The Jewish Press (NY) - April 21, 2000
Clout is the measure of political power. It measures what doors you can open and how high up the political hierarchy you can open them. The bottom line for determining the clout of a community is how much access it has to officials. Anything else is wasted noise.
Regularly reading any newspaper within the last year will provide numerous cases of how various communities have demonstrated great clout. Earlier this year, the Puerto Rican community displayed their clout by convincing the White House to grant pardons to the members of the terrorist group, FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group which killed 5 people and maimed 83, including the blinding of a New York City policeman.
Since November, Cuban-Americans have maintained a dominant place in papers throughout this country with the story of the marooned boy, Elian Gonzalez. Their power brought them to the United, States Attorney General's office for an unprecedented weekend meeting, and keeps them on the front pages of the nation's newspapers.
The most notable example of a community demonstrating clout at all levels of government and media, both local and national, is the African-American. It appears that their ubiquitous spokesman, Al Sharpton, holds court in Washington, scheduling meetings with the Attorney General's office and visiting with America's leaders at his discretion.
In contrast, let's quickly review recent Jewish history and our "clout":
When Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered in the Crown Heights Pogrom, how long did it take before his grieving family could meet with the Attorney General's office? What was the Jewish community access to players at the Federal level?
When Ari Halberstarn, a Yeshiva bochur, was returning to Brooklyn with his Yeshiva classmates, their Yeshiva bus became the target of a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge. What Washington doors opened when Halberstam's life was stolen and his mother wanted answers? The action taken? Today a bridge approach ramp is named after him. Is that real justice? Is that real clout?
When Jonathan Pollard, languishes in jail for nearly two decades, enduring a punishment significantly in excess of sentences given to others convicted of far worse offenses, it proves that our community has not developed the requisite clout to have him released. Due to political pressure, President Clinton reneged on an amnesty for Pollard, yet granted a politically-motivated pardon to the FALN terrorist members who attacked New York City.
It is the case of Jonathan Pollard that offers insight into why the Jewish community does not have a level of clout reflecting our standing in this country or our contributions to political movements or politicians. We need only look at some of our representatives elected to national office. Some seem to have misgivings at being our elected officials, or have misgivings about speaking out on Jewish issues. Or, perhaps, have misgivings about being Jewish. It is easier to attend a Melave Malka, dust off a yarmulka and put it on, make a L'Chaim, leave and put the yarmulka back in the pocket than to stand publicly as a proud Jew and demand to be heard on the issues of importance to our community. More to the point; it is risk free.
Regardless of our view of Mr. Sharpton, or others of his ilk, we are forced to begrudgingly admire his persistence and to emulate his success at getting his community clout and wonder, "Where are our Washington representatives? Where is our clout?"
There is in old expression, "You can't make an omelet, without breaking a few eggs." Well, the Jewish community in general is not feasting on omelets, and the religious community specifically is closer to having egg on its face than egg on its plate. It's time we get some new cooks - Kosher chefs- in Washington, to get the order right.
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