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Perry’s Ascent Heralds Israel’s Rise as Issue

Front-running Texas gov. is not playing to the Jewish crowd

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Gov. Rick Perry campaigning last week in New Hampshire.(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

A Texas-sized mezuzah is fun, but Rick Perry should be taken quite seriously: having entered the Republican primary race only the weekend before last, he seems to have zoomed to a comfortable lead—the latest Rasmussen poll has him up double digits on both Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann. For a left-of-center but extremely knowledgeable take on the governor, Lawrence Wright is a must-read.

Perry offers an unusually distilled version of everything that has consistently kept Jewish voters away from national Republicans—minus, crucially, his robust support for Israel. If he is the nominee then how he fares among Jews will be a remarkably clean study into how much President Obama’s Israel politics have hurt his standing among Jews and how much the Israel issue matters among Jews, because outside of that issue, there is really no reason for any of the 78 percent of Jews who didn’t vote for Sen. John McCain to vote for Perry. Meanwhile, the frequency and passion with which Perry brings up Israel signals an important dynamic that could see the Jewish state taking center stage in the national debate next year.

It’s not just that Perry has different economic and social views than your typical liberal American Jew. He is arguably the most theocratic national candidate in American history. He held an explicitly Christian rally, called The Response, in Texas, while governor and, importantly, as governor. Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin called it “not ecumenical” and, given the explicit connection with his office, “inappropriate.” The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman said it was “a conscious disregard of law and authority” and added, “What troubles me most is this is his perception of where America is at.” As Tablet Magazine columnist Michelle Goldberg explained in The Daily Beast, Perry (and Bachmann) subscribe to Dominionism, the theological-political theory that Christians should rule secular institutions. “The movement was deeply involved in The Response,” she reported. Then there was his charming suggestion that if Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke were to print more money, it would be “treasonous” and, down Texas way, might provoke a lynching (several Jewish leaders adjudged this not to be anti-Semitic). You will excuse American Jews for not wanting any part of this, and that’s at the very least.

On Israel, there is no question where he stands: “If you’re our friend, we are with you. I’m talking about Israel. Come Hell or high water, we will be standing with you!” is a standard line. That is his path to increasing his take of the Jewish vote. The Jewish vote, however, isn’t that important. Donor money, sure; organizational prowess, definitely; even Florida, fine. But the Jewish vote does not alone explain the beefiness, the swagger, of Perry’s Israel talk, and why he was using it in Iowa and South Carolina (neither big Jew-spots), and why, as Ben Smith noted, “this has become a standard Republican candidate line, and sometimes the only foreign policy line, to GOP audiences.”

Call me crazy, but I think Israel is going to be a major issue in the 2012 general election—maybe bigger than ever before. And this won’t be because of the Jews. Rather, it will be because Israel provides the straightest line from Point A to Point B that every Republican candidate since the Vietnam War has tried to draw: It is the easiest way to come from the right and cast Obama as a dove; as out-of-step with American values; as otherwise untrustworthy on foreign and national-security affairs. Obama can’t, after all, be soft on Al Qaeda—he killed Osama Bin Laden. He can’t be soft on dictators—the Arab Spring happened on his watch. He can’t be lacking in experience—he has been commander-in-chief these past years. He wasn’t coddling Pakistan or China or Russia, and he didn’t normalize relations with Cuba. But on Israel (and, by extension, Iran), Obama can be effectively painted—rightly or wrongly (I’d say wrongly, although it’s partly his fault because his politics have been poor)—as having not stood up for democratic friends against evil foes (the same foes, under a sorta false but compelling narrative, who attacked the United States on September 11).

Israel’s convenience and resonance as a political issue, not only with Jews but with the American people, is why the race to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner, which began innocently as an Ed Koch-created referendum among Jews on Israel, has become a referendum of the American people on Obama. It’s why Perry mentions it all the time, and Bachmann plays up her summer on a kibbutz, and why Obama for the first time hired a formal Jewish outreach director. The Israel issue has been mainstreamed. The good news is that we won’t just be fighting in the shtetl anymore. The bad news is that frequently the people outside the shtetl had even less of an idea of what we were talking about.

A Different Kind of Texan [New Yorker]
Rick Perry and the Jews: An Introduction [Chronicle of Higher Ed. Brainstorm]
Newest Entrant Into GOP Field, Rick Perry, Is Longtime Friend of Israel—and Jesus [JTA]
A Christian Plot for Domination? [The Daily Beast]
U.S. Jewish Leaders: Republican Candidate Rick Perry’s Bernanke Outburst Not Anti-Semitic [Haaretz[
Perry with Israel [Ben Smith]
In the Race to Succeed Weiner, a Surprising Anger at Obama [NYT]
Related: Christian Wrong [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Rick Perry’s Texas-Sized Mezuzah
Lieberman Backs Dem Against Koch’s Guy

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Whoa! “He can’t be soft on dictators—the Arab Spring happened on his watch.” Not only can he be portrayed that way in the campaign to come, he is soft on dictators. The activities of Arab protestors while he happened to be in office does not shelter his policies from criticism. In fact, they more likely highlight his hesitation and squandered opportunities. Not to mention the blood on his hands (how many had to die in Syria before he got serious?). See everything Lee Smith has written recently.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Actually, Obama has been quite obsequious to dictators and various & sundry potentates.


D'vorah says:

Rick Perry scares the hell out of me. It’s okay, though, because I live safely in Canada where we have a very pro-Israel Prime Minister.
But his recent rally down in Texas? Whatever happened to separation of church and state? If this man is elected to the presidency (and I think there’s a very good chance he could be!) how will he represent the citizens of the United States tho don’t believe in either Dominionism or his beloved Jesus Christ. Any kind of fundamentalist is scary when their religion is combined with politics. Doesn’t matter if they are Christian or Muslim or Jewish. It’s a bad mix. Vote Obama.

Amen to that, D’vorah!

Ruth Gutmann says:

D’vorah, I am with you. There is another aspect when thinking about the “Jewish” vote. Who is better for America, the democracy whose citizenship we hold dear: Obama or Perry? And what would Israel really gain by having Rick Perry in the White House? I see it as a major disaster for the future of this country and Israel — to say the least.

This type of anti-evangelical hysteria among supposedly ‘liberal’ American-Jews is shameful and I can only hope Christians don’t think all of us are such bigots. Liberal Jews rightfully condemned anti-Muslim hysteria whipped up against Obama, but suddenly turn around and engage in the same thing against Perry and Bachmann because of their faith. Religious Christians are not the ‘enemy’.

This country is in the midst of an economic disaster and this Orthodox Jew is voting for Perry in the primary and for whoever is against Obama in the general.

I would vote for Perry over Obama today!

Perry as Governor of Texas shows better economic policy and results than Obama’s years as President !

And international relations under Obama have been a disaster for the US.

So, PERRY in 2012!

JCarpenter says:

not to mention Gov. Perry’s valiant defense of the Texas border, or his valiant upholding of Texas’ death sentences/executions, or his stand on guns (carry) or coyotes (shoot on sight) . . . .

Chaim says:

Sounds to me, that we are between a rock and a hard place…

artcohn says:

“Obama can be effectively painted—rightly or wrongly (I’d say wrongly)”
How can you be so bind to Obama’s anti-Israel animus?

Nathan says:

Nobody objects to Perry’s faith.

It’s his wish to string up the treasonous Jew Banker that makes me uneasy.

Milton Pincus says:

I’m confused. Does Dominionism imply Christian rule of ALL secular institutions, or just the ones not already controlled by the Elders of Zion?

Seriously, though, the problem that my fellow members of the tribe have with Perry, Bachman, is that they are stronger supporters of Israel than most American Jews.

a Messianic “Jewish” rabbi was front and center at Perry’s prayer rally and even gave an invocation. I appreciate Christian Zionist support, but not at the price of turning a blind eye to a desire to convert Jews.

Shelly Newkirk says:

I am so very very tired of the “separation of church and state” thing being flung about. The liberal use of it is totally bogus. The desire of the founding fathers was to keep the STATE from compelling it’s citizens to belong to only one state sanctioned church. Frankly, our STATE would be a lot better off right now if we had a LOT more church in it.

Shelly Newkirk says:

Truth be told, if Perry scares you libs, he is the one I want in the office of President. The current occupant is dishonoring our country on a daily basis.
I stand for Israel, even if the liberal Jews in the country don’t.

Bill Pearlman says:

Who would emulate Nixon in 1973 when he put the airlift in motion. And guess what , its not Obama

G Shapiro says:

Shelly – the “liberal use” of the separation of church and state? Are you kidding me? Without it, you have oh, I don’t know, IRAN.

And it’s not the STATE that needs a lot more church in it – it’s individuals who must seek (or not seek) their religious path. The is what the separation of church and state does – it protects those who wish to be religious, or not be religious.

You may want to take another look at the Constitution – specifically, the Establishment Clause – you should find some clarity there.

As for liberal Jews, please stop perpetrating the myth that liberal Jews do not stand for Israel – there are plenty of us who do, and being critical of Israel’s government does not make one not supportive of Israel.

As for Rick Perry, puhleeze.

It never fails to amaze me how blind the Lefty Jews are about Obama. Somehow they hate Perry because of his association to the evangelicals but it is ok that Obama was a member of a virulently antisemitic church for over twenty years. The truth is the Left will look for any reason to not vote Republican and they will tie themselves into knots to find it even if they convince themselves that somehow Obama is a pro-Israel president and fiscally responsible.

BTW, the election IS about what is best for the USA. The truth is that the Obama administration has been a dismal failure both on the foreign policy front and the economic front. It is time that this country return to a fiscally responsible position. It would be nice to get a President who will basically do “shock and awe” on the budget. Get rid of the waste which has been identified by Simpson-Bowles (most of it political pay back for cronies and contributors) and then guess what- we will have enough to defend our nation, and to take care of those in our nation who need help without mortgaging our children’ future.

Establishment Clause by the way, says the government shall not promote one religion over another, not that government shall be free of religion. “Separation of church and state” came from the Supreme Court, not the Constitution. It is their test not the test of the founding fathers. Additionally, no where does it state in the Constitution nor in any Supreme Court case that a government official cannot practice their own religion in any way they choose. What they can’t do is discriminate against another religion. There is no hint anywhere that Perry has ever discriminated against any religion, Judaism or Islam. So those who are screaming about Perry’s religiosity as a hint to his unfitness for the Presidency need to try another tract.

G Shapiro says:

It never fails to amaze me how many times right-wing Jews use Tablet as a forum for bashing President Obama. The minister at the President’s FORMER church may have been anti-semitic, but there is no evidence that the ENTIRE church is anti-semitic.

The left doesn’t have to look very far for reasons not to vote Republican – the party has been usurped by a bunch of extremist, batshit trolls who want to dismatle everything good about government that works. If the GOP wasn’t doing everything it can to dismantle the middle class and cause a bigger divide between rich and poor than the one that already exists, MAYBE more Jews would vote for them.

As for Pres. Obama’s support for Israel – he does support Israel, maybe not in the way the right wants him to, but he does. He hasn’t always made the best choices in foreign/economic policy, but the Obama administration is not the dismal failure Elise insists that it is – just take a look at the miserable failure of Bush & Co. THAT’S what I call a failure.

As for the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, it says that “Congress shall make no law repecting an establishment of religion..” The framers wrote this in because they were reticent to create something resembling the Church of England. Of course the framers had their own thoughts about religion – Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were rational deists who felt that freedom of conscience would be threatened by government endorsement of religion, and that religion was something solely between G-d and humans. The Supreme Court ruling regarding the separation of church and state was made with all this in mind, and it is a spot on interpretation of the law. As a Jew, I am glad this divide exists, because if it wasn’t, I think things would be very hard for Jews in the US.

I’m not sure whether Perry or one-issue Jewish voters scare me more. Dear One, please save us from the ones who know what You really mean.

Joan Hathaway says:

Secular American Jews have NEVER voted for Republicans so what difference does it make if they don’t vote for Rick Perry. American Jews do not like Evangelical Christians. If you substituted Jew everytime you mentioned Christian, you would see that it would sound like an anti-Semite. Get over your distrust of Christians and realize they are Israel’s best allies.

Does your writer believe that Governor Perry would have sat for 20 years in Church listening to his pastor revile Jews, Israel and Americans without standing up, giving him the finger, and walking out? Indeed, would the writer of that snarky piece have walked out on these sermons? Or choose the said Pastor to marry his intended? Surely that was evidence enough to predict the outcome of the Obama plan for Israel’s future.Does the possibility of his re-election augur well for Israel once he won’t have another term to worry about?

Beatrix says:

I’m very cognizant and appreciative of conservative Christianity’s support of Israel. I think Obama’s actions have been wrong, but I don’t think he’s anti-Israel.

From reading liberal web sites, it seems as though many liberals see Jews as the rich, white guys and the Palestinians are their little brown brothers that the liberals have to protect. They see today’s conflict in terms of the 1960s.

In liberal minds, Israel is the white, bigoted South, and the Palestinians are the black freedom riders. They don’t know or care that both Jews and Arabs are predominately Semitic, and Semites are white.

They think the UN gave all of Palestine to Israel and that’s why the Palestinians are angry. They don’t believe that the UN created two nations, Israel and Palestine, and that Palestine sacrificed her nation in order to destroy Israel. Liberals have changed the terms of the conflict to fit liberal ideology. I don’t know if conservatives are doing the same thing.

neal sturman says:

what is Perry going to do as president that scares you libs? Remember we have a Congress. saying bernake wouldn’t be treated nice in texas is a far cry from being lynched. Give me a president who can put our country back on a sound fiscal basis rather than one who hasn’t got a clue what to do.

Obama did sell Mubarak. He will sell Israel with ease. Only brainless liberal may think that he is the friend of Israel, and/or he will help Israel in case of danger.
Rick Perry is the best friend Israel could wish to have. He will help Israel in case of danger as President Nixon did in 1973. Could anybody imagine that George McGovern would do the same if he would be in the White House ?
Did people forget that Roosevelt has been pretending knowing nothing, when 6 millions of Jewish people have been dieing in the gas chambers ? Liberal Jewish people certainly did. My grandmother did survive the Ghetto of Dvinsk. People as Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Barbey Frank, Steven Speelberg always did remind her the members of Jewish police, who was helping Germans and their helpers to kill Jewish people. But in the end Germans killed them as well.
If some Jewish people can not stomach to vote republican let them stay home. For the sake of our children future we all should help Rick Perry to get into White House. Again, – that is the best what could happen to Israel and Jewish people.

I happened the note of G. Shapiro here. You know what,- you really do remind me those members of Jewish police, who helped Germans and Latvians kill Jewish women and children my grandmother told me about. Jewish police wanted to please the murderers of Jewish people, hoping that they will be spared. But they have not been spared, they have been killed as everybody else. Either you with Obama or you with Israel,- that is the choice. Obama will never ever do for Israel what Richard Nixon did in 1973. He will talk and lie and demagogue about his love to Israel and Jewish people as Franklin Roosevelt did, but do exactly nothing. Not George W. Bush or Rick Perry. President Clinton has been spreading lies in the synagogues of Florida about how good Obama will be for Israel. But he did exactly nothing, when Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, leaving everybody else to deal with this problem. Liberals do talk, and blame everybody else but do nothing. When Obama was pushing Israel to 1967 borders, how many democrats did go public to condemn him ? Not one.
And what Obama did to the American economy, that is another disgrace.
Stay with yourself, Mr. Shapiro, and decide whether you want to support somebody who will demagogue and allow another Holocaust or somebody who will stand against it. Think whether you want in the White House somebody who will demagogue, but do nothing to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons, or you want somebody who will do something about it. And than take your decision.

I would like to know who is spreading these despicable lies about Evangelical Christians trying to convert Jewish people ? Evangelical woman saved my grandmother’s life, when she escaped from ghetto of Dvinsk in 1944. She has been covering her and her second husband for 9 month, risking her life. Anything was discussed between them, but conversion from their Jewish faith. Whoever does spread these lies should be ashamed for doing it. Yes, Stephen Harper is one of the best friends Israel ever had in Canada. God bless him and reward him for everything did and said about Israel, Jewish people. But how do you dare to suspect and blame in advance Rick Perry for the something you do not know for sure, and can not prove ? Yes, he told, that his faith does require him to support the State of Israel. So what wrong about it ? You like better Obama, who lies left and right, but in reality does nothing against Iranian nuclear program or Hamas, or Hizbullah, or another murderer,- Bashar Assad of Syria. Or you like better another, so called friend Jewish people had,- Franklin Roosevelt, who knew everything, but did nothing, to stop Holocaust. I guess, if Israel finally strikes Iranian nuclear installations, you will be worried about the collateral damage, but not about Iranian nuclear program being destroyed, and life of Israeli pilots. Every drop of their blood is sacred. But I guess it is too much for you to comprehend. I am sure, that Rick Perry, God help him to get into White House, will be right there to help, and you, Dvorah, will be worried that, God forbid, real Jewish people and their true friends, finally realize complete irrelevance of yourself and your liberal friends.

Maybe it should also be mentioned that according to Perry’s beliefs, he is a Dispensationalist like his friend John Hagee and his CUFI movement, and like many other zealots and Tea Partiers in attendance at his recent prayer rally. Dispensationalists have vowed to protect Israel for one reason and one reason only: they believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth at some point and will rule the world from Jerusalem. So thus, Israel must continue to exist or there will be no Jerusalem for Jesus to return to. Of course, all Jews who do not convert to Christianity at this time will be zapped into oblivion by the Dispensationalists’ version of a beefed-up Rambo-Jesus. Of course Perry never mentions this, however. Don’t think the idea would go over too good with most American Jews. Perry could be the most frightening presidential candidate to come along in the history of this country. If he wins, along with his Tea Party-Religious Extremist Congress, the very fabric and culture of this country could change, and not for the better.

sosipatra says:

I just don’t think you get it. When someone like Perry, or Bachmann, or Palin, talks about Israel, he or she is appealing not primarily to Jew (though their contributions and votes might make a nice bonus) but to Christians: those Christians who, like the politicians I just listed, believe that a Jewish State in the Biblical Holy Land is a necessary precursor of the End Times. To support Israel is to support the coming of God’s redemption of his Christian people. To oppose Israel is to side with Satan and with Anti-Christ. What happens to Jews — whether actual people, or theological constructs — in all of this is not very important (and, if Perry et al. were to turn out to be right, would probably not be very pleasant). At best, they can hope for a last chance to accept the Messiah they murdered just under 2000 years ago… before the world is consumed by fire, and the Religious Right raptured straight to Heaven. In the meantime, the state of Israel, willy-nilly, plays a key part in the eschatological narrative, and so, supporting it is not only crucial for personal salvation, but a central path towards bringing on The End, when all Christ’s people will be saved. (Trust me, I have a Ph.D. in Religion, and I’m currently writing an article on first-century Jewish apocalyptic thinking, including Paul and Revelation seen as representing Jewish messianism at a phase where Jesus could still count — none of this is terribly new, though the the nation state and globalization certainly changes some aspects of the picture.)

sosipatra says:

Leigh, you got there first — and no typos :) I hope some of this gets through to the people who are fooling themselves about what really motivates Dispensationalist Christian politicians.

Donald Berrian says:

My position is somewhat different. I have children of draft age. I won’t vote for another politician who promises to defend Israel’s interests with the blood of America’s children. I’m sick of listening to Lieberman and his ilk trying to suck us into wars with Iraq, Iran, and every other country that Israel considers a threat. It is long past time to bring our troops home.


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Perry’s Ascent Heralds Israel’s Rise as Issue

Front-running Texas gov. is not playing to the Jewish crowd

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