Next month, Temple Ner Tamid, where I serve as rabbi, will be welcoming Rep. Mikie Sherrill to our congregation to speak about the state of antisemitism and what our elected officials are doing to combat it. Knowing that Sherrill has always been a friend to the Jewish community and a tireless advocate and ally, we are honored to hear her perspective and learn from her time in Washington.
It is for this reason that I’ve been surprised by the recent attacks on Sherrill and the intimation by some that she is anything but supportive toward our community.
We should ask these two questions about Sherrill’s record
The main critique against her surrounds her decision to vote “present” on House Resolution 894, “Strongly condemning and denouncing the drastic rise of antisemitism in the United States and around the world.”
Rather than jump to conclusions and see her decision as the sole referendum on her willingness to stand with the Jewish community, we should take a step back and reflect on two questions:
- Does Sherrill have a record of standing alongside the Jewish community in the face of antisemitism?
- Are there circumstances surrounding this particular vote that would explain why she chose to vote as she did, apart from an assumption that she does not care about antisemitism?
The first question has an easy answer. Sherrill has a deep history of standing alongside the Jewish community. When my congregation was attacked last winter with a Molotov cocktail, Sherrill was one of the first elected officials to call me. She offered wholehearted support and a sensitive ear. In the time that followed, Sherrill spoke passionately at our communal rally against hate. She, alongside Rep. Bill Pascrell, championed our request for funding from the Department of Homeland Security to harden our building against future attacks.
This willingness to show up and listen is echoed time and again during calm and crisis alike. In the days after Oct. 7, Sherrill showed up at a communal vigil organized by the Federation of Greater MetroWest and spoke with love and support about her time in Israel and how those visits helped her better understand why we were hurting so much. Since long before this latest crisis, I’ve spoken with her at length on Israel-related issues and watched her wrestle, in the same way many of us do, to reconcile actions that the Israeli government might take with an unwavering commitment to Israel’s right to exist and a particular sensitivity to its security needs.
Sherrill’s record speaks for itself. There is virtually no issue around antisemitism that she hasn’t affected positively, from her work to expand Holocaust education to her deepening connection with the ADL, from serving on the House Bipartisan Task Force on Combating Antisemitism to convening a roundtable discussion with Jewish leaders on antisemitism in 2020.
The same goes with Israel. She has worked to ensure military aid to Israel, supported tough action against Iran and its proxies, championed the Abraham Accords, and worked to withhold funds from Hamas.
All of this should allow us to weigh her decision to vote “present” on HR 894 with a “kaf zechut,” an ancient idea that one needs to give people the benefit of the doubt, tipping the scales of judgment toward merit.
There are some rare cases when antizionism is not antisemitic
In the days before HR 894 came for a vote, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Rep. Daniel Goldman, D-N.Y., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., wrote to their colleagues asking them to vote “present” on the resolution. The reasons they gave were varied. They included the fact that a similar resolution had been passed only days earlier. But the crux of their critique surrounded the fact that the resolution said all forms of antizionism are by nature antisemitic.
Nadler, Goldman and Raskin rejected that oversimplification. And I do, too. Nearly all forms of antizionism are by nature antisemitic, but there are rare exceptions, including, as they say, certain sects of Hasidic Jews. Likewise, those who oppose Israel on the basis of its nationalist origins are antisemitic, if they are in favor of other nation states existing. But the rare person who is against nationalism of any kind, including Jewish nationalism, is not.
Seeing the language as too inflexible, they put forward their own resolution, HR 907 — which Sherrill co-sponsored — that similarly to HR 894 took a stand against antisemitism, but in a different way. They understood that words and nuance matter. They made the difficult decision to take the heat for voting “present” on the resolution, not because they don’t care about the issue of antisemitism, but because they care enough to make sure they say only what they mean around it.
Knowing this background, I’m not surprised that Sherrill followed suit. Time and again, she has shown herself to be a leader of principle who carefully weighs the issues before her. In an era of soundbites, Sherrill doesn’t get caught up in the bluster.
Since the bill was flawed, and considering her history of activism around antisemitism, I’m not concerned that her voting “present” means she cares any less about fighting hate against the Jewish community.
There are times when I disagree with Sherrill. In this case, even with the problems of HR 894, I still likely would have voted for it because of the message that a unified bill would send. But that decision is not cut and dried, and I respect her decision to vote “present” because I trust that she came to it with the same integrity, knowledge, and deep respect and love for the Jewish people that she has brought with her through the duration of her public service.
Rabbi Marc Katz leads Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield.
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