U.S. Congressman Cantor: There's a Place for Jews in GOP

Natasha Mozgovaya
Haaretz U.S.
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Natasha Mozgovaya
Haaretz U.S.

Though American Jews make up around 2 percent of the population, they have always enjoyed ample representation in Congress, where they account for around 8 percent of legislators. Only one of them is a Republican, but Rep. Eric Cantor, who will visit Israel this month, says Jews belong in the Republican Party.

"I'm a firm believer there is a big place for the American Jewish Community in the Republican Party," says Cantor, 46, a Virginian seen as one of his party's great promises.

He says he decided to head the delegation of congressmen to visit Israel this month to counteract the "alarming" line that the U.S. administration under President Barack Obama has adopted toward Israel.

"Now it is so important for us to work together as Republicans, members of Congress - the House and Senate - to enhance the U.S.-Israel relationship, especially given where this administration seems to be heading," he says.

"I'm very alarmed," Cantor adds when asked about the state of this relationship. "I think it starts with the White House. That's why I'm feeling very strongly about going to Israel next week. To communicate to Benjamin Netanyahu's government where Congress is."

Most congressmen support Israel and "feel very strongly that a priority for focus" should be Iran's nuclear drive, Cantor says. The visit also aims to show that Washington's opposition to natural growth in the settlements "is not a monolithic position," Cantor says.

"Many of us in the House feel that natural growth is something that should be allowed to occur, especially when we look at Jerusalem, the issue of construction in East Jerusalem."

Cantor was first voted into Congress in the 2000 elections and is now the House's minority whip. He has become a harsh critic of Obama's foreign and domestic policies.

"In my opinion the letter from the Bush administration was very indicative on the realities on the ground in Israel," he says when Jerusalem is brought up. "There are certain areas which are going to remain Israel, one of them being East Jerusalem. I believe very strongly in united Jerusalem. I think the majority of members of this body and the Senate believe so as well."

This photogenic and eloquent speaker has come out hard against Obama's financial incentive program. After Congress passed the program, Cantor slammed it as failing to deliver on promises to create more jobs. He also lambasted Obama's ideas on health reform.

Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are seen as the young guns of the Republican Party. They are seen by many party members as politicians capable of rescuing the party after its defeat in the 2008 presidential election, forging a new path.

A new path is seen by some as vital as the American media exposes juicy affairs involving Republican governors and as the Obama administration points a finger at former vice president Dick Cheney.

"My sense is that we need the Sarah Palins, Dick Cheneys, Rush Limbaughs, the Colin Powells," Cantor says. "We need all of them."

Cantor says he perceives his role as "not only to represent people that are like me, but also to try and put in place policies that can affect their lives for the better. And I believe very strongly that policies of economic freedom, free markets, limited government, entrepreneurship, individual responsibility - those are the things that have to undergird our solutions."

Besides Republicans, the party should be talking "to like-minded Democrats, independents, to try and influence the policy discussions that are going on," he adds.

By the 2012 election, he says, Republicans will hopefully have stopped "this incredibly expansive government, this overwhelming incurrence of debt on the backs of the American people. And hopefully we'll see the economy rebounded and people back to work.

"I think certainly the policies of this administration have begun to take their toll on this president's popularity, and President Obama is a likable figure and leader. His policies, frankly, do not match to that."

According to Cantor, Obama had failed to implement bipartisan policy as he promised. "We stand ready to continue to work with this president ... but there seems to be unfortunately an insistence that Congress adhere to the president's way - or no way," he says.