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By Rhonda J Spivak, November 15,2009

One of the most awkward moments at the General Assembly of  Jewish Federations of North America in Washington was when  the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. Congress, Eric Cantor finished speaking at the opening session on November 9.

About half of the 3500 delegates gave him a standing ovation, while the other half stayed in their seats.  There were also those who weren’t sure whether they ought to stand or sit, and looked around as if to get some sign of what to do.

This was the only time, where there was a clear division in the crowd.  After Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at the GA, everyone stood. After White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel spoke, everyone stood. After the head of the Jewish Agency, Nathan Sharansky spoke, everyone stood.  But, for Eric Cantor, it was different.

I began to wonder why exactly? 

In his speech, Cantor looked back at the history of the Holocaust and asked  the crowd,  at what point, in retrospect, “did we lose the chance to save the [six million] souls?...  After the Versailles Treaty? In 1936?...”

Cantor concluded that “what we learn from the Holocaust” is that “when a man with a gun says he’s going to kill you, believe him.”

He said "Many men are pointing guns at Israel, indeed at Jews, everywhere," but "too many Jews have become desensitized" and believe "it can't happen to us.”
Cantor listed a number of developments that concerned him, such as the biased Goldstone report, the Scandinavian newspaper article that accused Israel of harvesting human organs earlier this year, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's alliance with Iran. He asked again, “at what point is it too late?”

“When we allow ourselves to be lulled into silence when political correctness beckons, it may be too late," he said.

He referred to holding dialogue with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and asked , “Haven’t we been down this road before?...When we dally and threaten and wring our hands but fail to do anything to really stop  Ahmadinejad, where are we then?

"Referring to the anti-Semetism in Venezuela, he asked,“Why are we silent?”

Cantor said the Jewish community must speak out louder against threats to Israel and the Jewish people.
He challenged the Jewish community to "remove the blinders from our eyes."

He added that in Israel’s “tough neighborhood”, that “strength is required.”

Cantor also said that "the case I press before you is not a Jewish cause or an Israeli issue, but challenges to America.”  He added that “Israel's security is synonymous with our own…People who point guns at her, will next point guns at us.”

He noted that in Europe “leaders of the Palestinian Authority are gaining support for declaring Palestinian statehood unilaterally, even without recognizing the existence of Israel.”

"I await your leadership before it is too late," Cantor concluded.

Maybe,  some in the crowd didn’t give Cantor a standing ovation because  they perceived  that he was  being critical of  American Jewish leadership for not being vigilant enough in pressing Israel’s case or  in calling for tougher sanctions on Iran.  No one likes to be told they have “blinders on their eyes,” or that under their watch, it may be becoming “too late.”

Or maybe, many in the crowd, who voted for and support American President Obama, didn’t like the apparent criticism Cantor made of Obama,  by wondering  whether in “dialoguing” with Iran, Obama will miss the window of opportunity to take necessary tougher measures ( i.e. crippling sanctions, military action??).
There is no doubt that Cantor’s speech was hard hitting. Maybe too hard hitting for some.

And yet, I can’t help but think that if Netanyahu had delivered that exact same speech, everyone in the room would have given him a standing ovation. That leads me to think, that in America, among Jews who have been Democrats for generations, it is simply inconceivable to give a Republican in the opposition-even one who is Jewish-a standing ovation. But that kind of myopia may not be in the best interests of the Jewish people. The pursuit of democracy and freedom, and the need to protect  Jews from anti-Semitism everywhere,  which were so  integral to Cantor’s remarks, are values which ought to be  non-partisan.



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.