Did it matter to Floridian voters that Republican candidate Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, may have cut funding for kosher meals in nursing homes? Whether or not it mattered was less important than the importance put upon the Jewish vote by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Their vote seemed to be of such great significance to him, he needed to find a polarizing issue to throw at his opponent.
This begs the question, is the Jewish community so gullible that wider domestic issues and looming foreign matters are less important than whether kosher meals are funded by the public for seniors?
Putting the facts into perspective, the bulk of the Jewish seniors whom Mr. Gingrich was targeting with his robo-call this week are registered Democrats and had little say in the Republican primary. He knew that however, as does any candidate who does the right research before allocating precious time and limited resources in a presidential race. So why do it at all?
Clearly the impression the media and many Jewish pundits and advocates have successfully made on the public and the list of candidates, including the President himself, is that the Jewish vote and the Jewish opinion will matter enough to impact the election results. Ignored is the historic fact that the “Jewish community” largely votes Democrat no matter what the issue du Jour may be. When Jews lean to the right, it is generally over issues such as tougher policies in the Middle East, not kosher meals in a senior center.
The point that Mr. Gingrich was evidently trying to make was that those who want to focus on Mitt Romney should know that Romney’s agenda is more in tune to what Jewish Democrats pay attention to and not what right-leaning Conservatives want to talk about. Betting that the media would give that “cheap-shot” of a campaign call the attention it didn’t deserve, Mr. Gingrich was painting his opponent as a lesser Republican than he. That’s the argument that Mr. Gingrich is hoping to win with - that he is the true Conservative. The former Speaker knew well when that call went out that the state would fall to Mr. Romney, but used it for national attention on his candidacy.
He used the Jewish people as a tool for his efforts. He used the hype that the Jewish vote is so critical that the mere mention of kosher food would stir his coverage. He was right, but it does Jewish citizens no good to be placed in the light of such an evidently pandering campaign promotion.
The national Jewish community as a whole stands for so many great ideas, from major philanthropic works and promotion of caring human services to, yes, the pillars of financial success in this country. There are Jews on both the right and the left side of politics. George Soros supports President Obama and Sheldon Adelson supports Mr. Gingrich. Both men are philanthropic and both express support for Israel – yet with different views on Israel policy.
When the Jewish label is used for a campaign pitch, as it was in Florida this week, it not only cheapens the value of the true Jewish contribution to the country, but borders on leveling an old anti-Semitic charge: frugality.
One of the oldest stereotypes of Jews is that they are cheap, despite the fact that Jews have been and remain some of the biggest charitable donors around the world and that political candidates often seek and generate campaign funds through Jewish channels and supporters.
There are still places in this country where the stereotype resonates, and when Mr. Gingrich makes what became a national issue, out of whether Jewish senior citizens want kosher meals subsidized by the government or not-only lends credence to this myth. The reality of Mr. Romney’s decision on the 2003 legislative vote in Massachusetts is much less significant than the fact that it was raised this week in the first place.
Mr. Gigrich’s campaign robo-call also invoked the unthinkable: the Holocaust. The recording claimed that, “Holocaust survivors, for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher.”
So, not only are Jews so consumed with cheap meals, but the heart strings were tugged as the memory of the Holocaust was raised to coincide with the United Nation’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. The memory of the worst human catastrophe to befall the Jewish people was used as a contemptible campaign plug- aimed at a group who were not even likely to vote in this primary, as well as in a race he knew he was not going to win.
Is that the way the collective Jewish community wants to be called on for public service? Are the social, human, legal, governmental and financial contributions made by Jews to the country and to individual political parties, since the forming of the union, so marginal that the community can be easily trivialized and its populations be taken in vain as it was?
On matters that deal with foreign policies, fiscal issues (here in the US), and social matters that come before legislatures and judiciary branches, Jewish opinions and activism have impacted much of what the United States stands for - to the world and to their fellow Americans. To be remanded to shameful actions that make Jews seem almost clownish, should bring the community together on this issue - no matter what side of the aisle one chooses to stand.
Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency, 5W Public Relations and a Cutting Edge News contributor