With Cantor departure, Republicans have no Jews in Congress

Shocking primary loss of House Majority Leader leads to panic in Washington on immigration reform, and awe from across the Jewish political spectrum.

Eric Cantor (photo credit: REUTERS)
Eric Cantor
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Eric Cantor of Virginia, majority leader in the House of Representatives and the sole Jewish Republican in all of Congress, lost his interparty primary on Tuesday to a far-right Tea Party opponent, shocking Washington and the entire Jewish political spectrum.
The loss came as a surprise to the political establishment of which Cantor, 51, was undeniably a part: within the party leadership, leading national strategy for the GOP and traveling across the country to rally for funding and support.
Those efforts were often aimed at the party’s Jewish voters, who are left without a sole representative in Congress – much less its only leadership member.
That means that out of 233 representatives and 45 senators in the GOP, not a single one will be Jewish once Cantor makes his exit.
Focused mostly on its domestic political implications, few US media outlets have mentioned that Cantor’s departure leaves Republicans without a federal representative from the tribe. Even the Republican Jewish Coalition, the lobbying group aimed at promoting Jewish Republicans and providing a conservative voice for Jewish Americans, failed to mention that aspect of their loss in its official statement.
Instead, RJC executive director Matt Brooks thanked Cantor for his service and said they were “proud to have worked with Eric Cantor for the last 14 years.”
“He has been a hardworking representative of his district and a trusted leader in the House,” Brooks said.
“Eric has been an important pro-Israel voice in the House and a leader on security issues, including Iran sanctions. We deeply appreciate his efforts to keep our country secure and to support our allies around the world.”
The RJC did not return a request for further comment, but the National Jewish Democratic Coalition focused solely on the lack of a Jewish voice for the Republican Party in Congress.
“We invite those who feel unrepresented by the Republican Party to join us in supporting the 33 Jewish senators and members of the House who proudly serve as in Congress,” NJDC said in their statement.
Steve Rabinowitz, a former senior official in the Clinton administration now working on rallying the Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary campaign, said the loss was bipartisan and “not good news” for the community in Washington.
“As a partisan Democrat, I can’t say I’m not a bit amused, but as a Jewish communal professional, I think it’s a big loss,” Rabinowitz said. “Cantor has been very close to and very good for the community. We need more Eric Cantors in Congress – from both parties and in both houses.”
Dylan Williams, J Street’s director of government affairs, said that Cantor’s departure is proof that the Republican Party may never be able to attract Jews.
“Every year there’s this trope that ‘this is the year Jewish Americans will finally abandon their progressive sensibilities and the Democratic Party,’” Williams told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s never true. The super majority of American Jews are going to remain progressive well into the future if not indefinitely.”
Cantor’s departure, he said, is indicative of this.
“Cantor has been the lead or co-lead on many resolutions that express support for Israel, but jeopardize the Jewish and democratic future by undercutting efforts for a two-state solution.
“This will present opportunity for both parties to embrace changing dynamic, not just on the Israeli-Palestinian [issue], but on other issues like Iran’s nuclear program,” he added.
A former staffer for Republican Olympia Snowe, Williams said that this should be a matter of concern for the Republican Party.
“For any party to have a declining degree of diversity shows that at some level they need to look at their policies and ask why they’re becoming less representative of the type of community they want to represent.”
"Nathan Diament, the executive director for public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America said Cantor is “a friend and [has] been a critical partner” for the Orthodox community for both Israeli and Jewish American issues.
Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center released a similar laudatory comment, addressing Cantor's hard work on Israel during his time in office. United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism did not comment."
Washington pundits chalked up the 56 to 44 percent loss to little- known David Brat, a college economics professor, to local district attitudes on immigration reform.
Brat accused him of supporting “amnesty” for immigrants who entered the US illegally after Cantor backed compromising efforts to push immigration reform through the House.
Last year, the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a network of 26 nongovernmental organizations, suggested Cantor remember his Lithuanian heritage before blocking progress on immigration, an issue that has largely united establishment leadership of both parties, but has infuriated the Republican base.
“My family’s story, like so many, began when my grandparents fled anti-Semitic persecution in Russia to come to America,” Cantor has said.
House Republicans widely acknowledge that Cantor would have likely succeeded Representative John Boehner of Ohio as speaker of the House.