Eric Cantor ‘worried’ over situation in Egypt

US House majority leader sympathizes with Israelis over housing costs; Cantor set to lead delegation visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Eric Cantor with PM Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Eric Cantor with PM Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Over the next month, 81 Republican and Democrat lawmakers – almost 20 percent of the House of Representatives – will visit Israel.
Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from Virginia, who will lead one of the trips organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday why so many congressmen have added the Jewish state to their itineraries at a time when US domestic issues seem to take precedence over foreign affairs.
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“I do think it’s reflective of a commitment on both sides of the aisle that Israel continues to be a pillar in our national security strategy and is the only reliable democratic ally that we have in a very, very tough region,” he said. “I think members who have not been there before go and continue to go to understand the complexities that Israel faces and frankly, the importance of the US-Israel relationship.”
During the trip, Cantor and his delegation are scheduled to meet separately with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The latter has continually reiterated his intention to ask for UN recognition of Palestinian independence in September, something that Cantor alongside the US government and Israel strongly oppose.
“The message we will take to Ramallah is one that the US Congress in a bipartisan way stands strong with our ally Israel,” Cantor said. “We do not support or condone the effort by the Palestinian Authority to seek recognition of a state unilaterally, and we support security.”
The visit by the lawmakers also comes at a time of tremendous instability in the region as a whole. Besides the usual worry in Western capitals and Jerusalem over Iran’s nuclear program, large swaths of Syria are in open revolt against the government of Bashar Assad while Egypt is set to hold its first ever open elections.
Cantor said he was “very worried” about the situation in Egypt, where some speculate anti-Western factions might win a significant part of the vote.
“Obviously the force of the Muslim Brotherhood is very concerning,” he said. “It’s an organization which seems to be very much tilted toward doing all kinds of things that would threaten US interests and Israeli interests and the interests of freedom overall.”
On Syria, Cantor was cautious. He did not want to predict what would happen if Assad were ousted and whether his replacement would be better or worse. Instead, he said the best US approach in the region would be “minimizing the influence of Iran and [hoping] that regime would help promote freedom.”
The recent housing protests in Israel have not escaped the eye of the Jewish lawmaker from Virginia. While he said he couldn’t comment on domestic Israeli policy, Cantor offered sympathy to the Israeli people and drew a comparison with the housing crisis in the US.
“We are still reeling from a horrific housing crisis in this country from two years ago,” he said. “The price of housing for Americans is very depressed and Americans are still wondering when their homes will go back to a value that exceeds that of their mortgage, so there’s a little different situation but nonetheless a hardship experience shared by the people of both countries.”
Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in Congress. Raised in Conservative Judaism, he now attends an Orthodox synagogue in his hometown of Richmond. Two of his daughters recently participated in Birthright, he said, and he hoped his son would also go when he is older.
Being the only Jew in a party where the voice of the Christian Right is growing increasingly louder can raise questions. For instance, last week Texas Gov. Rick Perry held a mass prayer just before announcing his intention to seek the Republican ticket for the presidential race, a rally that some critics say blurred the separation of church and state.
Asked if he felt non-Christians would feel alienated by such rallies, Cantor chose not to comment directly but instead emphasized the US Constitution’s protection of freedom of worship.
“We in America believe that you have the ability to practice your faith. There is no state entity or governmental entity that will stop that ability to practice your faith, and that’s been the constitutional protection afforded to American citizens, and that’s why it’s so unique for us as American Jews to be able to freely practice, unlike anywhere else in the world save for the State of Israel.”
Cantor cited his own election to the senior position of house majority leader as proof that equal opportunity existed in the US regardless of one’s creed.
“Being a religious minority in this country and being a minority faith within the Republican Party is a fact of life for me and has always been, but I’ll tell you with my election of majority leader in January I don’t think being Jewish has been any kind of detriment.”