Former Los Angeles Dodgers star Steve Garvey, currently running for Senate in California as a Republican, held a roundtable discussion with members of the Jewish community in the East Bay on Jan. 18.
The latest polling data shows Garvey, 75, battling for second place against Democratic House members Katie Porter (Irvine) and Barbara Lee (Oakland) in the March 5th primary, while Representative Adam Schiff (Burbank) sits comfortably in first place. Garvey’s roundtable discussion, surrounded by nearly a dozen reporters, was held at the Chabad of the Tri-Valley in Pleasanton and featured the Chabad’s Rabbis Raleigh Resnick and Josh Zebberman, University of the Pacific (UOP) Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Daniel Jontof-Hutter, Livermore resident David Yaffe, Pleasanton resident Tuval Ben-Yehezkel, Molly Resnick (Rabbi Resnick’s mother), and a Jewish student at UC Berkeley who wished to remain anonymous.
Rabbi Resnick began the roundtable by pointing out that the Chabad, being a nonprofit, does not formally endorse any political candidates and their members are all over the ideological spectrum. “But when a candidate wants to come and wants to learn and wants to understand a little bit of what we express in terms of the situation in the Middle East, we thank you for coming, we admire that,” Resnick said.
“When a candidate wants to come and wants to learn and wants to understand a little bit of what we express in terms of the situation in the Middle East, we thank you for coming, we admire that.” – Rabbi Raleigh Resnick
Garvey called it “an honor” to be at the local Chabad roundtable’s discussion and he hoped “to learn more about not only the Jewish religion, but your lives now after the war broke out.” “It’s important to me, as someone of faith, to understand what others are going through,” the former first baseman said. Garvey is Catholic.
Resnick followed by stating that the Jews have typically been the canary in the coal mine for society, pointing out that “Hitler started with the Jews, but he didn’t end with the Jews” and that the same could hold true with “fanatical Islam” if the world doesn’t wake up to the threat it poses. Zebberman echoed Resnick’s remarks, and called Hamas’s actions on Oct. 7 “sub-human.” “To say that what Hamas did is animalistic is an insult to animals,” Zebberman said. “We value animals. In Judaism, we believe that we can’t cause pain to animals. We can’t call them animals. That is not animalistic. It is just sub-human. It’s pure evil.” He argued that any “intellectually honest” person “cannot in their own hearts of hearts support this.” The rabbi added that the Jewish community hasn’t been able to sleep at night since Oct. 7, referring to the seven million Jews residing in Israel as his “siblings.”
He recalled getting an email from a non-Jewish female student who is taking a religion class at a university in Texas; the student wanted to share with the class her “fondness for Judaism,” but was scared that doing so would stir “hatred in the class.” Zebberman’s response to the student: “The reason that you’re afraid, that is the reason why you actually should share your opinion… create a space for love. Be a voice of advocacy, a voice of truth, a voice of moral clarity.” Garvey replied that other words for fear include “anxiety and “hesitation” and that “there is a hesitation sometimes to speak out” in today’s society. “I think this has been an attack on the Judeo-Christian faith, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m standing in now: to be a loud voice against [this] inhumanity to society that we live in,” he said, adding that “faith brings us together.”
Molly Resnick, who was visiting from the East Coast and used to work in Israeli television, told Garvey that during the Six Day War in 1967, she was a student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She said that “we were petrified” when then-Egyptian President Gamal Nasser “threw out the United Nations” and the Jordanian said, “Tomorrow you Zionists are dogs. You will be in the Mediterranean Sea.” Molly’s parents even wanted her to reside in Bulgaria — where the family was from originally — during that period of time. But she stayed, and the Israelis prevailed in the war. Molly, a secular Israeli at the time, initially wanted to tell the Palestinians, “We are not dogs. We love you. We want to be with you.” But when she traveled around the world, she discovered God and realized “that there’s only one people that he gave a piece of land: The Chosen People in the land of Israel.”
Upon looking back on her life experiences, Molly realized that in 1967 “there was no reason for them to hate us. We didn’t have the territories, we didn’t have Gaza, we had nothing. We had just been established. And they hated us because we were the Chosen People who got the land of Israel. And that is the main problem: No matter what we do — we give them half, we give them three-quarters — they’ll want the rest of it, because they don’t want us on Earth.” She added that “the only thing they’re afraid of … is fear, if they think we are stronger than they are.”
“Peace through strength,” Garvey replied, calling Molly a “wonderful voice of history.” “The words of that man echo today,” Garvey said of Ronald Reagan, who popularized the phrase “peace through strength.”
Following Molly was the Jewish student at UC Berkeley, who did not want her face seen on camera or video or her name to be published out of concern for her physical safety. The student explained that following her freshman year at the school, she decided to go to Israel and served in the Israeli army near the Gaza border. The student was released from her mandatory two years, eight months of service a month before the Oct. 7 massacre; her commander was among those killed that day, and most of the places along Gaza border she served in were infiltrated that day. The student attempted to try and return to her position in the Israeli army, but was told “the army did not have the mechanism to take me in at that moment.”
The student has only recently returned to school at Berkeley, but says she has “to be careful for my physical safety” in regards to sharing her identity on campus and what she had been doing in Israel. She said that “maybe as a Jew I am okay” on campus, “but as someone who’s a Zionist — which has become a dirty, filthy word — I’m not trying to flunk out of school for my professors having bias, or kids doxxing me … Berkeley is infamous for that sort of thing.”
The student also said that “people are talking, ‘I can’t believe you wear your star [on campus].’ This is 2024 in the Bay Area.” Afterwards, the student clarified to the Journal that she was referring to how some of her fellow Jewish students have said that to her about her star “half-jokingly, half not.”
However, the student acknowledged that UC Berkeley “actually has a beautiful Jewish community,” recalling that she once had a professor who said “he believes that sometimes because it’s hard to be a Jew there, it produces really great Jews.”
Garvey asked the student how the university leadership has handled antisemitism on campus. “There were some wishy-washy statements after Oct. 7th,” the student replied, prompting Garvey to comment that it “seems to be the common theme.” Garvey lauded the student’s “show of strength” for coming to the roundtable discussion and expressed his admiration for her.
Jontof-Hutter, whose mother lives in Tel Aviv, followed by expressing his frustration at the media for condemning “Israel when there are not Israeli deaths” simply because Israeli builds bomb shelters and uses anti-missile technology to protect its people; he also lamented the media’s “low expectations” for the Palestinian government, referencing not only Hamas’s current rule of Gaza but also the late Yasser Arafat, who was tasked with building a government for the Palestinians in Gaza in 1994. “It’s been 30 years, and they have the biggest underground terror fortress the world has ever seen, whose sole purpose is to attack Israel,” Jontof-Hutter said. “They could have built the BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit], build some infrastructure. As a taxpayer, I’m furious because we give money into UNRWA and the United Nations and support the Palestinians, and they’re just using our money to keep a war going on forever.”
He added that the amount of antisemitism that was unleashed following Oct. 7 is a “nightmare.” “You’d think sympathy would be the reaction, but it’s actually a green light to antisemites: they see what is possible and what you can get away with,” Jontof-Hutter said. This prompted Garvey to ask the UOP professor if he had seen antisemitism “festering for a long time, waiting to be ignited.” Jontof-Hutter replied that he knew antisemitism exists in the Middle East, “but here in the West, we are idealistic, we believe the best of people, we believe in human rights and so on … when you have people who are idealistic on the left aligning with militant Islam over Israel is just insane.” The UOP professor pointed to how California is very supportive of LGTBQ+ rights, yet “they would be executed in the Gaza Strip by Hamas.” He later argued that the Democrat Party has backed Israel in the past but today the party is “split,” as the younger generation has misplaced blame for the suffering of Palestinians on Israel instead of the Palestinian leadership; Jontof-Hutter contended that various professors in academia have misled the youth on this issue.
In response to a question from Garvey on how Israel failed to prevent the Oct. 7 massacre, Ben-Yehezkel, a sixth-generation Israeli who works in the technology sector, opined that “you can only protect yourself against scenarios that you can imagine can happen … There a thousand different scenarios that we protected against… this was not one of them,” he said. “And the reason it was not one of them is that we didn’t imagine that they would do this.” Ben-Yehezkel stressed the need for “moderation” and that in order for there to be peace, there needs that civil dialogue between Israelis like himself and Palestinians. Garvey asked how such dialogue can be fostered; Ben-Yehezkel replied that both sides need to understand the other side’s history as much as they know theirs. Garvey suggested that “young voices may be the ones to start that.”
The final member of the roundtable discussion was Yaffe, who joked with Garvey that he was willing to listen to the former Dodgers star despite growing up a Giants fan. Yaffe then told Garvey that his sister was in Israel at the time of the massacre and she was “stuck there for several weeks.” Additionally, a “young cousin” of Yaffe’s died while fighting in Gaza. “It’s very personal for my family, it’s very painful for my family,” said Yaffe.
He recalled growing up in California feeling “very safe” as a Jew, but now he feels “pressure now that the United States is not necessarily a safe place for Jews anymore.” Yaffe considers himself to be a proponent of a two-state solution, but doesn’t think it will “happen in my lifetime. I don’t think there can be a state of people who wants to wipe you out.” He did express hope that one day a two-state solution could still be possible.
Garvey replied that his “thinking is that with this war, it’s another generation before we can get to a serious discussion about the possibilities.”
Afterward, Garvey spoke separately to a gaggle of reporters, where he said he was “enlightened” to speak to those in the East Bay Jewish community “who are personally and spiritually involved with the war.” Asked by a reporter what his message would be to California Muslims who feel targeted in today’s climate, Garvey said: “I look forward to sitting down with them as I did today … I don’t think you can truly understand the depth with what’s going on now if you don’t talk to both sides.” Another reporter asked him how those conversations with Muslims and Palestinians would go having declared his support for Israel; Garvey replied: “God gave us free will and choice, and as I respect their free will and choice, I would hope they would respect mine, and I am always open to discussions that may enlighten me.”
Asked what his message to Jewish Americans would be, Garvey responded, “I believe in a commitment to humanity. I believe that terrorists attacked Israel while it slept. It was inhumane. They’ve been one of our great allies and I believe that America should always stand next to its allies and that’s why I support our policy and support Israel. But to be able to hear from the voices I think is invaluable. The currency we had today listening to them today couldn’t be paid for. It’s indelible as to what these people are thinking and feeling.”
At one point the Journal asked Garvey what should be done to address rising antisemitism in the country, particularly as it pertains to college campuses. “I think it should really get back to, what’s the purpose?” replied Garvey. “The purpose of a campus is to bring students from all over the country and the world together and to teach them, not only teach them subjects but about life. And it’s so important to have a common denominator of having mutual respect between not only the students but the administrators.”
He added that “every great leader is a collaborator and brings people together” so “it’s important for people to start talking, especially now with what’s transpired over the last few months, to take a step back and start to respect the voice of others. And I think when we start to do that, we’ll make progress.”
Asked by the Journal if federal funding should be used as leverage for college campuses to take a stronger stance against antisemitism, Garvey said, “I don’t think we should be federally involved in character morality. I think it starts from within, with the belief that we’re all in this together.” Regarding reports that MIT didn’t suspend students involved in an unauthorized pro-Palestinian protest on campus because it might cause issues with their student visas, Garvey told the Journal that “that’s a reaction and I think it starts with policy to begin with at the university… I think it’s like rules and laws, and once it’s established then you know the rules. And if you choose to live by them, they have to be enforced and you have to live with them.”
Reporters also asked him about myriad issues including water, homelessness, the border and continuing aid to Ukraine (which Garvey supports). Garvey also proclaimed that the issue of crime is at “the forefront of my campaign… if you and I are not safe as a country, then everything else does not matter.” He was also asked if he would welcome an endorsement from Donald Trump, to which Garvey said, “he’s not on the ballot” and that he’s more concerned about getting a “conservative moderate” like himself elected to the Senate and doesn’t “have time to worry about anything else.”
In response to a question from a reporter about how California hasn’t had a Republican senator since 1988, Garvey replied: “I guess we’re due.”