Antisemitism is on the rise in the United States. We have now had, in the space of six months, two horrific shootings in which Jews were gunned down while praying in their synagogues.
What are our elected officials doing in response?
In the case of Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose congressional district reportedly has the highest concentration of Jews and Jewish institutions in America, the answer may be found in a bizarre and unbelievably disappointing incident this week.
The organization I run, the World Values Network (WVN), has its headquarters in Nadler’s district in Manhattan.
We hold prayer services and classes, discussions and debates, lectures and counseling, and we have a tremendous number of people on social media following our events. The Israeli and American flags fly over the doorway.
We host at our headquarters high-profile dignitaries such as the administration’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt; former Trump spokesman Sean Spicer; Israel’s ambassadors to the UN, the US and New York: Danny Danon, Ron Dermer and Dani Dayan – and senators like Ted Cruz, governors like Chris Christie, journalists like Bret Stephens, humanitarians like Elisha Wiesel, and philanthropists like Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.
I do not expect any special treatment.
All Jews and institutions deserve and need protection. The threat to my family of nine children and the WVN is not hypothetical.
I have received ISIS death threats on Twitter, and other ominous warnings that have been investigated by the New York Police Department, which have been widely reported in the media.
Unfortunately, I recognize that in the current environment, this is the price of being in the public eye and fighting antisemitism and defamation of Israel. It is the price one pays as a ferocious critic of the barbarity of Iran, or the Qatari campaign to convince prominent American Jews to lobby on its behalf to whitewash Qatar’s role in funding Hamas and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Our high profile, full-page newspaper ads defending Israel and condemning antisemites like Ilhan Omar invite vicious response. My columns condemning the Qatar whitewash, in fact, provoked the Gulf autocrats to allegedly hack my emails (and those of my wife), according to information uncovered in a lawsuit brought against Qatar as reported by The New York Times and Bloomberg.
Given the heightened threat, Jews being murdered in shuls, and Jews being demonized on social media, wouldn’t you expect our representatives in government to reach out to their Jewish constituents to find out if they have been threatened and inquire what they can do to help? And given his huge constituency, wouldn’t you expect Rep. Nadler to be the first to do so?
He did not reach out to me. Worse, he has yet to return my phone calls, and a member of his staff was singularly unhelpful when we sought the congressman’s help.
AS IT turns out, the government has a program to provide funding for security, but you have to know it exists and apply for support before the deadline. Again, you would expect your representative to inform you about this opportunity while we are facing the growing menace of violent antisemitism and Jews being murdered on American soil.
We learned of the program at the eleventh hour, in the wake of the horrific Poway Chabad shul murder, and called Nadler’s office for guidance in how to apply. This is a basic matter of serving a constituent, the raison d’etre for electing a member of Congress.
I was a vocal critic of Nadler for betraying the security interests of Israel and the Jewish people by voting for the catastrophic nuclear agreement with Iran.
That deal gave the mullah terrorists $150 billion and the legitimacy to build nuclear bombs in about a decade. Former president Obama had purposely courted Nadler knowing he could use him to argue that even a Jewish supporter of Israel like Nadler agreed with him.
Even so, when a few months later on Rosh Hashanah I saw Nadler sitting on a bench next to the Hudson River while thousands of religious Jews did Tashlich – to cast away their sins on the High Holy Days – I sat next to him and showed him the greatest respect, even as many who walked by expressed their open contempt and disdain.
I defended him sharply, demanding the respect due an elected official and fellow Jew, even as a crowd gathered around the two of us as we later respectfully discussed the Iran deal in front of everyone.
Fast forward to last week. My assistant calls Nadler’s office to say I urgently wanted to speak to him about the security grant and the importance of security at our headquarters. Nadler did not call me back. One of his staff members did, and we traded phone calls until I reached him the next day, only to discover that we had missed the deadline by a day.
I was in shock.
Nadler’s office had spoken to us the very day of the grant deadline. They did not tell us to quickly send in the final application as the deadline was the same day. Did they even know? Did they even care?
I strongly protested to Nadler’s staffer.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the deadline? Why didn’t Nadler himself call me back?”
WHAT FOLLOWED was a farce, the kind of exchange that turns people off to politics. The staff haughtily told me that surely I saw Nadler on CNN the day before “making sure the country is controlled by the rule of law,” which I assume was a reference to one of Nadler’s hearings against Trump on the Mueller report.
I responded that as important as Nadler going after Trump is, surely Jews being murdered in their pews in America is just as important. At the very least, why didn’t he – the staffer assigned to deal with constituent matters – tell us of the deadline?
“What? You expect me to know of every government program?” he said. Why not quiz me on grants from the departments of Education and Transportation?
I shot back, “Are you kidding me? I’m not calling you about the government’s ethanol subsidies. I’m calling about synagogue shootings. You are a public servant in a district with more synagogues in it than any other in America. Are you seriously telling me that no one in your office even knows about this program, or knows the deadlines, or even made an effort to reach out to Jewish organizations to apply? “
He confessed that he had no clue about a deadline, and defended his right to be ignorant as to the particulars of the security grant.
I understand that Nadler’s gavel as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is a big deal to him.
But what can be inferred from this bizarre exchange with Nadler’s office is that the congressman is so focused on his campaign against Trump that he is neglecting the people who put him in office at their time of greatest need. It is shocking that his office is not focused on the antisemitic threats we are facing.
Jews are dying in America! We shouldn’t have to call him. And if we do call him, he has to help.
Even if Nadler cannot personally pick up the phone and call organizations or synagogues in his district, he’s got a huge staff to do so. That’s why taxpayers fund his staff. How much effort would it have required to send out a blast email, for example, to every synagogue and Jewish institution in his district to let them know they should take advantage of the opportunity to apply for government assistance to protect their worshipers?
And this isn’t about politics. Contrast Nadler’s contemptible behavior with that of the Democratic congressman in the New Jersey district where my home is. When I contacted Bill Pascrell, he immediately called me back personally within the hour, and his chief of staff offered his personal guidance on applying for the security grant.
Pascrell had a far better personal reason to be uncooperative with me than Nadler. In 2012, I had actually run against Pascrell for the House seat he holds.
We both conducted a fiery campaign and had take-no-prisoner public debates. But all this was immaterial when it came to serving me as his constituent on such an important matter relating to the safety of my family and our community. Pascrell immediately put aside politics for Jewish security.
God forbid an attack should occur in Nadler’s district that could have been prevented by obtaining funds for enhanced security. Will he tell the victims he was too busy with his crusade against the president to make sure they were adequately protected?
It is not too late for him to do his job. He can now reach out to the constituents he has ignored and make sure they may still apply for government security assistance, and that those who missed deadlines by mere hours, due to his office’s ignorance or negligence, can still apply.
Their lives may depend on it.
The writer is the international bestselling author of 32 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. He served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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