Virginia TV journalists killed in on-air shooting; suspect shoots himself


Two television journalists were shot and killed in Virginia on Wednesday morning while conducting a live interview, and authorities said the suspect appeared to be a disgruntled current or former employee of the TV station.

Police pursued the suspect and in the late morning, an ABC local affiliate and CNN reported the suspected shooter had shot himself, but it was not known if he was dead or alive. The suspect was identified as Vester Flanagan, 41, according to a dispatcher for the Augusta County, Virginia, Sheriff's Department.

After the shooting of the journalists, someone claiming to have filmed it posted video online that appeared to be from shooter's vantage point.

The videos were posted to a Twitter account and on Facebook but were removed shortly afterward. One video clearly showed a handgun as the person filming approached the woman reporter.

The shooting occurred at about 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT) during an interview being broadcast live from Bridgewater Plaza, a Smith Mountain Lake recreation site with restaurants, shops, boating and arcades and holiday rentals.

The area is in the south-central part of the state, about 120 miles (190 km) from the capital of Richmond.

The journalists were filming an interview for the morning news show of CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia. In the broadcast, shots were heard and the reporter and the person being interviewed screamed and ducked for cover.

The reporter Alison Parker, 24, and the cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, died in the incident, WDBJ7 said. The woman being interviewed was wounded.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said in interview on Washington radio station WTOP that the suspected shooter had been identified as a disgruntled current or former station employee.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office has taken the lead on apprehending the suspect, with help from state police and others, McAuliffe told WTOP.

“Heartbroken over senseless murders today in Smith Mountain Lake,” McAuliffe said on Twitter.

Asked on CNN if the station had been targeted or had been threatened, WDBJ7 President and General Manager Jeff Marks said, “Every now and then you get a crazy email or something and we'll look into it. Nothing of this nature than any of us could recall.”

He said the interview was to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Smith Mountain Lake, and the woman being interviewed was from the local chamber of commerce. She had been talking about the anniversary and tourism.

“We don't make a secret of where we report from, we may start now,” Marks said.

There was no word yet from the hospital on the condition of the woman, identified as Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The station's broadcast showed Parker interviewing Gardner about the lake and tourism development in the area. Gunshots erupted, and as Ward fell his camera hit the ground but kept running. An image caught on camera showed what appeared to be a man in dark clothing facing the camera with a weapon in his right hand.

The station said on its website that both the dead journalists were from the region.

Parker grew up in Martinsville and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University, while Ward graduated from Salem High School and Virginia Tech, the station said.

They were both engaged to be married to other people.

Suspect in Virginia TV shooting had history of workplace issues


The suspected gunman in the shooting deaths of two television journalists in Virginia on Wednesday was a veteran anchorman with a history of workplace grievances who had previously sued a Florida station alleging discrimination because he was black.

While authorities said they had not determined a motive, perceived racism appeared to be a factor in the shootings, according to recent postings the suspect is believed to have made on social media and a fax that ABC News said the suspect sent.

Vester Flanagan, 41, who went on the air under the name Bryce Williams, was a former employee of WDBJ7 in Virginia, where both of the slain journalists worked. The journalists, who were both white, were killed during a live television broadcast earlier this morning.

Posts on a Twitter feed by a man identifying himself as Bryce Williams, Flanagan's on-air name, accused one of the victims of “racist comments,” and noted that a complaint had been filed with a government agency that enforces discrimination claims.

In a 23-page fax ABC News said was sent two hours after the shooting, he cited as his tipping point the racially motivated shooting that killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this summer.

Saying he had suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work, Flanagan described himself as “a human powder keg,” the network said.

Flanagan aired similar grievances in a 2000 lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court against a Florida station, WTWC-TV in Tallahassee. In that suit, he said a producer had called him a “monkey,” and he accused a supervisor of calling black people lazy for not taking advantage of college scholarship opportunities.

The Florida case was settled and dismissed the next year, court records show.

One of his former Florida colleagues remembered Flanagan as “quirky,” but said he never displayed behavior suggesting he would be capable of such a violent crime.

“He had his idiosyncrasies, a little quirky sometimes,” said Michael Walker, the weekend producer at the Tallahassee station when Flanagan was working as a weekend anchor. “It probably wasn't any different than any other on-air personality.”

Walker, who is also black, noted that he had not experienced discrimination at the station.

Flanagan, who accused the station of terminating his contract because he had filed a report of racism with a state agency, said in the lawsuit he suffered emotional distress and financial losses as a result of his treatment at the station.

The NBC affiliate, which stopped broadcasting newscasts in late 2000, said at the time of the lawsuit that his contract was not renewed due to “corporate belt-tightening,” according to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat at that time.

Representatives from the station could not immediately be reached for comment.

Flanagan's 20-year career in journalism included stints at local news stations in San Francisco; Savannah, Georgia; and Midland, Texas, according to his LinkedIn profile. It said he also worked briefly outside of journalism as a customer service representative.

He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1995 with a degree in radio and television, the school confirmed.

According to a Facebook page believed to belong to the suspect, he was originally from Oakland, California, but most recently living in Roanoke, Virginia, where WDBJ7 broadcasts.

There, he gained a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with because of his anger, station manager Jeff Marks said during a live broadcast.

“Vester was an unhappy man,” Marks said, adding that he had to be escorted out of the building by police after he was terminated from the station in 2013.

“He did not take that well,” he added.

CNN invites all but one Republican presidential hopeful to next debates


All but one of the 17 Republicans vying for the party's presidential nomination have made the cut so far for the next candidates' debates hosted by CNN, the network said on Tuesday in a decision that could leave former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore on the sidelines.

CNN and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which is co-hosting the Sept. 16 debates, said invitations have been sent by former first lady Nancy Reagan to 16 candidates who meet their criteria. All but Gilmore “have qualified thus far and have received invitations,” they said in a statement.

Earlier this year CNN said candidates must meet certain criteria, including an average of 1 percent of support in three recent national polls. The network's latest poll showed Gilmore at the bottom of the pack with less than 1 percent.

“Additional candidates will receive invitations if they meet all of the previously released debate criteria.” CNN and the library said.

Like last week's Republican presidential debates hosted by Fox News, the CNN event will actually be two debates – dividing the crowded Republican field into two groups, with one featuring the top 10 candidates.

Although nearly all of the candidates made the cut for the CNN event, it is unclear how the field will look a month from now when CNN and the library determine how to split the group based on their standing as of Sept. 10.

The Republican Party has 17 people vying to be their party's nominee in the November 2016 presidential election.

Gilmore, who was governor of Virginia from 1998-2002 and previously made a brief run for the presidency in 2008, also has until Sept. 10 to try to boost his recognition among voters to make the cut.

A spokesman for Gilmore noted in a statement that he was the last Republican to enter the race officially and said his campaign anticipates that he will be able to meet CNN's criteria to be invited to the debate, although he gave no specifics.

Cantor’s loss leaves Jewish Republicans bereft


Eric Cantor’s defeat in one constituency, Virginia’s 7th Congressional district, triggered mourning among another: Republican Jews.

Since 2009, Rep. Cantor (R-Va.) has been the only Jewish Republican in Congress. After the 2010 GOP takeover of the House, he became the majority leader. He is the highest-ranking Jew in congressional history.

But the meteoric rise of Cantor, 51, came to a screeching halt on Tuesday when he was trounced in a Republican primary in his Richmond-area district by a poorly financed Tea Party challenger, Dave Brat, an economics professor.

“Obviously, we came up short,” Cantor told his stunned followers in a Richmond hotel ballroom. “Serving as the Seventh District congressman and having the privilege of being majority leader has been one of the highest honors of my life.”

The 55 percent to 44 percent defeat was a shock to Cantor and especially to Republican Jews for whom Cantor was a standard bearer.

“We’re all processing it,” said Matt Brooks, the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He was an invaluable leader, he was so integral to the promotion of, to congressional support of the pro-Israel agenda. It is a colossal defeat not just for Republicans, but for the entire Jewish community.”

Cantor as also a natural ally for socially conservative Orthodox Jews who have sometimes been at odds with the Obama administration on religion-state issues.

In a statement, Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, called Cantor “a friend and been a critical partner for the advocacy work of the Orthodox Jewish community on issues ranging from Israel’s security and the security of Jewish institutions in the United States, to religious liberty to educational reform, and opportunity to defending the needs of the nonprofit sector.”

Cantor was elected to Congress in 2000, when he was 37, after having served nine years in the Virginia legislature. From the start, he made clear he had three bedrocks: his faith, his state and his conservatism.

His first floor speech, on Jan. 31 2001, was in favor of making the Capitol Rotunda available for Holocaust commemoration, and in two minutes, he wove together the importance of Holocaust education, a nod to two Virginia founding fathers and an embrace of the foreign policy interventionism that would guide the George W. Bush administration.

“The remembrance of this dark chapter in human history serves as a reminder of what can happen when the fundamental tenets of democracy are discarded by dictatorial regimes,” a hesitant and nervous Cantor said.

“While we in the United States, the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, have experienced years of peace and prosperity, we must not forget that genocide and human rights abuses continue to occur elsewhere around the world,” he continued. “As the leader of the free world, the United States must use its power and influence to bring stability to the world and educate people around the globe about the horrors of the Holocaust to ensure that it must never happen again.”

Cantor’s popularity in his district, his ability to garner supporters in the Republican caucus and his fundraising prowess soon caught the eye of Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who in 2003 was set to become House majority whip. Blunt named Cantor his chief deputy, a stunning rise for a congressional sophomore who had not yet reached 40.

Cantor’s Jewish involvement deepened as his days grew busier; raised in a Conservative Jewish home, he started to keep kosher and to take private classes with Orthodox rabbis. The three children of Cantor and his wife, Diana, whom he met at Columbia University, were active in Jewish youth movements.

Confidants say his commitment to Israel intensified after a cousin, Daniel Cantor Wulz, was killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

For Jewish leaders, Cantor was a critical address within the Republican Party for the Jewish community’s domestic agenda, said William Daroff, Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“When there was a need for a heavy lift for much of our Jewish federation agenda we could count on being able to call Eric and have him help us get to the finish line,” Daroff said.

Cantor at first seemed to be riding the Tea Party wave. During the 2010 midterm elections, he joined with Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), calling themselves the party’s “Young Guns,”  in setting up a political action committee that championed younger conservatives in a party that the three had said had become to moderate and complacent.

In a book co-written by the three at the time, Cantor welcomed the Tea Party wave.

“They saw that the powers in charge here are ignorant of what the people want and frankly arrogant about it,” Cantor said in the book, referring to the protests against President Obama’s health care plan that had sparked the Tea Party movement.

In the book, he once again rooted his conservatism in the South and in his faith.

“I pray on Saturday with a Southern accent and Paul and Kevin go to church on Sunday and talk to God without dropping their ‘G’s,” referring to his colleagues.

At the time, Cantor seemed to think he could harness the Tea Party insurgency.

“Tea Party individuals are focused on three things: One, limited, constitutional government; two, cutting spending, and three, a return to free markets,” he told JTA in an October 2010 interview, on the eve of the midterm elections. “Most Americans are about that, and the American Jewish community is like that.”

As majority leader, Cantor stayed to the right of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), and many believed he would soon challenge Boehner to become the first Jewish House speaker.

Cantor and President Obama have not had a good relationship. Cantor, notably, has not attended a single Jewish event at the White House during Obama’s two terms, although he has been invited to all of them.

Until two weeks into the October 2013 government shutdown Cantor resisted agreeing to a deal, and he conceded only when it became clear that the shutdown was damaging Republican electoral prospects.

Heeding a Republican establishment that believed the Tea Party had gotten out of hand, Cantor more recently tilted toward the center, championing job creation programs, criticizing foreign policy isolationists within the GOP and expressing a willingness to consider elements of the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill, although until now he has resisted bringing it to the House floor.

That tilt and, according to some local news reports, a perception that Cantor was not sufficiently invested in his district helped contribute to Cantor’s defeat. Brat especially focused on criticizing Cantor’s tentative embrace of a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors.

Hadar Susskind, the director of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that is a leader on immigration reform, said that it was bizarre to accuse Cantor of being overly accommodating on immigration.

“He has been the single largest obstruction in the effort to reform our immigration laws, so those efforts lose nothing with his defeat,” Susskind told JTA.

Democrats immediately seized on Cantor’s loss as evidence that the GOP is becoming increasingly extreme.

“When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common sense legislation to grow the middle class, can’t earn the Republican nomination, it’s clear the GOP has redefined ‘far right’,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in a statement.

Steve Rabinowitz, a publicist who represents Jewish groups as well as liberal and Democratic causes, said he was conflicted about Cantor’s departure. On the one hand, he couldn’t help but be amused that Cantor’s flirtation with the Tea Party came back to haunt him. On the other, Rabinowitz suggested that Cantor’s defeat was a minus for the Jewish community.

“Wearing my mainstream Jewish skullcap its clear the community needs people like Eric Cantor,” he said. “This is a loss for the Jewish community. I have my disagreements with him, but he’s been there for the community.”

Congressional races: Republican Jewish hopefuls defeated, new faces for House Dems


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is no closer to having a minyan. The majority leader will remain the sole Jewish member of his party’s caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a generally rough night for Republicans, the party's top Jewish congressional prospects all went down to defeat to Democrats.

In Ohio, state Treasurer Josh Mandel, a former Marine, failed to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown. In Hawaii, former Gov. Linda Lingle lost in her Senate bid to Rep. Mazie Hirono.

On New York’s Long Island, businessman Randy Altschuler — seen as the best shot at adding a second Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives — was fended off by Rep. Tim Bishop, who had narrowly beaten Altschuler two years earlier. In a South Florida race pitting two Jewish candidates, Adam Hasner, the former majority leader in the state Senate, was defeated in his congressional bid by Lois Frankel, the former mayor of West Palm Beach.

Jewish Democrats, meanwhile, had cause to celebrate beyond President Obama’s victory.

The House Democratic caucus will feature some new Jewish faces: In Florida, aside from Frankel's victory, former congressman Alan Grayson — a fiery liberal who had been unseated in the Republican electoral surge in 2010 — won a return ticket to Capitol Hill with his victory in an Orlando-area district. In suburban Chicago, Democratic business consultant and Jewish community activist Brad Schneider unseated first-term Rep. Robert Dold, a Republican. In Southern California, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal took a congressional seat spanning parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

In Rhode Island, first-term Rep. David Cicilline, a Jewish Democrat, held on to his seat. His re-election effort had struggled after embarrassing revelations about severe budget problems in Providence, where he previously had served as mayor.

Some Jewish Democrats, however, came up short. In a closely watched Senate race in Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley failed in her effort to unseat the Republican incumbent, Dean Heller. Berkley, an outspoken supporter of Israel who has had a long-running feud with Las Vegas casino tycoon and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, will leave Congress after 14 years in the House.

Rep. Howard Berman, a 30-year veteran of the House, lost a bitter redistricting-fueled, intraparty battle to fellow Jewish incumbent Rep. Brad Sherman. The campaign pitted two pro-Israel Democrats against each other in the San Fernando Valley congressional district with an intensity so ferocious that it became physical: Sherman briefly grabbed Berman at a debate.

While Berman enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in endorsements from congressional colleagues, leading elected officials and Hollywood machers, he did not fare well in the redrawn district, most of which had been represented by Sherman. Berman garnered only 39.5 percent of the vote to Sherman’s 60.5 percent. Berman’s influential position as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is now up for grabs, and Sherman has said he would vie for it.

In New Jersey, several Jewish candidates challenging congressional incumbents went down to defeat. Democrat Shelley Adler lost her bid to unseat Republican Jon Runyan, a former pro football player who had captured the seat from her Adler's husband, now deceased, in 2010. Democrat Adam Gussen, the deputy mayor of Teaneck, lost his long-shot challenge to Rep. Scott Garrett.

Media personality and Republican candidate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach lost to veteran incumbent Rep. Bill Pascrell by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Pascrell had defeated fellow incumbent Rep. Steve Rothman in a redistricting-induced Democratic primary.

The next Congress will have 10 Jews serving in the Senate and 22 members of the House — a decline from the 12 Jews elected to the Senate and 27 elected to the House in 2010.

Retiring lawmakers include Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), and Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Bob Filner (D-Calif.), who held a narrow lead in his race for mayor of San Diego.

See the list of other Jewish winners here.

Last pushes for Jewish votes in Ohio, other swing states stir emotions


The family wedding. The entrance to the local synagogue. The future of Israel. Your precious grandchild.

In the final days of what has been a close and bitterly contested election, it’s not so much that nothing is sacred in the fight for the Jewish vote. It’s that little that is sacred has not been put to use.

Efforts to pick up Jewish votes in states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia have stressed themes of Jewish vulnerability and of threatened Jewish values. Jewish voters said at times they were taken aback by the tone.

Ruth Sudilovsky-Pecha said she gasped when she read an open letter in the latest edition of the Cleveland Jewish News in which Josh Mandel, the Republican vying to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), was excoriated by some of his wife's cousins.

In the letter, nine members of the Ratner family, a prominent Ohio clan that made its fortune in real estate, recalled their happiness when Mandel, the Ohio treasurer and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, married into their family. But they noted their dismay over his opposition to same-sex marriage and allowing openly gay people to serve in the military. They cited a family member who married a same-sex spouse and also served in the military.

“This family is sprawling and diverse, but it has always believed strongly in the values of equality and inclusiveness,” said the letter, which appeared as a full-page ad in the paper. “Your discriminatory stance violates these core values of our family.”

“I was like, ‘whoa,' ” Sudilovsky-Pecha, 48, a social worker who lives in Solon, a suburb of Cleveland, said after leafing through the paper, the last before the election. “I may agree with them, but you’ve got to wonder what Shabbos dinner and Pesach is like.”

The family feud permeated the pages of the Jewish weekly and reflected the intensity of the election debate. In more full-page ads, two other Ratners, real estate magnate Ron and his wife, Susan, endorsed Brown and President Obama, while on a later page, two more Ratners and a dozen Mandels joined several hundred Ohio Jews in endorsing Mandel.

Another ad taken out in the paper by the Defend Israel Movement, which gave its address as a post office box in Israel, likened Obama to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Hitler.

Such rancor was largely absent from a Nov. 1 debate organized by the Orthodox Union at Green Road Synagogue, an Orthodox shul in this affluent Cleveland suburb of 12,000. But the caliber of the speakers reflected the importance attached to Ohio by the campaigns: Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, acting in a personal capacity, argued for Obama, while Tevi Troy, a former deputy secretary of health and human services, made the case for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whom he now advises.

The surrogates adamantly disagreed on a number of topics. Troy said that Obama sought to “create daylight” between the United States and Israel, while Lew said the president had defended Israel to a degree that few predecessors had and imposed tough sanctions on Iran.

Lew also faulted the Romney campaign for pledging to reduce the deficit without offering specifics.

Troy countered that Obama pursued a “unipartisan” strategy in advancing his own fiscal reforms, preferring to ignore Republican advice and contributions. Lew, in the single instance he raised his voice, vehemently denied the point.

Troy and Lew, however, reserved much of their passion for their wrap-ups, when each spoke of the joys of being an Orthodox Jew serving in a senior government position.

“I enjoyed their personal experiences as Orthodox Jews, their commitment to their work,” said Rebecca Miller, a retiree who attended with her daughter. “It made me proud.”

Outside, as the audience members headed into the night, the intensity returned. A Democrat argued with a few Jewish Republicans who had gathered earlier near the entrance carrying an “Obama, Oy Vey” banner over whether Romney would roll back abortion rights.

Holly Litwin, a teacher at the Conservative movement-affiliated Gross Schechter Day School who attended the debate, said she was exhausted by weeks of robocalls, campaign mailings and postings throughout her suburban Cleveland neighborhood.

“I’m shocked by the personal attacks on the integrity of individuals,” said Litwin, of Shaker Heights, who recently moved to Ohio from Oregon, a solidly Democratic state that is not subject to such intensive campaigning.

Litwin was mailed a DVD, “Dreams From My Real Father,” which presents a conspiracy theory alleging that Obama has covered up his true origins as the illegitimate son of a black American communist.

“I had a visceral reaction,” she said. “I took it as if it was contaminated and deposited it in the recycling.”

Stanley Stone, a textile business retiree, said he also has been subject to a stream of fliers and phone calls from Republicans and Democrats in recent months.

Saying that Obama “inherited a lot of problems,” Stone said he wasn't buying Republican claims that the president's strategies had failed to revive the economy.

Fred Taub, a Cleveland Heights resident who writes and speaks against boycott and divestment efforts targeting Israel, said he was supporting Romney.

“Two reasons — the economy and Israel, he said. “I can’t afford Obama, and he's snubbed Israel too many times.”

But Taub also said that his Republican Jewish friends were weary of the material targeting Jewish voters.

“I don’t look anymore, you get sick of hearing the complaints from both sides — and I think most people have decided,” he said.

Sudilovsky-Pecha said that Republican ads had raised questions in her mind about Obama.

“I'm not a hundred percent convinced Obama's as strong a supporter of Israel as I would like him to be, but he's not as weak a supporter as Republicans paint him,” said Sudilovksy-Pecha, who has family in Israel. “But as a social worker, I can’t imagine living in country led by Romney with his ‘47 percent.’ ”

She was referring to a secretly recorded fundraiser appearance in which Romney dismissed Obama’s voting base as the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income tax and, he claimed, are dependent on the government. The Obama campaign has bombarded swing states with ads featuring the remarks, for which Romney has expressed regret.

A September survey of 238 Jewish registered voters in Ohio by the American Jewish Committee found 64 percent saying they would vote for Obama, 29 percent supporting Romney and 7 percent undecided.

Ohio isn’t the only battleground state where Jewish votes are being sought aggressively.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a political action committee that has been criticizing the president and other Democrats on Israel since 2010, has been doing robocalls in Wisconsin, Ohio and Virginia.

The first round of ECI’s calls spliced together disparate statements by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — some of them made years apart — and presented them as a “debate” between the two leaders, thus suggesting that they disagree on the need to confront Iran’s nuclear program.

But the Obama statements were not about the nuclear issue, and the statement excerpted from Netanyahu was taken out of context from a speech in which he praised Obama’s commitment on the issue. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist called the robocall “an Orwellian descent into falsehoods and misrepresentation.”

A second ECI robocall, also using spliced quotes to create a “debate,” focused on differences between Netanyahu and Obama over Israeli settlements and building in eastern Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, in the week before Election Day, Jewish Democrats and Republicans both made their final pushes.

In a National Jewish Democratic Council video, Barbra Streisand emphasized what she predicted would be a rollback of women’s rights under Romney.  “Mitt Romney does not share our values, I know Barack Obama does,” she said.

The Jewish Council for Education and Research — the pro-Obama political action committee behind a series of popular and profanity-laced pro-Obama videos featuring celebrities such as Sarah Silverman and Samuel Jackson — released a G-rated musical video, “Call your Zayde,” urging young Jews to phone their grandparents in swing states and tell them to vote for the president.

The Obama campaign released a video of Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor, explaining his support for the president’s reelection. Koch and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz both wrote separate Op-Eds making the case for Obama’s reelection, defending his commitment to Israel and touting his positions on domestic policy issues. Footage of Koch and Dershowitz criticizing or questioning the president’s Middle East approach previously had been featured in anti-Obama videos.

The Republican Jewish Coalition released a video, which the group is running as a TV ad in Florida, featuring Bryna Franklin, a former chairwoman of Democrats Abroad-Israel, assailing the president’s record on Israel and the economy. With Jerusalem’s Old City in the background, Franklin urges American Jews to “switch sides and vote for Mitt Romney for president.”

A Jew tours for Mitt Romney


I spent last week speaking to thousands of Romney supporters in four “battleground” states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Virginia. I traveled with my Salem Radio Network colleagues Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved and the actor Jon Voight, one of the few Hollywood stars who is a politically outspoken conservative.

I thought I would share some of what transpired, as it should be of particular to interest to a Jewish readership.

During the tour, I wished frequently that all American Jews could have seen and heard what was said about Jews and Israel and how much time was devoted to Jews and Israel. Voight and Hewitt and whoever was the non-Jewish moderator of the evening emphasized support for Israel and the Jews — in combating Islamic anti-Semitism, in acknowledging the American and the Western world’s debt to the Jews, and in regard to the Jewish origins of Christianity — as much as they did any American domestic issue, including the economy.

Moreover, the audiences, overwhelmingly composed of non-Jews, reacted in kind. They cheered at least as enthusiastically when Jews and Israel were mentioned as they did regarding any other issue dear to conservative hearts, such as small government, lower taxes, oil independence, a strong military, preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, etc.

I wondered what most Jews — i.e., Jewish liberals — would think had they seen this. Would they think it was phony? That it was done to procure Jewish votes? That Democratic Party rallies would similarly focus on support for Jews and Israel? 

I pondered these three possibilities. 

Surely a Jewish liberal could not have dismissed the time and attention paid to Jews and Israel as inauthentic. What would be the purpose? If people put on an act, there has to be a reason for doing so. But there was no reason for doing so. Virtually everyone present at each of the rallies was a fellow Republican. One doesn’t act among like-minded people. When you’re with 1,500 other people who share your politics and your values, you are at your most authentic.

Well, then, was it done to procure Jewish votes? That is as implausible as the first explanation. There were few Jews present, and every one of them was already on board as a conservative and as a Republican.

And what about explanation No. 3 — that the same passionate support of Jews and Israel would be expressed by the speakers and audience at Democrat Party rallies?

This, too, is equally implausible.

Indeed, we all had one opportunity to see how Democrats feel about Israel when we observed the Democratic delegates at the Democratic National Convention split down the middle when voting on whether to include mention of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the Democratic Party platform. 

But even without that spectacle, it takes an immense amount of self-deception to believe that the left is as passionately supportive of Israel and the Jewish people as is the American right.

Outside of the Muslim world, virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives. The most pro-Israel world leader today is Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada: He is a conservative and a religious Christian. And the world leader most involved in activities to counter the Islamic and leftist worlds’ efforts to delegitimize Israel is the former prime minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, another conservative. Aznar founded the Friends of Israel Initiative, an international effort to “counter the attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to live in peace within safe and defensible borders.”

The Initiative is open only to non-Jewish members. Aznar believes that if Jews were allowed to join his group, it would not be nearly as effective in its activities, so he has restricted membership to non-Jews only. Among the other founding members of his pro-Israel initiative is former United States ambassador to the United Nations — John Bolton, another conservative.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that 15 leaders of various Protestant churches called on Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel. The lopsided anti-Israel letter so upset Jewish leaders, including liberal ones, that “the Jewish leaders responded to the action as a momentous betrayal and announced their withdrawal from a regularly scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting. … The Jewish leaders called the letter by the Christian groups ‘a step too far’ and an indication of ‘the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations.’ ”

The churches were all liberal-left ones.

Meanwhile Evangelical and other conservative Christians regularly gather to honor Israel and the Jewish people in their churches.

At each of the rallies, Voight read a powerful statement he had written celebrating Israel and the Jewish people. No press, no cameras, no one to persuade. He just wanted to emote about his love for Jews and Israel before fellow Republicans and conservatives. In each case they gave him a standing ovation.

Is there a single other Academy Award-winning actor or actress reading love letters to Israel to non-Jews? Is there a single Democratic rally of mostly non-Jews where such support for Israel and the Jews is expressed?

I will end this column as I did my last:

None of this will matter to most American Jews. 


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Presidential candidates’ Jewish surrogates debate in Virginia


Prominent Jewish surrogates for President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney tackled domestic issues and foreign affairs during a cordial debate in Northern Virginia.

Former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), representing Obama, faced off against Dov Zakheim, an under secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, on issues such as Israel, national security, jobs and women’s issues.

The approximately 150 audience members at the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center Wednesday night appeared evenly divided in their support of the two candidates. At one point, many in the audience broke into applause when Zakheim criticized Obama for not having visited Israel as president.

“Why hasn’t he visited it in three-and-a-quarter years? I just don’t get it,” Zakheim said.

Wexler countered that it was rare for U.S. presidents to travel to Israel during their first terms, noting that while George W. Bush visited Israel twice, both trips took place in the last year of his second term.

Throughout the evening, Wexler portrayed Obama as a strong supporter of Israel who continually provides that country with weapons and financial assistance and is there when Israel needs help. He specifically noted Obama’s efforts to stop the Palestinian Authority from unilaterally declaring statehood and his call to the Egyptian government when the Israeli Embassy was being stormed by rioters.

But Zakheim countered that Israel needed an American president who would chart a different course in the Middle East.

“You’ve got to think of the whole Middle East, not just Israel,” he said, noting that if elected, Romney’s approach would be peace through strength.

“You can’t have credibility unless you are strong, and Mr. Romney knows that,” his surrogate said.

The two surrogates spelled out the different positions of their candidates on many issues. Romney would arm the Syrian rebels and set the same red line as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, Zakheim said.

On social issues, Wexler noted Obama's support for abortion rights, same-sex marriage and a more liberal approach to immigration.

Zakheim replied that Romney would be more focused on creating jobs than dealing with social issues.

“I agree the economy is the No. 1 issue on most people’s minds. I am not sure Roe v. Wade is,” Zakheim said. “Roe v. Wade is not going to solve the deficit problem.”

Zakheim said that it was time to stop blaming the Bush administration for the state of the economy and instead to work to stimulate job growth.

Wexler defined Obama’s position on budget issues as a balanced approach in which there are “reductions and income enhancements.”

The two surrogates differed on the defense budget, with Zakheim saying, “I don’t think defense should be held hostage to anything.” Wexler countered that cuts were needed to help balance the budget.

The event was sponsored by The Israel Project and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Virginia is considered a key swing state.

Super Tuesday election results by state


Georgia –

Gingrich

Gingrich wins Republican primary in Georgia, TV networks project

Newt Gingrich won the Republican presidential primary in his home state of Georgia, TV networks projected on Tuesday, giving the former congressman his second victory of the primary season.

Gingrich, who spent much of the last week campaigning on his home turf, last won a victory in January in South Carolina. Georgia has the biggest number of delegates of the states holding nominating contests on Super Tuesday and Gingrich had said he had to win the state to keep his campaign viable.

Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Vicki Allen


Idaho – Romney

Romney projected winner in Idaho

Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential caucuses in Idaho on Tuesday, Fox News projected.

With 12 percent reporting, former Massachusetts governor Romney had 78 percent support, to 11 percent for Texas Congressman Ron Paul, his closest competitor.

Reporting By Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu


Massachusetts – Romney

Romney projected winner in Massachusetts, CNN

Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday in Massachusetts, the state where he was governor, CNN and Fox projected, easily defeating Rick Santorum, his closest rival.

Reporting By Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu


North Dakota – Santorum

Santorum projected winner of North Dakota caucuses

Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, won the Republican presidential caucuses in North Dakota on Tuesday, CNN projected.

Congressman Ron Paul of Texas was in second place and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was in third with 78 percent of the votes counted, CNN said.

Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was in fourth place.

Reporting By Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Vicki Allen


Ohio – Mitt Romney

TV Networks: Romney beats Santorum to win Ohio Republican primary

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney scored a narrow victory over Rick Santorum to win the Republican presidential primary in Ohio, television networks projected.

Romney, who had trailed Santorum in the state for most of the night, was 12,000 votes ahead with 96 percent of the vote counted. He was declared winner in five races so far on Super Tuesday. Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Vicki Allen


Oklahoma – Santorum

Rick Santorum wins Oklahoma Republican Presidential primary, Fox News projects

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum won the Republican presidential primary in Oklahoma on Tuesday, Fox News projected shortly after polls closed.

It was the first victory of the night for Santorum, a staunch conservative who has been trying to establish himself as the conservative alternative to the more moderate front-runner Mitt Romney. Ten states are voting in nominating contests on Super Tuesday.

Reporting by Deborah Charles and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Vicki Allen


Tennessee – Santorum

TV Projections: Santorum wins in Tennessee primary

Rick Santorum won the Republican presidential primary in Tennessee on Tuesday, U.S. television’s NBC and CNN networks projected, defeating rival Mitt Romney.

Reporting By Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Vicki Allen


Vermont – Romney

Romney wins Republican primary in Vermont

Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary in Vermont, beating out Rick Santorum and Ron Paul – his closest rivals in the state, Fox news projected on Tuesday

Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, was declared the winner about 30 minutes after the polls closed. It was the second win of th night for Romney, who is hoping for a good showing in many of the 10 states voting in primary elections and caucuses on Super Tuesday.

Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Vicki Allen


Virginia – Romney

Romney projected winner in Virginia, TV networks

Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary in Virginia on Tuesday, MSNBC and Fox projected, easily defeating Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only other contender on the ballot.

Reporting By Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Romney and Santorum in stalemate on Super Tuesday


Mitt Romney failed to land a knockout blow against rival Rick Santorum on “Super Tuesday,” raising the prospect of a drawn-out battle for the Republican presidential nomination between the party’s establishment and its grassroots conservatives.

Santorum and Romney were neck-and-neck in Ohio, the biggest prize of the 10 state contests held on Tuesday.

Romney won liberal-leaning Massachusetts and Vermont and cruised to victory in Virginia, where Santorum was not on the ballot.

Santorum scored convincing wins in conservative Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia, while results from Idaho and Alaska were expected in the coming hours. More than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination are at stake.

All eyes were on Ohio, a traditional bellwether state that could play an important role in deciding the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama on Nov. 6.

With 85 percent of the vote counted, Santorum and Romney were tied with 37 percent of the vote each. A Romney aide predicted victory and said votes from their strongholds had not been counted yet.

Exit polls showed that Ohio voters viewed Romney as more likely to defeat Obama, but thought Santorum was more sympathetic to average Americans’ concerns. Santorum won more support among middle-income voters who make up the bulk of the electorate.

“I think Santorum is believable, wholesome. When he talks, his ideas are genuine. I don’t put any stock in Romney,” said Lonnie Vestal, 36, a pastor from Mason, Ohio.

STRUGGLE TO CONNECT

Romney, who built a fortune of at least $200 million as a private-equity executive, has struggled to connect with conservatives and blue-collar voters. A convincing win in Ohio would have put many of those doubts to rest, but a loss could point to an extended, state-by-state battle.

Romney looked likely to extend his lead among delegates even if he does not win Ohio, as Santorum’s thinly staffed campaign failed to qualify for delegates in several swaths of Ohio. Under new rules designed to lengthen the nominating battle, most states at this stage of the process award delegates on a proportional basis.

“We’re counting up the delegates for the convention and it looks good,” Romney told supporters in his home state of Massachusetts.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, has won support of religious conservatives thanks to his opposition to gay marriage and his views on other hot-button social issues. His controversial comments about birth control and the role of religion have alienated moderate-leaning voters, and Romney has pelted him with negative ads.

“We’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel full of silver medals,” he told supporters. “We’ve won in the West, the Midwest in the South and we’re going to win across this country.”

Gingrich’s strategy of focusing on southern states did not pay off in Tennessee and Oklahoma, but he vowed to stay in the race after his Georgia win.

“There are lots of bunny rabbits to run through, I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time,” Gingrich said.

Ron Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas known for his libertarian views, hopes to score his first win in Alaska.

In recent presidential campaigns, the Super Tuesday wave of primaries and caucuses has often settled the Republican race. But this year’s race is likely to stretch until April or May – or possibly until the last contest on June 26 – under new rules designed to attract more voters and boost enthusiasm.

But recent polls indicate the lengthy primary season may actually be alienating voters. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Tuesday showed that more voters view the candidates negatively than positively. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Monday found that 40 percent of voters view the Republican Party less favorably than they did before voting started in January.

Additional reporting by Sam Youngman in Massachusetts, Lily Kuo and Emily Stephenson in Washington and Colleen Jenkins in Atlanta; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen

5.9 magnitude earthquake rattles U.S. East Coast, no deaths reported


A strong earthquake struck the U.S. East Coast and was felt as far away as Canada on Tuesday, shaking buildings in many cities, delaying flights and trains and sending thousands of frightened workers into the streets.

There were no reports of major damage or injuries from the 5.9 magnitude quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said was centered in Mineral, Virginia, at a very shallow depth of 0.6 mile (1 km).

The Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol were briefly evacuated in Washington, and thousands of panicked office workers scurried into the streets up and down the East Coast as the lunchtime quake sent items crashing to the floor from store and office shelves.

“We were rocking,” said Larry Beach, who works at the U.S Agency for International Development in downtown Washington, 83 miles (133 km) from the quake’s epicenter. “It was definitely significant.”

Earthquakes of magnitude 5.5 to 6 can cause damage to buildings and other structures, especially if shallow. The U.S. East Coast does not normally feel quakes of this strength.

The shallower a quake is, the more intense it is felt on the surface, and the potential for damage is greater.

Amtrak reduced speed between Washington and Baltimore, track crews inspected East Coast stations and rails for damage and warned passengers to expect delays.

Two nuclear reactors at a power plant in Virginia went off line, while traffic lights were knocked out throughout Washington.

Three pinnacles in the central tower of the Washington National Cathedral, the highest building in the city, broke off in the quake, a spokesman said.

Chandeliers swayed in the U.S. Capitol and the floor of the U.S. Senate shook before staff headed for the doors. The U.S. Congress is in recess.

“I thought at first somebody was shaking my chair and then I thought maybe it was a bomb,” said Senate aide Wendy Oscarson-Kirchner.

Phone service was disrupted throughout the region as network congestion prevented Cellphone users from making calls. A Verizon Wireless spokesman said there were no reports of damage to its network but congestion disrupted service for about 20 minutes after the quake.

NEW YORK PANIC

In New York, the tremors prompted evacuations of courthouses, City Hall and halted work at the World Trade Center construction site.

Control towers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey were also evacuated, and flights were grounded briefly in Washington, Philadelphia and New York while authorities inspected control towers and runways.

Fire department and police officials in Dutchess County, north of New York City, reported structural damage to some buildings.

“We’re getting a lot of calls on buildings shaking but there’s no report of any structural damage at this time. Just panicked people calling about buildings shaking,” a spokesman for the New York City Fire Department said.

Buildings in Boston were evacuated, while the quake was felt as far away as Toronto.

Some people who experienced the swaying at their offices in Boston said they felt their stomachs turn.

“I thought I was dizzy and I needed to drink more water,” said Heather Kennaway, a manager at Sportello, a local restaurant, who was unaware of the earthquake.

The earthquake was felt in Martha’s Vineyard, where President Barack Obama was playing golf on his summer vacation at the time. It was unclear if Obama felt the tremor.

The quake was the largest in Virginia since 1897.

Vacationers at the Hamptons, the upscale resort on eastern Long Island, felt the earth shake. Many grabbed their cell phones to make calls, while several began asking aloud whether a tsunami—a huge wave created by an underwater quake—was headed their way.

Jews shaken by strong East Coast earthquake


Jewish centers and synagogues were evacuated as a result of the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that was felt throughout the East Coast, the Forward reports.

Staffers at synagogues in Washington D.C. and Richmond, Va., the city closest to the epicenter, tried to calm one another’s jittered nerves as they checked their buildings for structural damage.

“It felt like a herd of elephants was running back and forth while someone was jackhammering the building,” said Shoshana Danon, an administrator at Kesher Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue 14 blocks from the White House. “I’m going around to make sure the Sefer Torahs didn’t get damaged.”

At Adas Israel, the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, Executive Director Glenn Easton ordered the building evacuated after the quake ended. A lunch for seniors was stopped midway, and 100 people filed out of the building.

No one had yet arrived for a bris scheduled for later in the afternoon. “Fortunately, the bris hadn’t started yet,” said Easton. “That would not have been a good combination. We hope there aren’t any aftershocks,” he added.

Read more at forward.com.

 

Worker employed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s wife is arrested


Israeli police arrested a foreign worker accused of being employed illegally by Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s wife.

The Filipina, known as Virginia, was arrested Sunday in Tel Aviv in a joint raid with the Oz immigration unit, Haaretz reported.

Barak’s wife, Nili Priel, admitted last week that she had illegally employed a foreign worker a year after it was revealed that the woman worked as a housekeeper in the Barak-Priel household.

The woman had been employed legally in Israel as a caretaker, but remained cleaning houses after her license expired, according to reports.

Priel made her confession after the case was closed for lack of evidence. The case was reopened recently by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein shortly before the worker was arrested. She was located by a reporter for Israel Radio.

Priel’s request that she be levied a fine in order to end the case was rejected. A full investigation is now in the offing.

McCain campaign checks out sole Jewish Republican Congressman as possible VP


WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor bridges two unlikely constituencies, say those hoping to see the Virginia Republican on John McCain’s presidential ticket: Jews and hard-core, red state conservatives.

Pressed, however, these Cantor devotees admit there’s not much between those two constituencies that the Jewish deputy minority whip in the House of Representatives would bring to the race to keep the White House Republican.

“There’s a positive and negative to not being a household name,” said William Daroff, the top Jewish lobbyist here focused on domestic issues and himself a former Republican operative.

“The positive is that it gives him the opportunity to frame anew who he is and what he’s all about, a vision for the future. The negative is that other than helping him in Virginia and in some battleground states because of his Jewishness, he doesn’t have a proven national brand,” said Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the federations’ umbrella, the United Jewish Communities.

The campaign for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has asked Cantor, 45, to present papers for vice-presidential vetting. Political insiders say Cantor is still a longshot, however. Most bets are on McCain’s rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and on Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Cantor and his staff declined to be interviewed for this article. But even as recently as May, the only Jewish Republican in the House discounted suggestions that he would place on the ticket, giggling as he told JTA that such speculation was “ridiculous.”

Even the Republican Jewish Coalition, Cantor’s biggest booster, seemed skeptical that Cantor would be the VP pick, issuing a statement that sounded a lot like the “we were happy to just be considered” speeches delivered by also-rans.

“Regardless of what McCain decides, Cantor has a very bright future ahead of him,” said Suzanne Kurtz, the RJC spokeswoman. “He is an appealing and articulate leader for Jewish Republicans and all Republicans. As the GOP continues to make inroads in the Jewish community, it is a wonderful moment to introduce this rising star to a wider audience.”

Don’t count out Cantor or underestimate the impact he could make in the presidential election, said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who as minority whip functions as Cantor’s congressional boss.

Blunt said Cantor could tip the balance among Jews who are concerned about the pro-Israel credentials of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

“At a time when many Jewish voters who voted Democratic in the past are going to look carefully between John McCain and Barack Obama on Middle East and economic issues, Eric Cantor can add a real boost to what I already believe will be a significant hard look by Jewish voters at John McCain,” Blunt told JTA.

The McCain campaign has worked hard to draw distinctions between the two candidates on Iran particularly. Obama favors increased diplomacy, while McCain leans toward confrontation and isolation.

Polls already show McCain reducing the 75 percent to 25 percent edge Democrats have had in past presidential races among Jews to a 60-40 split favoring Democrats. That, Blunt said, could bring swing states with significant Jewish populations into play, including Florida and New Jersey.

Cantor already has served as an attack dog on Jewish issues for the McCain campaign.

He told JTA in May that he was confident that McCain, with his reputation as a foreign policy hawk and a moderate on social issues, would take a bite out of the Jewish vote.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the American Jewish community is going to register an unprecedented number of votes for the Republicans and Mr. McCain,” Cantor said, suggesting specifically that Jewish voters will balk at Obama’s pledge of direct talks with Iran.

In a statement sent to reporters, Cantor misquoted Obama as telling the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel was a “constant sore” in the Middle East. In fact, Obama was referring to the conflict, enunciating a view echoed by Bush administration officials, including the president himself.

Goldberg asked Cantor to retract the statement; Cantor has not.

That’s not atypical for the deputy whip, often the chief strategist in formulating political attacks. In 2006, Cantor launched a broadside against U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the minority leader, for her efforts to include consideration of Lebanese civilians in a pro-Israel resolution on the Israel-Hezbollah war that summer.

Cantor painted Pelosi as insufficiently concerned about Israeli civilians, even though the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had approved her language.

Cantor has a personal story that could prove attractive to Jews and conservatives. He’s always been close to his family, and apart from college years spent in New York — where he met his wife, Diana — has spent his life in Richmond working in the family real estate business.

He made his first run for Congress in 2000 after serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. His family has deep ties in the local Jewish community; his mother and wife are active in the local Hadassah chapter.

Cantor’s rise in Congress was meteoric. In 2003, during his sophomore term, he was named to the powerful deputy whip position.

One blip along the way: He benefited from the largesse of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, taking more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from an operation eventually exposed for defrauding American Indians.

In 2006, after Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption charges, Cantor gave $10,000 of the money to charity. In 2003, Cantor was briefly caught up in “picklegate,” when his campaign neglected to pay Abramoff’s kosher deli, Stacks, for a fund-raiser.

Cantor apologized, paid the $1,700 and was not sanctioned.

Those close to him credit his prodigious fund-raising skills for his rapid rise in Congress.

“Congressman Cantor has an excellent relationship with Jews who are engaged in campaign finance activities whether as Republican Jewish Coalition leaders, AIPAC leaders or as Jewish federation stalwarts,” Daroff said.

That would help McCain, who is not a natural fund-raiser.

Cantor’s deeply held conservative convictions also would help a presidential candidate who has made conservatives nervous because of his maverick tendencies.

Democrats say that those same views — Cantor’s tough advocacy of right-to-life positions, of Bush administration secrecy policies and of pro-gun laws — could ultimately harm him among Jews when those views come to light.

“Eric Cantor is out of step with the values and views of the vast majority of the American Jewish community,” said Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Whether the issue is separation of church and state, women’s reproductive rights, stem cell research, health care or the environment, Eric Cantor votes wrong.”

Forman said the novelty of a Jewish Republican on the ticket would soon wear off.

“Hardly anyone outside the political elites in the Jewish community knows who Eric Cantor is,” he said. “The more people know about him the less they’ll like him.”

That’s true only if one expects a Republican to leave his convictions behind, said Brad Wine, a lawyer who is a fund-raiser for Cantor and heads the RJC’s Washington-area chapter. Wine said Cantor’s views on abortion stem from his Jewish observance.

“It’s true we’re not proportionately divided on the issue,” Wine said, referring to the Jewish tendency to favor pro-choice positions, “but it’s something we can disagree about based on Jewish learning.”

Cantor also gently presses fellow Republicans on issues where they diverge from the Jewish community, said Ron Halber, the executive director of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Council.

Halber said Cantor’s backing was critical to advancing Iran divestment legislation among his former Republican colleagues in the Virginian House. The state’s Republicans, still smarting from losing a fight over divestment from South Africa in the 1980s, believe that legislative mandates to divest state pensions amount to unwarranted political interference.

“Eric was involved quietly trying to persuade people,” Halber said. “His quiet diplomacy helped move it forward.”

Daroff said Cantor has been an effective representative of Jewish concerns to the Republican caucus. Cantor, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, helped resist efforts to limit tax exemptions for nonprofits, Daroff said, citing an issue of importance to the Jewish community.

Blunt affirmed that Cantor was the go-to man for the Republican leadership when it came to Jewish issues.

“The fact that Eric’s the only Jewish Republican member of the House creates an entry for the community,” he said.

Everyone’s Jewish — until proven otherwise


Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as
a Jew.
 
An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign, and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.
 
Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel.
 
For Allen, as he quipped to me, it’s the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.
 
Krauthammer’s Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise.
 
I’ve had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.
 
A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia’s leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos.
 
For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer’s Law works because when I say “everyone,” I don’t mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if “everyone” means anyone that you’ve heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.
 
There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for myriad other “everyones” — the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.
 
But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement — an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other, more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment.
 
Look at the Albright case. Her distinguished father was Jewish, if tenuously so, until the Nazi invasion. He fled Czechoslovakia and, shortly thereafter, converted. Over the centuries, suffering — most especially, the Holocaust — has proved too much for many Jews. Many survivors simply resigned their commission.
 
For some, the break was defiant and theological: A God who could permit the Holocaust — ineffable be His reasons — had so breached the covenant that it was now forfeit. They were bound no longer to Him or His faith.
 
For others, the considerations were far more secular and practical. Why subject one’s children to the fear and suffering, the stigmatization and marginalization, the prospect of being hunted until death that being Jewish had brought to an entire civilization in Europe?
 
In fact, that was precisely the reason Etty Lumbroso, Allen’s mother, concealed her identity.
 
Brought up as a Jew in French Tunisia during World War II, she saw her father, Felix, imprisoned in a concentration camp. Coming to America was her one great chance to leave that forever behind, for her and for her future children. She married George Allen Sr., apparently never telling her husband’s family, her own children or anyone else of her Jewishness.
 
Such was Etty’s choice. Multiply the story in its thousand variations and you have Kerry and Clinton, Albright and Allen, a world of people with a whispered past. Allen’s mother tried desperately to bury it forever.
 
In response to published rumors, she finally confessed the truth to him, adding heartbreakingly, “Now you don’t love me anymore” — and then swore him to secrecy.
 

Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. This article is reprinted with permission from the author. You can reach the author at letters@charleskrauthammer.com

Songs of the South


It appears Fox TV’s “American Idol” has a Jewish contestant heading to the finals. Twenty-seven-year-old Elliott Yamin from Virginia, auditioned for the pop star search and singing competition in Boston, and has gone on to make it into the top 24, and then, on March 9, into the top 12.

With eliminations weekly, it’s still open how much farther Yamin will go. As of press time, he remains in the game, however eliminations now take place weekly on Wednesdays, with the public voting by telephone Tuesday evenings to determine who moves on to the next round.

If commentary by judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell are any indication, Yamin should continue to do well. Their remarks have been almost unanimously favorable, and even notoriously harsh Cowell strongly praised Yamin in two out of three recent performances. After Yamin’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” Cowell went so far as to tell him, “I think potentially you are the best male vocalist we’ve ever had.”

Yamin has never had any formal vocal training, but keeping up on American Idol isn’t the first hurdle he’s faced in his life. The young singer is open about his struggle with juvenile diabetes, for which he wears an insulin pump. He also recently revealed on the air that he is 90 percent deaf in one ear.

Regardless of the final outcome, however, Yamin said in an interview on the show’s Web site he feels “a total sense of pride and accomplishment” for making it this far.