NEW YORK (JTA) — Most people dislike politics. “Voter apathy” has become part of our vernacular, and far too many people fail to exercise one of the most extraordinary privileges afforded to us by the Constitution — the right to vote.
As Americans, voting is a privilege we should cherish. However, as Jewish Americans, we have an even greater obligation to ensure that we do not ignore this sacred constitutional freedom.
We are in the midst of a heavily contested presidential election. Mitt Romney and the Republicans sense an opportunity to reclaim the White House by faulting President Obama for the ongoing fiscal challenges facing many Americans. Obama and the Democrats counter by touting the president’s foreign policy credentials and focusing on the inroads they contend he has made on the domestic front.
Many political pundits insist this is one of the most important presidential elections of our lifetime. For us, as Jewish Americans, that assertion could not be truer.
Presidential politics carries with it a healthy dose of religion. Injecting religion into politics is no longer taboo, and candidates today speak freely about their faith and incorporate religious ideology into their campaign rhetoric.
Just as the candidates make religion a focal point of their campaign, we as Jewish Americans must make our faith a centerpiece of this critical presidential election.
Jewish Americans traditionally play a pivotal role in presidential elections. In an effort to cultivate Jewish support, candidates typically address issues of significance to the Jewish community during their campaigns. They say what we want to hear, and we, ostensibly ecstatic that they have pledged their undying love to Israel and the Jewish community, carry that rhetoric with us into the voting booth on Election Day.
The Jewish community must demand more. We live in trying times and can no longer simply take the candidates’ pro-Israel statements at face value. We must engage in a substantive dialogue with the candidates about the issues that are vital to our future as Jews.
With the onset of the Arab Spring and the meteoric rise of Islamist fundamentalism, the U.S.-Israel relationship could not be more essential. In a period of uncertainty for Israel, the one certainty we need is an unbreakable bond between America and Israel. Hyperbole and empty promises from the presidential candidates concerning the U.S.-Israel relationship are unacceptable. In light of the fluid situation involving Israel’s neighbors, we need a genuine pledge from the candidates that America will continue standing together with the Jewish state.
The type of sincere assurance we need will not necessarily happen on its own. It is up to us, as Jewish Americans, to ensure it happens.
As deadly Katyusha and Kassam rockets continue raining down on Israel, Jewish Americans need to make certain that our presidential candidates undertake to finally end the violence. When Hamas fires rockets from Gaza at southern Israel and Hezbollah launches rockets at northern Israel, the international community inexplicably shrugs its shoulders and essentially does nothing. The safety and security of our Israeli brethren is paramount, and we have a responsibility to hold the candidates accountable when it comes to safeguarding the State of Israel.
As Iran works towards nuclear proliferation, America and the European Union have decided that ongoing talks are the solution to our collective problem. The talks persist even though Gen. Hossein Salami, the acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, recently boasted that Iran test-fired missiles that can strike Israel and U.S. military bases in the region. Nuclear Iran poses a grave threat to Israel, so Jewish Americans need to tell the presidential candidates that this dangerous situation needs to be addressed accordingly.
While the candidates crisscross the country talking to voters, Jonathan Pollard continues to languish in prison after more than 26 years behind bars. Pollard, who received an unprecedented life sentence for passing classified information to Israel, an American ally, is extremely ill and has expressed remorse for his actions. Numerous American leaders have implored Obama and his predecessors to commute Pollard’s disproportionate sentence. As Jewish Americans, we have a duty to inform the presidential candidates that Jonathan Pollard’s release is a major priority.
In 2008, Barack Obama garnered 78 percent of the Jewish vote, while John McCain received just 22 percent. Those electoral numbers were consistent with the Jewish vote in presidential elections for the past century, in which the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community gravitates toward the more liberal candidate.
The days of Jewish Americans casting their votes based on party affiliation and partisan politics must end now. We cannot afford to tow the party line and vote for someone simply because there is a “D” or an “R” before the name. The time has come for Jewish Americans not to just vote responsibly but to vote religiously.
Just as Sen. Joe Lieberman proudly embraced his Jewish identity as a vice presidential candidate in 2000 and a presidential candidate in 2004, we also need to be especially cognizant of our Jewish identity in the political context.
As Jewish Americans, we must do our due diligence and make certain that the issues that are important to us also become important to the presidential candidates. Obviously, domestic concerns such as taxes, job creation and economic stability are essential. Certainly, foreign relations and America’s standing in the international community are significant. However, equally important, if not more important, are the issues that are close to our heart as Jewish Americans.
Indeed, this is one of the most important presidential elections of our lives. The future of the State of Israel and the religious freedoms we enjoy as Jewish Americans depend heavily on who occupies the White House. The outcome of this election undoubtedly will impact our lives for many years to come.
We need to ensure that there is a healthy dose of Judaism injected into this presidential election. It is the best medicine that we as Jewish Americans can have.
(N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and a principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm.)