By Stephanie Smartschan
JFLV Director of Marketing
The three candidates vying to represent the Lehigh Valley in Congress next term shared their views on issues of importance to the Jewish community at a forum sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley on Oct. 21.
Marty Nothstein, Republican, Tim Silfies, Libertarian, and Susan Wild, Democrat, tackled questions from the Federation related to Israel, Iran, anti-Semitism, BDS and more before answering questions from the audience.
With the Anti-Defamation League reporting the largest single-year increase of anti-Semitic hate crimes this year, the candidates were asked what actions the government should take to combat anti-Semitism.
“As a Jewish candidate running in 2018, I feel a particular responsibility to stand up and speak out against this phenomenon,” said Wild, noting that the restroom in her campaign headquarters was defaced just this week with swastikas and white supremacist comments. “I think that Congress has to take a lead in combatting anti-Semitism and that the example of that has to start with our government.”
“Let me first start by saying hate is wrong and dangerous no matter where it comes from, but unfortunately it’s becoming more prevalent than ever in this country,” Nothstein said, citing a recent report that said 72 percent of all religious-based hate crimes in Los Angeles were against Jews. “Unfortunately, I think, the greatest perpetrators are the left wing of the democratic party. Louis Farrakhan just recently called Jews ‘termites eating the world from the inside out.’ Nobody on the left condemned him.”
It’s less about what government can do and more about what we can do, Silfies said. “The best thing we can possibly do is talk to each other more and to try to understand each other more,” he said. “The temperature is so high in this country right now and the amount of division is so stark … I think rather than a left-right thing, there’s plenty of hate to go around.”
When asked what the government could do to combat de-legitimization efforts against Israel, all of the candidates quickly came to Israel’s defense.
Israel is a legitimate state and one of our key allies and a stabilizing force in the Middle East, Silfies said.
“In today’s world, the United States has few allies as steadfast as Israel,” said Nothstein. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a “great first step,” he said.
“I strongly oppose the BDS movement. A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is of great personal importance to me,” said Wild, noting that she had her bat mitzvah in Israel, as did her daughter, and both of her children went on Birthright.
On Iran, Silfies said “I personally feel that we should not have pulled out of the deal,” adding that the deal was “imperfect.”
Iran is one of Israel’s greatest threats, Nothstein said. “The Iran deal … was in my opinion an unforgivable disaster,” he said, adding that he fully supports the president and his decision to refuse to recertify the deal.
“We have to have a clear and carefully thought-out strategy to deal with Iran,” said Wild. Now that we have left the deal, we have to look forward, she said.
Taking on a major topic in the news, the candidates commented on Saudi Arabia and the recent death of a Washington Post journalist.
“Just as disturbing to me has been our president’s equivocation about what Saudi Arabia has done,” Wild said. “I don’t think we can look the other way. I don’t think that we can forgive this act of terror.” We have to demand a full investigation, she said, and make clear to the Saudis that we are looking for answers.
“Saudi Arabia for decades has been a bad actor,” and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a reminder of that, Silfies said.
“The murder of a journalist, not releasing the facts, hiding the truth from us, is something that’s not allowed,” Nothstein said. The administration needs to find out what happened, he said.
Audience members had the opportunity to submit questions to a “clergy panel” made up of Rabbi Allen Juda, Rabbi Michael Singer and Cantor Ellen Sussman. The panel synthesized the questions before passing them on to moderator Dr. Chris Borick of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
Questions focused on issues including refugees, climate change, gun control, health care and the rising cost of college.
Right now we have refugees who want to come to the U.S., Nothstein said. “Those who are seeking asylum, we need to make a pathway for. Those who are coming to do bad things, we need to filter out,” he said. “Flooding the borders en masse is not the way to do it. Doing it the proper way through the proper channels is something I support.”
“We have to remember that thousands of Jews were turned away from our shores during the Holocaust,” Wild said. She’s not in favor of “open borders,” she said, but we have to implement a refugee program that recognizes that there is oppression throughout the world.
“It should be easier for peaceful people to come here,” Silfies said, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have processes set up.
Each candidate then had the chance to offer a 1-minute closing statement.
Judaism teaches us that we all share in the work of tikkun olam, bettering the world, Wild said. “In our system, it falls to Congress to lead on these issues, but right now that’s not happening,” she said. “I’m running so that our children know that with hard work and a dream, they too can still make it in America.”
The night’s forum was really about Israel, Nothstein said. “The U.S.-Israeli relationship is and will continue to be one of the most important jobs of any Congressman or woman,” he said. He has a track record of getting things done, he said.
At the end of the day for me, the question is: “Is the partisan civil war in this country helping you or your family?” Silfies said. “I don’t answer to a party. I don’t answer to a president. I don’t answer to donors. I answer to my principles and I answer to you.”