New York Republican Congressman George Santos falsely claimed to be Jewish and descended from Holocaust survivors. After a New York Times investigation revealed his penchant for innovation, a spokesman for Santos initially denied the "slanderous allegations." Shortly thereafter, Santos humbly admitted to the New York Post that much of his autobiography was fabricated.
He indicated that it was a misunderstanding. What he really meant during his successful (and controversial) campaign for Congress was that he was a "Jew", not a Jew. Judging by Santos' actions, being "Jewish" meant pretending to be Jewish, running for elected office. That means defending far-right Republican views on Israel and Iran. That means lighting a Hanukkah candle at the Republican Jewish Coalition and then tweeting about it. You know, the usual things that the Jews in the neighborhood did after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Beyond the astonishing hypocrisy of it all, this disturbing episode reveals some truly unhealthy ways in which our religion pervades public life.
It also says a lot about the worldview of right-wing Jews, who are a minority of the American Jewish community, but not a significant one in Santos County. They may not like Santos' Latino Christian moniker, but he earned their recognition by ticking off a list of far-right posturing. It was a Frankenstein Jewish candidate (known in Jewish tradition as a Golem) cobbled together from the scraps of conservative politics, the MAGA thesis, and misinformation, that about 30% of Jewish Americans vote Republican. .
Let's start with facts, or in this case alternative facts, that have been proven wrong by, among others, the intrepid journalists at The Forward. No, Jorge Santos' grandparents were not fleeing Nazi persecution. No, it doesn't look like you've been to Israel before. No, not of Jewish descent.
No, he didn't go to CUNY Baruch College (which he or his supervisors thought was Jewish enough, although interestingly, he didn't list a truly accredited Jewish institution of higher learning like Yeshiva University as his course of study). No, he didn't work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup (where many non-Jews work, but Santos probably thought he sounded too Jewish).
Much has been made of the political ineptitude of the Democrats for not investigating the opposition to Santos. Wouldn't it be better to test your opponent in redistricting areas with large Jewish populations in Queens and Long Island?
Maybe, but I want to emphasize that these Democrats aren't just dealing with not having teeth. In this country, any substantive discussion of a politician's or judge's sincere religious beliefs is considered a no-fly zone. Remember the Republican outrage machine that unfolded during the 2020 Supreme Court hearings when some Democrats dared to question whether Justice Amy Coney Barrett should be questioned about the connection between her personal religious beliefs and her own case law.
Therein lies the paradox that plagues American democracy. In a so-called "secular" state, we should not consider a person's faith when considering eligibility for public office. This is a tough civil policy. Its roots date back to when John F. A presidential candidate like Kennedy was attacked for alleged loyalty to the Catholic Church (such accusations were often made against Catholic candidates for public office until the 1960s). In a famous speech in 1960, Kennedy condemned such thinking. And he said that in America, where the separation of church and state is absolute, we should never judge a candidate by his faith.
But the policy aimed at protecting people from religious discrimination stands in the way of legitimate questions. Some politicians and judges (not just Republicans) will insist on promoting their religious identity on the campaign trail and in the end, but when some journalist or academic expresses curiosity about how their own religious beliefs influence their decisions, certain policies, they are dismissed. . The question is irrelevant. American secularism is ignored and only then is it strategically challenged and thus weaponized against itself.
Santos' defeat calls for a rethinking of how we deal with the religious claims of politicians. Perhaps we should follow this rule of civic engagement: If a candidate invokes his beliefs on the stump or in public speeches and writings, we have every right to ask him how that will affect his public service. . We can ask them difficult but fair questions about their theological views and religious identity. Thanks to this practice of open questioning, Santos' lies might have been caught earlier, or he might have been less inclined to fraudulently use religion as a political asset in the first place.
Jorge Santos invoked a very specific type of Jewish identity to gain support for the Jewish Right. With his Christian surname and loud and proud gay identity, Santos lacked some of the classic markers of traditional Jewish identity. So, instead, he turned to the political scenario as a solution.
He was concerned about anti-Semitism in this country (as we all are). However, he was not interested in the MAGA/White Supremacist/Christian Nationalist Brand of Judeophia, only the Boycott, Divestment and Prohibition movement associated with the Left. He was caught in the unconditional embrace of right-wing Israeli governments that became the head of the modern Republican Party. On January 6, he strongly defended former President Donald Trump and praised the disgraced president for being a "total genius". Trump: Today is like the Holy Trinity of the Jewish Republic! Most such views are anathema to most American Jews. Santos may have gravitated to this view in order to gain the trust of right-wing Jews that he might not otherwise have had. (After his lies were exposed, the Republican Jewish Coalition withdrew its support.)
There's a reason Kennedy and the mid-century Democrats wanted to separate politics from religion. As the Santos saga shows, the fusion of faith and political ideology does great harm to the integrity of the former.
This article originally appeared on MSNBC.com