This is the perfect time to do a little conjecturing about what might await the Jewish community as the new year gets under way. Such conjecture seems particularly appropriate in the political arena, given the critical issues Washington must face.
One significant development has been analyzed in a JTA article published on the cover: When the new Congress convenes later this month, several solidly pro-Israel lawmakers will not be present. Some of them decided to retire while others were defeated in recent races.
“Gone from the House of Representatives,” writes reporter Ron Kampeas, “will be veteran Jewish Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the committee’s Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee; and Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), a point person on funding Israel’s missile defense efforts.”
In the Senate, longtime Jewish stalwart Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), will also no longer hold sway. The only observant member of Congress, Lieberman decided to call it quits after a long, illustrious and sometimes controversial career.
The departures, as the article makes clear, represent the end of a concentrated form of pro-Israel “brainpower.”
The losses will be felt among their colleagues, many of whom turned to them as knowledgeable sources who could provide guidance on complex issues concerning the Middle East.
Berman is considered to be the most crucial loss, given his committee ranking. Among his achievements, he was critical in brokering the deal that gained overwhelming congressional backing for more severe sanctions against Iran in 2010.
But the loss overall has a more troublesome downside, reflecting a possible change in attitude toward Israel. Younger Democrats, as longtime Jewish pundit Douglas Bloomfield has noted, do not come so naturally to side with Israel as did the older generation of lawmakers.
The new Congress will soon be faced with crucial matters that must be tackled, including the fiscal cliff, which Washington once again managed to kick down the road this week. Many of the tax-and-spending issues could have severe implications for the Jewish community. In addition, time is fast running out on addressing the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Even if there’s a minor shift in congressional sympathy away from Israel, committed Jews will need to redouble their energies to educate lawmakers and remain vigilant on issues of import to the Jewish state. And this is just one of many concerns as the new year begins.