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April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
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Newest Presidential Hopeful Sparks Debate Among Jewish Republicans


Published last year, Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington blames America’s woes on an arrogant power elite in Washington. In the first chapter, Perry accuses this elite of “chutzpah” – music to conservative ears seeking relief from what they see as government unbound.

“We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated,” Perry wrote. “We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we are allowed to say and where we can say them, what political speech we are allowed to use to elect candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what kind of food we can grow, what doctor we can see, and countless other restrictions on our right to live as we see fit.”

It’s a message that resounds with Jewish conservatives – save, perhaps, for its defense of public prayer.

By the same token, Perry’s declaration last month that the presidency is “what I’ve been called to” sent a shudder through some among the conservative Jewish establishment. This month it was Perry’s leadership in organizing the massive Houston prayer rally, dubbed The Response, and his insistence that “we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles” that led some Jewish conservatives to go on the record with their discomfiture.

“My response to The Response: No, thanks,” wrote Jacob Sullum, a syndicated columnist. “My people have managed without Jesus for thousands of years. Why start now?”

Sullum also criticized Perry for seeming to abandon his previous let-the-states-decide view on social issues in favor of amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage everywhere in the country.

Sixteen rabbis were among 50 Houston clergy members who urged Perry not to host the rally. National groups like the Anti-Defamation League also opposed it.

“He called this rally as a governor,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in an interview before Perry’s formal declaration of his candidacy for president.

“He didn’t try to camouflage anything. He’s pleasant and he’s smart, he has good relations with the Jewish community, but this is a conscious disregard of law and authority. What troubles me most is his perception of where America is at.”

Bernstein, Perry’s Florida backer, said such concerns are overstated.

Jewish Democrats are eating up the controversy. In a statement, the National Jewish Democratic Council said it was “encouraging” Perry to run, “given that his record will help repel American Jews and remind them why they support Democrats in historic numbers.”

Zeidman wondered if, with the rally, his old friend was miscalculating.

“I don’t know that he has not gone too far in his appeal to the conservative wing of the party,” Zeidman said. “That could prove harmful in a general election.”

Still, Zeidman said, it would be a bigger mistake to underestimate a governor who in 11 years in office has wrested much power from the Legislature, where it had been concentrated for decades, and who knows how to win.

“He should never be underestimated in terms of his campaigning ability,” Zeidman said.

(JTA)

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