By Kenneth Kowald
When Robert Turner won a special election for Congress last year, the political pundits all said it was due to the ultra Orthodox Jewish voters in Brooklyn. Turner lost Queens, but won handily among those folk. This despite the fact that he was running against a Modern Orthodox Jew and Turner is Roman Catholic.
The reason for this outpouring of votes in our sister borough was based, the pundits told us, on who was better able to send a message to Barack Obama about being more pro-Israel. Ed Koch supported Turner, although he said after the election that he would vote for Obama. Does he contradict himself? Very well, he contradicts himself. He is large. He contains multitudes.
But all of this set me to wondering. What is it that Turner said or did that made him a favorite over David Weprin on the matter of Israel? Was there a secret promise made in the privacy of a clergyman’s home? If so, what was it? Israel, as has been known apparently for many years, has atomic bombs, so that couldn’t be it.
Turner will be leaving politics, for now, at the end of the year, and the ultra vote may return to its more traditional ways, voting Democratic as its leaders tell their followers to do — or else. They want no white sheep in that crew.
But let’s see. The U.S. sends $1.3 billion a year to Israel. This aid has been a mainstay of our foreign policy since Israel became a nation and every president has been a consistent supporter of Israel, including the current occupant of the White House, as the Israeli minister of defense acknowledged strongly recently.
Over the years aid has exceeded a trillion dollars. Well worth it, of course, to sustain the only democracy in that part of the world. Recently, we did something of a computer hacking job on Iranian nuclear efforts, with the full cooperation of Israel. So it is clear to anyone who wants to deal in facts instead of fantasy that this country and Israel act in concert on many important matters and will continue to do so.
Is the supposed concern about Barack that he has not visited Israel while president? You know who didn’t during their times as president? Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush. That’s quite a list of presidential no-shows. Shrub visited Israel during his second term. But all of them, like Obama, strongly supported Israel, visit or no.
Might there be hope for Barack, should he survive? After all, like Willard, he went to Israel when he was getting ready to run for president. In the old days, of course, candidates went to Ireland, Italy and Israel, but that’s another story and maybe it only applied to New York.
Does a visit constitute working with Israel? Clearly not. What does? Submission to the latest fluctuations of Israeli government policy? Putting the interests of Israel before the interests of this country? Ignoring problems Israel may have, including problems about which we might comment if the same things were done by another ally? I am sure that readers can come up with lists of things they don’t like about some of our allies, or presumed allies.
Should Israel be immune to criticism of any kind? We’ll deal with that later.
All of these topics have floated into my mind as a consequence of Turner’s victory and his imminent departure from the political scene.
They have led me to explore the ultra Orthodox situation a bit more closely than I had. As a result, that research has led me to be concerned about child abuse, not only in that community, but in many other aspects of our national life. Beyond that, it has led me to think about athletics in universities. I always subscribed to the theory that sport was just that, and shouldn’t be big business on a campus. That is so old hat, isn’t it?
In any event, it shows what Turner has done for me and I will share may thoughts in future blogs, so, if you are so inclined, you can decide to pass over that stuff.
Mr. Turner is returning to retirement, I believe, although, who knows, he may go into some form of show business, where he was successful. After all, he gave Rush Limbaugh a boost in his early days. How can we thank him for that? I leave that to you, dear reader.
And, Mr. Turner may turn to the song business. You may remember, he went outside his district recently to protest that a current song, considered too adult, was not going to be used in a kindergarten (yes, kindergarten!) ceremony in Brooklyn. I note that he did not ask for the National Anthem (which so many cannot sing or remember the words to), or “America” or “God Bless America.” But, as I said above, I am old-fashioned.
While he is at it, he might remember some comments by Dwight D. Eisenhower, when that hero of World War II was president of Columbia University, starting in the spring of 1948. Some months earlier, the University’s Marxist Study Group had invited the legislative director of the American Communist Party to speak in Pupin Hall on campus. A member of the Pupin family objected. Ike wrote, in part, to that person:
“I deem it not only unobjectionable but very wise to allow opposing systems to be presented by their proponents. Indeed, I believe that arbitrary refusal to allow students — especially upon their own request — to hear the apostles of these false systems would create in their minds a justified suspicion that we ourselves fear a real comparison between democracy and dictatorship.”
Someday — and maybe it’s beginning to happen now — historians of every political stripe may take another look at this farm boy and give him his due. As a group, Republicans seem unable to speak his name these days. That goes, as well, for Theodore Roosevelt. And, comments about Reagan are rare as they are for George H.W. Bush. Of course, no one dares mention the Shrub.
So much for political fame.
Thanks to Mr. Turner’s election and some of his actions, he has allowed this flack to meditate on many things and you will be the recipient of those meditations, if you care to join me.