WASHINGTON - With the recent announcement of Chelsea Clinton's engagement to Marc Mezvinsky, extended family gatherings at the high-profile Clinton household look poised to become a lot more colorful. With her choice of a mate, Clinton, daughter of a former president and the current secretary of state, is marrying into a family that includes a former U.S. congressman convicted of fraud; another member of Congress who fell on her sword for a future in-law in a vote that ended her political career; no fewer than 10 brothers- and sisters-in-law, and a fervently anti-Zionist uncle.
It's a family with deep roots in the world of Jewish politics. Marc's father, Ed Mezvinsky, grew up in Ames, Iowa. The son of a Jewish grocer who owned a store in the middle of a Catholic neighborhood, he became involved in local politics as a consumer-rights advocate and, after a failed initial attempt, got elected to Congress in 1972. As a member of the House of Representatives' Watergate panel, Mezvinsky voted in favor of impeaching then-president Richard Nixon.
"He was not one of those who distanced themselves from Jewish issues," recalled Douglas Bloomfield, who was a congressional aide during the time Ed Mezvinsky served in the House. Mezvinsky took pride in his Jewish identity, was a supporter of legislation relating to Israel and was seen as "something unusual" as a Jew elected to Congress from Iowa, he said. But after two terms in the House, Mezvinsky's political career seemed to be over. He lost his reelection bid, and after moving to Pennsylvania he failed in races for the state's Senate seat, for attorney general and for lieutenant governor.
Mezvinsky's legal troubles began in 1980 but were not revealed until two decades later, when FBI agents raided his mansion in suburban Philadelphia. Soon after, he was charged with 69 counts of fraud. Mezvinsky argued that he was driven by a mental disorder and therefore was not responsible for his actions. But the court turned down this argument and sentenced the former congressman to 80 months in prison. He was released in 2008.
Marc's mother, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky also had a short-lived political career, and owes her failure to both her husband, Ed, and her future in-law, then-President Bill Clinton. Elected to Congress in 1992, she was the deciding vote in the House that ensured the passage of Clinton's 1993 budget, which included a tax increase for the wealthy. Her willingness to vote for the bill was used against her in the following election cycle, leading to her defeat. She later tried running for Senate, but dropped out of the race when forced restitution payments related to her husband's fraud conviction forced the family into bankruptcy. The couple divorced in 2007. But before then, Marjorie and Ed raised 11 children, most of them adopted from overseas.
If the former president and current secretary of state do raise the issue of the Jewish state during a family gathering, they might get a mouthful from Marc Mezvinsky's uncle. Norton Mezvinsky, a professor who has been labeled as anti-Zionist, holds strong views questioning the right of Jews to a homeland in Israel.
Mezvinsky recently retired from Central Connecticut State University's history department, where he taught for four decades. In his academic work and in books he authored, Mezvinsky accused Israel of deliberately creating the Palestinian refugee problem. He supports a one-state solution for the regional conflict.
"He uses his Jewish background to attack Israel; he represents the left of left among intellectual scholars," said Asaf Romirowsky, adjunct scholar at Campus Watch, an organization that monitors academics dealing with the Middle East and Israel. But David Gerwin, a professor of social studies at Queens College who worked with Mezvinsky at CCSU, paints a more nuanced picture.
"He is driven, passionate and inspired, a force of nature," he said of Mezvinsky, with whom he shared an office on campus. While agreeing that Mezvinsky's views on Israel were "left of the left of the left," Gerwin said that on issues relating to immigration or affirmative action, his approach was "way to the right."
The Clintons and Mezvinskys have not yet announced their wedding arrangements, and despite intense blogosphere discussions, it is not clear whether the mixed-faith young couple will choose to have both Christian and Jewish clergy at their ceremony. Chelsea Clinton, however, was seen attending High Holy Day services with her fiance at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Conservative Judaism's flagship academic institution.
By arrangement with The Forward