East End freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has written a joint letter with Tea Party ultra-conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to slam President Obama for letting his former campaign field director get involved with Israel’s upcoming elections.
Signed by both men, the Jan. 29 letter criticizes the role of Jeremy Bird, who worked on both Obama’s successful presidential campaigns, for helping organizers of V15 or “Victory 2015” in their fight to replace Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, the right-wing leader of the Likud government. The two politicians also sought to make an issue of V15’s partnership with OneVoice, a nonprofit group that twice got grants from the U.S. Department of State last year. In a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, cited by Cruz and Zeldin, Bird was mentioned for having brought in a research team that “has really ignited sparks” in V15’s effort.
“Of course private American citizens are free to engage in political activities according to their inclinations,” write Zeldin and Cruz, “but given the overtly partisan nature of this particular case, we are deeply concerned by the relationship that also exists between OneVoice and the U.S. Department of State.”
Titled “Has President Obama Launched a Political Campaign Against Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu,” this letter marks the first time Zeldin has signed on with a senator to weigh in on a hot-button issue. Cruz may not be a household name on Long Island because he did not appear with Zeldin as he campaigned in the East End’s First District. But as long-time political observer Elizabeth Drew wrote recently in The New York Review of Books, “Ted Cruz has set himself up as the leader of the handful of Tea Party members in the Senate but he also brought pressure on House members last year to back the government shutdown.”
Cruz and Zeldin, the only Jewish Republican in the House, are calling upon Secretary of State John Kerry to make “a thorough investigation.” They say they’re worried that U.S. taxpayer funds “are being used to directly shape the outcome of the upcoming Israeli election—and specifically to campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu—something all would agree would be highly inappropriate.”
But when Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month, weeks before the Israeli election on March 17—and did so without informing the White House or the State Department—the administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to call it a direct interference in that country’s election. They pointed out that the surreptitious invitation was orchestrated by the current Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, a former Republican political operative, born in America, who is so close to Netanyahu that he is known as “Bibi’s brain,” according to The New York Times. Dermer cut his teeth in GOP politics starting in 1994 during the Republican takeover of Congress under Rep. Newt Gingrich.
In the November elections, Zeldin, a major in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq, rode a nationwide Republican wave to victory over six-term incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) by a margin of 54 percent to 45 percent. In 2008, when the two men first ran against each other, Bishop handily defeated Zeldin 58 percent to 42 percent, but that was a presidential election year when turnout was high, especially for Democrats.
In the 2014 mid-terms, only 28.8 percent of the eligible population voted in New York—the fourth lowest in the country in a year that saw the lowest voter turnout in 70 years, according to The New York Times—when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on the top of the ballot running for re-election. Cuomo, a lifelong Democrat, apparently had very short coattails. By contrast, Zeldin may have benefited in his race from Speaker Boehner, who made two campaign appearances for him: a fundraiser in Bridgehampton and another in Farmingville.
Maybe when Zeldin’s up for re-election in 2016, some observers wonder, he’ll be spending time on the campaign trail with Cruz.