Home > Anti-Semitism, Bruce S. Ticker, Interfaith > Clashes between religious advocates and politicians sometimes do the former no credit

Clashes between religious advocates and politicians sometimes do the former no credit

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — It sounded as if Florida Gov. Charlie Crist had all but declared war on the 800,000 Jewish inhabitants of his state.

Bob Kunst, president of Shalom International in Miami Beach, sent Crist a vehement letter, which he shared with the media and others, accusing him of mounting “a direct attack on the religious Jewish community” because he scheduled a special election for April 6, the last full day of Passover.

Kunst overreacted since Crist’s decision bore all the earmarks of an honest mistake. However, Kunst was not alone during Thanksgiving week in employing political tactics that can drive any reasonable person to groan, or much worse.

Thomas J. Tobin, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, R.I., lent his name to the long list of big, fat and not-so-fat idiots who distort issues by questioning U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s qualifications as a Catholic because of his support for covering abortion as part of health-care reform. The lesser-known Frank Cannon reminded U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania that his late father, a popular governor and abortion opponent, will turn over in his grave if he votes for abortion coverage.

All three have every right to express their views on political issues big and small, but their crude and abrasive approaches ruined anything positive that their involvement might have accomplished. Kunst at least redeemed himself, and the two other chaps have time to do the same.

I have worked with Kunst on occasion for some Jewish causes and was not surprised when he overstated the case against holding the election on Passover. The election was scheduled to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Jewish Democrat who represents a number of heavily Jewish communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Kunst sent Crist a letter a few days before Thanksgiving asking him to change the date.

He wrote: “The problem with this date is that it falls on the last day of Passover, which is a direct attack upon the religious Jewish community…We do not know who is advising you, but this is a direct slap at religious Jews, very many who also vote Republican…This is an affront to all Jews and everyone else who believes in religious tolerance. An attack has been made that needs to be rectified IMMEDIATELY.”

I assumed that Crist or his scheduler made an honest mistake, so I was not offended and figured he would change the date even if he was asked in a civil manner. For the record, I am somewhat religious, but not strictly observant.

I can imagine a combination of innocent factors which led to the foul-up. Because Easter falls on April 4, Crist’s people might have figured that the holiday season was over and did not think to check if any other religious holidays were outstanding. In addition, calendars (even Jewish-oriented ones) are notoriously inconsistent in clarifying if a listed Jewish holiday begins that evening or fills in the daytime hours. If Jews are going to be confused by this, imagine what it does to non-Jews.

The most logical explanation can be attributed to Crist’s ambition to run for the Senate next year. Like any self-respecting politician, Crist was probably too distracted by his plans for the upcoming Senate campaign to think about anything else.

Besides, the more observant Jews would be most likely to vote for a Republican, so why would he set out to antagonize them?

I wrote to Kunst asking him for evidence that the governor knowingly scheduled the election during Passover.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Kunst notified me that Crist rescheduled the election from April 6 to April 13. He sent me a copy of his follow-up letter to the governor, which was headlined, “Shalom International Thanks Gov. Crist for Supporting US and being a ‘Mensch.’”

He wrote: “In supporting religious freedoms for everyone, this is a model for everyone not to infringe on these constitutional and moral rights for all peoples of faith. You were sensitive to our concerns and you acted on them.”

I e-mailed Kunst: “I appreciate the gratitude you expressed to Gov. Crist. It’s a big improvement over the previous letter, and it is much shorter.”

The bishop aided and abetted his enemies – needlessly antagonizing people, that is – by trying to intimidate Kennedy, a Democrat who represents part of Rhode Island. Kennedy revealed in late November that Tobin asked him to stop receiving communion, which Tobin acknowledged, and accused Tobin of telling diocesan priests to refuse to give Kennedy communion, which the bishop denied.

According to The New York Daily News, Tobin wrote Kennedy, “In your letter you say that you ‘embrace the faith.’ Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your position (on abortion) is unacceptable to the church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the church.”

Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, must vote according to what he believes is best for all his constituents, not only the bishop. Tobin has a lot of gall to question Kennedy’s religious convictions for his position on any public issue. The bishop does have authority over Catholics in his diocese, but the government has authority over the limits of religious institutions, such as tax breaks.

In my state, Pennsylvania, Casey supports strong health-care reform, but he also carries on his family tradition of opposing abortion. The New York Times reported that Casey has been working on a compromise to allow spending taxpayer money for abortion as part of the larger health-care bill.

Cannon seized on the policies of the senator’s father, the Gov. Robert Casey, who was staunchly against abortion. The Nov. 27 Times piece quotes Cannon’s column on the National Review web site, which reads: “The governor’s son and namesake, the current junior senator from Pennsylvania, will be tested by the standard his father set.”

Casey’s diplomatic reaction: “My father’s situation was a broader discussion about the issue. This is a huge piece of health-care legislation, and what I am trying to do is to recognize that we had a consensus about public funding for abortion, and we are trying to continue that.”

Like Kennedy, Casey represents the people of Pennsylvania, not only his family.

Hopefully, Tobin and Cannon will follow Kunst’s lead. Does either want to be remembered as the anti-Mensch?

Ticker is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia








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