The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
When I moved to Brooklyn from Michigan over twenty years ago I registered to vote as an Independent, unaware that doing so would prevent me from voting in almost all crucial primaries. Though I came to that realization soon afterward, I felt such intense loyalty to my conservative principles that I simply could not bring myself to switch party affiliations and register as a Democrat.
Many years later I see I was not mistaken in my belief that a name does matter, and certainly a political name matters politically. Though I boxed myself out of participating in almost all local primaries, I did feel like a New Yorker when it came time to vote in elections. And like other New York conservatives – we do exist – I was even able to celebrate an occasional Republican victory in this largely Democratic state.
But I have now been told by my governor that because of my beliefs I “have no place in the state of New York.”
In a recent tirade on a public radio station in Albany, Governor Cuomo lambasted New York conservatives in one broad stroke. While lashing out against New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act, a draconian gun-control bill rammed through the New York legislature soon after the Newtown massacre, Cuomo targeted all Republicans and conservatives as the enemy.
“Who are they?” Cuomo demanded. “Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”
Well, I believe in the right to bear arms and the right to life, and I oppose gay marriage. I am also a New Yorker. Though I always knew I was in the minority, am I now persona non grata? According to New York’s governor – and to our new mayor, Bill de Blasio – apparently I am.
When asked to comment on the governor’s inflammatory remarks, de Blasio responded, “I stand by that 100 percent…. He was absolutely right to say what he said.”
Are these local politicians taking their cue from their national counterparts? It was candidate Barack Obama in 2008 who infamously labeled blue-collar voters “bitter” as they “cling to guns or religion.” Since then it seems the tone of the rhetoric has become even shriller.
Even jaded conservatives are used to being sidelined because of our right-wing outlook. However, to have proponents of multiculturalism morph into advocates of monoculturalism where conservatives are concerned is dangerous indeed. The liberal banner of diversity is never so threatening as when that agenda of diversification turns inward.
For religious Christians and Jews in New York, this is particularly alarming. A majority of Jewish New Yorkers voted for Cuomo and, more recently, de Blasio. Not a few of those Jewish voters were Orthodox and hold the same conservative social policy positions as “extreme conservatives.” And they are no doubt surprised at the speed with which such contempt for their views was hurled in their faces by the mayor so soon after they helped elect him.
This rhetorical unrolling of the welcome mat for New Yorkers who disagree with the liberal agenda has caused many of us to question our place in the state and city. And the outrageous verbal affront translates into facts on the ground for many religious Christians, as Cuomo is pushing for such a massive expansion of access to abortion in New York, including the lifting of restrictions on third-trimester abortions, that the organization Democrats for Life of America has called the proposed bill “the most sweeping abortion legislation in the nation.”
If the bill is passed, it would limit the leeway of Catholic hospitals in choosing not to provide abortions. We’ve witnessed this same intolerance on a national level with the Obamacare mandates on employee access to contraceptive and family-planning services that have caused Catholic organizations such consternation.
We’ve also seen gay marriage pushed to the top of the national agenda by the media and entertainment elites. Recently, the Grammy Awards telecast turned a mass wedding into a gay marriage celebration and the Disney Channel introduced its first ever lesbian couple on a children’s television series. This message has been picked up at the highest level of government. Congratulating the gay former NBA player Jason Collins on “coming out,” President Obama said “I couldn’t be prouder of him” and invited Collins to sit in the presidential box with the first lady at the State of theUnion address.
This embrace by liberals of homosexuality has for years now been a fact of life in New York politics. And while the 2011 Marriage Equality Act passed by the state legislature and signed on the same day by Cuomo allows religious organizations to decline officiating at same-sex ceremonies, religious and conservative New Yorkers fear the creeping influence of the bill, both in the workplace and in educational institutions.
As New York’s Orthodox Jewish community continues to grow, its base of social conservative voters grows with it. We citizens are the ones who elect and reelect our government leaders, notwithstanding their scathing indictment of our beliefs. And the schism between our community’s values and those of the liberal elites will continue to widen, especially if politicians like our governor and mayor continue to use a political yardstick to measure the merit of their fellow New Yorkers.
When the positions taken by government officials conflict with Jewish teachings, it should be incumbent on Jewish leaders who support those officials to speak out. But it’s been awfully quiet in Jewish circles following Cuomo’s remarks and de Blasio’s endorsement of them.
About the Author: Sara Lehmann, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, was formerly an editor at a major New York publishing house.
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