Casper Weinberger for perjury just before the 1992 election. The twist here is that it was his “contemporaneous notes” that were the lie, and not so much his testimony, and pretty obviously too – I meaan it has President Reagan approvinmg the sale of arms to Iran on a date he did not.)

    That’s not the most important fact to know. It’s this:

    …Jonathan Pollard had THOUGHT he was not just going to be just a spy, but a spymaster. Pollard had been bothered by the idea of taking money from Israel and he wanted to pay the money back. Along comes a Saudi who works for Prince Bandar and he’s going to set him up in business and enable him to make lots of money from which he cam pay back Israel and in the meantime too he’ll give him information taken from the Saudi Ambassador. This is all in a book by Wolf Blitzer. But this Saudi, of course – perhaps Pollard doesn’t realize it yet – was of course a double agent from the beginning. And he set up the meeting at which Pollard was arrested.

    But we have to ask another question. How came the Saudis to know that Pollard was spying for Israel? And how was Pollard discovered in the first place?. Pollard has said it was NOT because of carelessness – and the story as to how he was discovered is not true.

    So then what? Well, possibly one of his Israeli handlers was secretly working for the Saudis. It’s far from impossible. Thhe history of espionage ifs full of stories like that. That could explain a lot. It could explain some of the things he was asked for. It could be that the it was the Saudis – that is, the Saudis, not Israel – who had other spies who knew some document indexing and filing data but who didn’t have access to the documents themselves. It could explain even how Israel was accused of not returning all the information. Maybe not all of the information got to Israel. And that, in turn, means then that maybe some of the information actually did get into the hands of countries not really friendly with the United States. The spy may not be the person most n the know.

    This could be a big enough secret that some people wouldn’t want discovered that would remain undiscovered so long as Pollard stays in prison. Of course all those people would either be Saudis or people currently or reviously in the pay of the Saudis.

  9. Joe Hill says:

    dovid –

    I am pleased if you recognize you’ve slandered the Shomer Shabbos Jews from New York. Just as you object to Pollard being called a convicted spy guilty of espionage having been convicted of “conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government” (the precise language of the guilty plea), you’re calling them swindlers was equally reprehensible.

  10. dovid says:

    Joe Hill,

    What’s abject and perfidious on the part of those who allege that Pollard committed all the crimes under the sun and accuse him of treason is their peace of mind at the court’s breach of the plea bargain reached with Pollard, as well as their witnessing over the years the American establishment’s refusal to allow Pollard’s attorneys to examine his file and enable them to rebut all the allegations under the excuse of confidentiality. 25-year old military secrets are today’s unread footnotes in history books.

  11. Baruch Pelta says:

    I just want to note that my comment above was edited by a Cross-Currents blogger and the links taken out, in accordance with their policy. However, I actually provided indisputable sources for all of my assertions; I also emailed R’ Rosenblum with the comment while it was in “moderation limbo” for several days so he’d have time to ask the Yated to print a retraction. I find it unfortunate that R’ Rosenblum deigned it unnecessary to print such a retraction and the readers of the Yated (and probably a significant proportion of readers of Cross-Currents) are now under the impression that anybody in Britain over 59 can’t have an artery stent and that Dr. Emanuel’s positions (see my comment above) would somehow lead to rationing.

  12. dovid says:

    “My point is”

    Joe Hill, you made your point loud and clear. You make allegations but you don’t support them with evidence. You are slandering Jonathan Pollard in public, you are Richard Goldstoning him, that’s your point. I only wonder what your agenda is. The American law system has it clearly defined what constitutes treason, espionage, conspiracy to aid and ally, conspiracy to aid an enemy, etc., etc. By now, I realize there is no purpose in debating with you. Per American law, Jonathan Pollard is not a traitor.

    For the benefit of the readers, I would like to add to the names listed in comment #33, Benjamin L. Hooks, a former judge and long-time director of the civil rights organization, the NAACP. This is what he wrote in a letter to Bill Clinton in 1993, “I have rarely encountered a case in which government arbitrariness was so clear cut and inexcusable.”

    Regarding American agents that gave over confidential information to allies or to enemies and the substantially lesser punishment they got than what Pollard got, here is information freshly off the press from Jerusalem Post

    Ronald Montaperto, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who admitted passing classified intelligence to the Chinese during a 14-year period, was sentenced to three months in prison.
    CIA agent David Barnett, who sold the Soviets the names of 30 American agents, was given an 18-year sentence and paroled after 10 years. Michael Walker, for many years a key figure in the Walker family Soviet spy ring, was sentenced to 25 years and released after serving 15. William Kampiles, a CIA officer who sold the Soviets the operating manual to the KH-11 satellite, America’s eye in the sky, received a 40-year sentence and was released after 18 years.
    Abdul Kedar Helmy, an Egyptian-born American, transmitted classified materials to Egypt that were used in a joint weapons program with Iraq to vastly increase the range of ballistic missiles, including Iraq’s Scud missiles, which were later fired on US troops during Desert Storm. Helmy received a prison term of less than four years. John Paul Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban terrorists fighting the United States, received a 21-year sentence.