The 2016 presidential campaign season has offered more twists and turns than a good political thriller. Voters will hit the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, most casting their votes for either Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton or her GOP rival, Donald Trump.
JMORE recently spoke to Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, about the election and its potential impact on the Jewish community.
Libit is the former public affairs chief and director of strategic planning and policy for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. He assumed his position at the BJC in May.
A nonprofit organization, the BJC is the community relations and political arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
What are the Jewish community’s priorities right now?
First and foremost, we need a strong partnership with Israel, recognizing our close bond, the history we share, the continuation of our commitment. We want to continue to see what’s in the platform of both parties is carried through.
We also need to see a president who argues against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and other attempts to delegitimize Israel. Plus, we need a president who seeks to bring peace to the Middle East and to fight terrorism.
In addition, the new president must preach tolerance of religions, of different ethnicities and faiths. In the Baltimore community, we need to continue our cooperation with different communities because we share many commonalities. The campaign rhetoric may get even more heated, but the next president needs to recognize and support our many commonalities.
What’s your takeaway from this campaign season?
The worst part is some of the rhetoric we’ve heard. Over the summer, we worked with the umbrella organization for the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. We got a civility pledge into the platforms of both parties, so the language of intolerance won’t become more heated.
Both parties believe in the crucial bond between the United States and Israel. I’ve seen this expressed by both candidates and expect the new president to support Israel. This is important in our Senate candidates as well.
What are the likely effects of the new president on the Middle East stalemate?
The Democrats and the Republicans are concerned, and the Jewish community is frustrated, by the lack of solutions leading to peace in the Middle East. We have to find a way to bring peace to the Middle East. Israel has made substantial peace offerings and now the question is, can we find new ways to negotiate in good faith?
Meanwhile, we need to see a continuation of our close relationship with Israel, including strong military support as well as trade back and forth.
What national issues do you think are particularly important to Baltimore’s Jewish community?
One is to find reasonable, responsible gun legislation. Of course, immigration is a major issue, and we need to understand that we have been refugees. It’s a major part of our history. We in the Baltimore Jewish community must supply sanctuary for refugees from conflicts around the world.
Investment in urban centers is a priority — create more investment, more jobs. The crime issue is of great concern. In Baltimore and other cities, we must provide safer places to live. I hope the reforms from Police Commissioner [Kevin] Davis will help make our city safer. He’s bringing an energy, a transparency and a willingness to meet with all Baltimore communities to make the city safer for everybody.
How do you forge consensus out of all the different groups and movements in the Jewish community?
At the Baltimore Jewish Council, one of our challenges is the great diversity within the Jewish community. We recognize that one-third of our community is Orthodox. We are making efforts to bridge whatever gaps there may be in Jewish practice.
For the non-affiliated, we need to activate members of different congregations to reach out in unexpected places and in new ways to get them involved. I’m thinking particularly of the non-affiliated east of I-83 and down in South and Southeast Baltimore. We can find ways to get more non-affiliated people involved and advocate for what they need as well.
To gather information on the non-affiliated, we at the Baltimore Jewish Council are broadening our board from synagogues across the region, and we are working closely with The Associated’s groups such as the Young Professionals and other people in their 20s. For example, I’ve seen synagogues approaching people at the Fells Point Festival and other non-Jewish events.
What’s Baltimore’s future?
There is energy from new ideas, from people investing in the city. The problems we have seen took decades to develop. The Jewish community and other communities are committing themselves to creating a better place for our children. For example, LifeBridge [Health] has made a real commitment to Southern Park Heights. Many synagogues and other Jewish organizations are working on partnerships with other members of the community, including Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
I’m confident the new mayor will put good people on her staff and identify many people who will continue to promote good housing and seek increased economic development, making Baltimore a good place to live. That gives me a lot of hope.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.
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