INTERVIEW: ‘I Have Splintered’

By Reuvain Borchardt

In a world where progressive Democrats have taken a stance against Israel in its war in Gaza, Illinois State Senator Sara Feigenholtz is an outlier.

Feigenholtz, a proud progressive on most issues, stopped attending Progressive Caucus meetings after progressives made an anti-Israel statement following the Oct. 7 terror attacks

 Anti-Israel activists have put up Post-It notes on her office and “jammed my phone lines, called me a racist, because I put a picture of Golda Meir up on my Facebook page.”

But despite no longer feeling at home in the Progressive Caucus and facing a hostile, pro-Palestinian political environment in Cook County, Feigenholtz, who attended Hebrew School for 14 years and worked at the Israeli Consulate, told Hamodia she remains undeterred.

“I am a lover of Israel,” she said, in an interview shortly after returning from a trip to Israel. “Israel is my heart and soul.”

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I think there certainly has been sort of a splintering of the progressive community. We’ve been reading about it, we’ve been feeling it. There’s a pragmatic progressive group who understand and have informed themselves and educated themselves about what’s really going on and haven’t fallen victim to TikTok and Twitter and other influences. There definitely has been a division, though; it’s pretty obvious. And I am in that camp; I have splintered.

As an elected official, I have to look at issues through a variety of lenses.

In the case of the terrorist attack on October 7, you have a group of people in the progressive movement who don’t do a deep dive to get facts — nor do they care to. For them it boils down politics, with a singular desire to join the chorus of a loud antisemitic narrative. 

I consider myself a progressive, but there is no doubt that there is a fissure in the progressive movement. Many of us have peeled away and are in the process of creating a space with like-minded, pro-Israel progressives. 

This does not mean I am abandoning Joe Biden — far from it. Biden has demonstrated strong support for Israel throughout his career and continues to be a strong ally. 

Is he walking a political tightrope? Perhaps. But those of us who live in the political arena see what’s at stake in this country and understand that President Biden is walking a very fine line. 

Are there pro-Israel Democrats who will vote for a candidate on a single issue, who choose not to parse through President Biden’s politically nuanced statements and will vote for Trump? Absolutely. However, I am not one of them.

I think Joe Biden loves Israel, and I think that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes and things that have to be done politically that are quite different. It’s a tough balancing act. 

There are people who are not that involved with politics and love Israel, and this is a very emotional time for Jews in this country and in the world. And for people who are not very political, they feel abandoned, and they need a political home. And I don’t know that they think of it in terms of right or left. I think it’s feeling abandoned by progressives and feeling abandoned by the Democrats, when the Democrats actually have a very strong relationship with Israel. I believe that a lot of what you’re seeing is political theater, and a lot of cajoling to try and get Hamas off of their absolutely unheard-of demands.

I think it’s a lot of posturing. But people who are not that involved in politics take what they hear at face value, and don’t see the nuance that is coming out of the White House right now.

The political climate has changed dramatically since the war began, and there has been a masterful public relations campaign that began about “genocide” and no recognition of Oct. 7, no recognition of the hostages or mention of the hostages, even before there was actually an entry into Gaza by the IDF. So this is a much bigger problem in this country that we’re experiencing. This is a well-orchestrated campaign from Islamic extremists co-opting what I believe are young minds in the progressive movement.

Absolutely. That’s exactly what this is. 

I believe that when Democrats are reminded of the instability in this country and everywhere under the Trump administration, they’re going to have a very sobering moment in the voting booth and Joe Biden is going be their choice, as he should be.

They’re going to do whatever they can, because they are entrepreneurs of chaos. We are all very aware — the Chicago Police Department is aware, you have seen the federal government and our local Congressional caucus bring home a tremendous amount of money for security here in Chicago, and I think that Chicago and Illinois will be prepared for this. They know what’s going on, and I think they’re going to do everything they can make the Democratic Convention an inviting environment — and nothing like 1968. 

I look at what happened in Chicago with the ceasefire resolution as an epic failure in leadership on the part of Chicago’s mayor. [Ed. The resolution passed 24-23, with Mayor Brandon Johnson casting the tiebreaking vote.]

He ran as a uniter, not a divider, and a uniter would have caucused with his left flank and said, “This is too divisive; this is only going divide our City Council more. We should sit down together and write something we can all live with and get 50 votes on,” instead of getting three or four members to abdicate the chamber, and be the tiebreaking vote. I see that as a complete lack of leadership.

I believe that the Jewish community does not feel safe — and what happened in the City Council and what’s going on in the schools makes things worse. I hear this from parents whose children are in public schools. I experienced it myself when I went down to the City Council, when Debra did her condemnation of the Hamas resolution; I could not believe the vitriol.

It’s a new kind of protest that is visceral, and I think everybody here is feeling it. That’s what I’m hearing. And of course, our leadership in the city is struggling to confront it. That means they must think it’s okay; they must be complicit. We don’t hear very much from City Hall on protecting the Jewish community, frankly. And it’s unfortunate. I think that most people in the Jewish community do not feel safe, and because of the actions of City Council and City Hall, there’s a great deal of struggle right now with the Jewish community and their safety.

The Jewish Caucus made a statement condemning the terrorist acts of Hamas immediately after Oct. 7. Subsequently, some members of the Progressive Caucus signed a statement that failed to condemn unequivocally, but instead spoke addressing the root cause of what may have led Hamas to perform the terrorist acts.

I have not attended a Progressive Caucus meeting since then.

The legislature is a microcosm of what we’re seeing. It’s a swath of representation of all ages, all backgrounds, and this is expected. I left the Progressive Caucus for personal reasons. Because when it comes to the issue of Israel, I take it personally. It’s not a political decision; it’s a personal decision. 

I am very much a progressive. I just, right at this moment in time, don’t feel safe in that space. 

They’re very loud, and they take up a lot of oxygen. But there are more people in my world that are moderate Democrats who think the same way I do, who understand the complexities of Middle East issues, who know history, who know how many times we’ve tried make peace and that sometimes, there’s no one to make peace with and coexist with, because of, you know, maybe the Koran and the Hamas charter, just a few little hints that a lot of progressives don’t even understand. And they just decide to be with the “cool kids.”

That might change for them, that might not. You try and educate them, you try and bring people along, you try and explain things. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. 

But I’ll tell you one thing: at the same time, it’s just very painful and very personal.

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