Although many view Democrats as having turned away from Israel, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has been a consistent voice of support for the Jewish state. “The Jewish state is held to a completely different standard than any of its neighbors,” the Jewish congressman said during a March 19 discussion at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills (TEBH) with TEBH Rabbi Sarah Bassin.
Schiff represents California’s 28th district and chairs the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible collusion between President Donald Trump and the Russians during the 2016 presidential election campaign. During the Trump presidency, Schiff has become one of the most prolific faces in the Democratic Party.
Thus, the night of his appearance, people turned out in droves at the Beverly Hills synagogue to hear the 58-year-old congressman. Closed-circuit TVs were set up near the rear of the sanctuary for those seated far from the bimah as Bassin kicked off the evening by highlighting her synagogue’s advocacy efforts around anti-gun violence. Speaking about the recent mass shooting at the mosques in New Zealand, she asked Schiff his thoughts about the epidemic of gun violence.
Schiff said the United States was reaching a “tipping point” regarding gun policy thanks in part to the activism of the Parkland, Fla., students who experienced a mass shooting in 2018 resulting in 17 deaths.
Would that lead to gun safety legislation passed by the U.S. House and the Senate and signed by the president? Schiff said he could only hope so.
“I refuse to accept this is the best we can do,” Schiff said.
During the wide-ranging conversation, Schiff spoke about the dramatic changes social media have brought on society, not all positive. He compared the advent of the internet to the printing press, adding that people’s ability to have access to instantaneous information from their phones, coupled with social media, have had “unintended consequences,” including contributing to a society where “lies travel far faster than truth.”
He was speaking, of course, from personal experience. In his role on the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff has investigated how the Russians have used the internet to spread misinformation and sow division in the U.S.
The current world is one of “deepfakes,” he said, where the tech-savvy can take someone’s face, place that person in a video and have that person make statements they never said. For an outsider, it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between real and fabricated, he said.
“There is no easy fix for this,” Schiff said.
He spoke about global authoritarianism and dangers posed by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The very idea of liberal democracy around the world is at risk,” Schiff said.
And Trump hasn’t done his part to remind the world that the U.S. is a force of good against evil, Schiff said. He expressed some of his deepest frustrations not with the president, however, but with the Republicans who haven’t taken a stronger stance against Trump.
“I think when this chapter of history is written, some of the most damning language will be for Republicans who did nothing when democracy was under attack,” Schiff said.
Asked by Bassin what message Schiff would like from the Democrats in the 2020 presidential election, Schiff spoke about the economy. He said that although employment figures are strong, people are not earning enough to keep up with the high cost of living.
The audience’s reception to Schiff was warm, with Bassin frequently reminding them to hold their applause until the end of the event — outside the synagogue, however, not so much. As people waited in line to enter the synagogue for the discussion, a protest of about 20 people on the opposite side of the street denounced Schiff’s stance on child vaccinations.
“Vaccines are not kosher,” a sign plastered to the side of a parked car said.
Recently, Schiff urged Google, Facebook and Amazon to remove content from their platforms promoting misinformation about vaccinations. He has also introduced a resolution in the U.S. House declaring that vaccinations save lives.
Bassin denounced the protestors at the start of her discussion with Schiff. She said that although Judaism values minority opinions, those who deny their children vaccinations are wrong.
Schiff took a more humorous approach, saying he was accustomed to demonstrators targeting him for his positions.
“I’m trying to branch out from the pro-Trump people who picket me often,” he said.