Editor’s Notebook: Israel’s Cameo in GOP Debate

Editor’s Notebook: Israel’s Cameo in GOP Debate

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

I missed the Republican presidential debate Wednesday, Sept. 16, because I was covering the screening of the documentary “Rosenwald” at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema (see my review on Page 20).

So imagine my surprise when I hit Twitter to catch some of the instant reviews, only to find many of the Jewish journalists and analysts I follow responding not to the debate itself, but to this tweet from conservative commentator Ann Coulter:

“How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

Those dashes in the f-word are Coulter’s, not mine, because, as Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg tweeted, she didn’t want to offend anyone.

Rosenberg wasn’t the only person who responded with a good dose of humor. “Roughly six million” was the straight-faced response from the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, for example. Someone else went much deeper and tried to estimate how many American Jews were actually engaged in the act Coulter used as a derogatory adjective and came up with a number around 4,300.

Predictably, Coulter’s tweet also inspired plenty of anti-Semitic venom because that’s the Internet; if you care to sample the hatred, search “#IStandWithAnn” on Twitter.

Coulter, who separates herself from much of Fox News’ blond brigade by intentionally stirring up outrage and claims it’s a compliment that she ultimately wants to convert all Jews into perfected Christians, predictably cited her staunch support for Israel and explained her tweet as part of a series criticizing candidates’ pandering to supporters instead of addressing real issues.

The tweet immediately before “f—ing Jews”: “Cruz, Huckabee Rubio all mentioned ISRAEL in their response to: ‘What will AMERICA look like after you are president.’ ”

My New Year’s resolution is to resist spreading lashon hara, so I don’t want to make this about Coulter. But as one of the 6 million Americans supposedly being pandered to, I was excited to hear what the candidates had said that set her off.

Unfortunately, her Twitter rant was misleading. Jake Tapper asked each candidate to explain how the world, not America, would look different at the end of his or her presidency.

Yes, four of the 11 candidates mentioned Israel by name, but Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did so in the context of vowing to improve relations with all allies. Rubio also mentioned Japan and South Korea — a smart move in the realm of pandering because the United States has 2½ times as many Asian-Americans as Jews. Chris Christie was talking about Iran when he referenced Israel, promising not to negotiate with people who chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

Coulter tweeted that Huckabee seemed to be running for prime minister of Israel, but he didn’t offer much of platform for such a run. He promised that no one would bully the United States or threaten Israel or any of our other allies.

The only bit of pro-Israel pandering, surely targeting Southern evangelical Christians more than Jews, came from Cruz, who promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem if he’s elected. That’s a standard campaign promise from both sides of the political aisle, but no president is likely to fulfill it without a final Israeli-Palestinian resolution because diplomacy is part of the job.

The most meaningful Jewish reference in the debate finale came from Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He didn’t mention Israel but referred to one line on his state’s Holocaust memorial: “If you’ve saved one life, you’ve changed the world.” Sure, it’s a line he has used before, including in his campaign announcement in July, and he got the Talmudic quote on the memorial wrong. The actual line: “If you save one life, it is as if you saved the world.”

But in a political environment in which every candidate is going to express strong support for Israel, as the current White House resident does, I’m more interested in a person’s character and encouraged by anyone inspired by the wisdom of our ancestors.

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