Jewish Values vs. New York Values

Back when the candidates were out campaigning in the corn
fields of Iowa, Senator Ted Cruz contrasted himself with Donald Trump, saying that Trump “embodies New York values” and that those aren’t the values of the people whose votes they were seeking. It must have worked there, to some extent, because Cruz ended up beating Trump in Iowa.

But now, a little more than two months later, these same two candidates are the only ones left who really matter in the race for the GOP nomination. Since March 16, Cruz has been beating Trump consistently, out-gaining him in the delegate race by an almost 2 to 1 margin. And with the primary taking place in New York next week, Trump and the people who want to see him win see that old Cruz line as a golden opportunity to regain momentum for his campaign.

Whether or not saying someone like Trump has “New York values” ought to offend everyone from New York is something that can be argued either way. Was it right that Cruz sought to assign the negative qualities Trump embodies to everyone from New York so as to make his point in Iowa? Or should we, living in New York where this value system is so prevalent and, at the same time, contrary to what we value, understand better than anyone that describing “New York values” doesn’t mean assigning them to everyone in New York?

Either way, political commentators such as Geraldo Rivera and Jeffry Toobin, who clearly have a problem with Cruz, have sought to dishonestly use the quote to smear the senator. You see, they say, when people think of New York, they think of Jews. Therefore, the logic follows, Cruz was invoking Jewish values to slam Trump. Ergo, Cruz must be an anti-Semite.

No, I am not making this up.

Besides the fact that it is an insult to our collective intelligence to try to convince Jews that this is really what he was referring to (and that Trump somehow is the epitome of Jewish values), it is offensive as well. You see, using the charge of anti-Semitism when it so clearly does not apply, and in a cheap gesture to score political points, lowers its effectiveness in the serious cases when it really does apply. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to stand up and make it clear that it is not OK to frivolously use the charge of anti-Semitism when it doesn’t apply.

And it most certainly is frivolous. Taking just a cursory look at Senator Cruz’s record and actions, one could only come to the conclusion that, as I wrote in a previous column a year and a half ago (“Can’t We All Agree?” September 16, 2014), Ted Cruz is “an irreplaceable defender of Israel and the Jewish people.”

A few examples come to mind. In September 2014, Cruz was the keynote speaker at a Christian event in Washington and, after accepting the invitation, was alerted to the fact that there were people attending who held views that were anti-Semitic. Instead of ignoring it, Cruz chose to use his speech as an opportunity to praise the State of Israel as the best friend of Christians in the Middle East. When the attendees booed him, Cruz said “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.” He then walked off the stage.

The idea that he didn’t pay a price for this is wrong. Many people still harbor ill feelings toward him because of that, as they feel it was not an appropriate venue for him to behave that way. But what that story makes crystal clear is that even when faced with adversity, Ted Cruz will stand with the Jewish people.

There is also the time during the most recent Gazan war, when the U.S. State Department banned flights from the United States to Israel under the pretext that it was too dangerous to fly planes into a “war zone,” while allowing planes to fly into places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Ukraine. In response to that, Senator Cruz blocked all of President Obama’s appointees, and refused to lift his “hold” until the flight ban was lifted — which it was.

Just last Thursday, Cruz said that unlike Donald Trump, who vowed to “remain neutral” in the hopes of brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, he would not. “We are not neutral between our friends and our enemies,” Cruz said. “We are not neutral between police officers and bank robbers.”

But perhaps the best contrast between the candidates, as well as a contrast between “Jewish values” and “New York values”, can be illustrated by something that happened when Cruz visited Brooklyn last week. Bethany Mandel reported for The Forward that when Cruz was made aware that a handicapped young man named Dovie Eisner was unable to get into the room where he gave his speech because of his wheelchair, Cruz made a special stop (without fanfare) to say hello to him, and take a picture together.

There is another candidate, who prides himself as being the quintessential New Yorker, who publicly mocked a disabled reporter. Perhaps those are the New York values he holds dear. But showing a caring heart for the disabled is a Jewish value, one espoused by those who are rachmanim bnei rachmanim. We ought to recognize Senator Cruz for showing that he values this as well.