Did Cruz’s ‘New York’ jibe refer to Jews?

January 17, 2016  

During a key moment in the latest Republican candidates’ debate, Ted Cruz accused Donald Trump of having “New York values,” after making similar statements on several occasions in the week before the debate.

“There are many, many wonderful working men and women in the state of New York. But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media,” Cruz said to the crowd at the Fox Business Network debate in South Carolina. Trump hit back by noting the heroic way the people of New York reacted to the Twin Towers tragedy on 9/11, and criticized Cruz for making “a very insulting statement.”

Quite a few liberal commentators took the statement as being a jab at liberal Jews, who are a dominant force in New York culture and politics.

On hard-line feminist website Jezebel, Joanna Rothkopf wrote: “Babe, just say what you mean: Jewish, black, gay values.”

The exchange between Cruz and Trump took place on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, where the evangelical vote is critical for Republicans, and the two men are in a virtual dead heat.

Cruz hit back by trying to tie Trump to Hillary Clinton, pointing out that she is the former liberal Democratic senator from New York who has said her fellow New Yorker, Trump, “was basically a Democrat before he was a Republican.”

The Jewish Week asked: “Was he just saying to the GOP’s very conservative evangelical base in Iowa that Trump comes from the home of the eastern liberal values and mainstream media they love to hate, or was there a subliminal message?

“‘New York values’ or some variation of the term has often been used as a euphemism for ‘Jewish,'” the publication noted. “Trump and Clinton have something Jewish in common besides New York: their daughters are married to Jews.” It added that an essay in Entertainment Weekly once pointed out that some critics thought Seinfeld was “too New York,” but what they really meant was “too Jewish.” 

Mark Silk, professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, wrote in Religion News Service that “‘New York’ certainly can serve as code for ‘Jew’ throughout what The New Yorker‘s Saul Steinberg (yes, a Jew) famously portrayed as the American Outback — in national politics no less than in other venues.

“To Jesse Jackson, the city was ipso facto a Jewish place called Hymietown,” he added. Silk referred to the TV show “West Wing,” which had an irate Christian conservative say to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, “It was only a matter of time with you, Josh. That New York sense of humor was just a little…”

“She meant Jewish,” Communications Director Toby Ziegler then said to Lyman. “When she said New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me.”

“The key term in his debate explanation of New York values is ‘money,'” Silk opined.  “[T]hat ‘focus around money and the media’? That was “New York = Jews” all the way. Don’t kid yourself.”

But others noted that while the comments may have been poorly-judged, Cruz clearly wasn’t aiming at Jews.

Writing in The Observer, Lisa Shiffren said that while she thought Cruz was describing “the less attractive attributes of one loud, brash, money-obsessed, vain and attention-seeking, three-times-wed Donald Trump,” she added that “every liberal New Yorker I know” thought he was “attacking New York Jews, by evoking deep, old-line anti-Semitism. To be sure, this view of New York as a bastion of liberal, libertine, Jewish communists and bankers and media moguls who manipulate the rest of the country for their own benefit, and Israel’s, while undermining real American values, hasn’t entirely disappeared.”

In The Forward, Gabe Friedman noted that “Cruz, who is a far stauncher supporter of Israel than anyone in the current administration, or on Hillary Clinton’s former or current staffs, is no anti-Semite.”

Indeed, the Senator last year walked out of a key Christian conference halfway into his keynote speech, after attendants booed his call to support Jews in Israel.

Republican conservative Friedman explained: “Listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York. But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media.”

Representative Steve King, a conservative Iowa Republican who supports Cruz, suggested on CNN that Cruz’s remark had backfired, saying, “It would have been better on the part of Ted Cruz not to have had that exchange.”

But Shmuley Boteach, a New Jersey rabbi and former congressional candidate who has been introducing Cruz to New York Jews, told MSNBC he didn’t take the Texas senator’s “New York values” attack too seriously.

“Personally, I saw what the senator said as being more tongue in cheek,” Boteach said, suggesting that perhaps Cruz’s comments were partly inspired by a scathing New York Times op-ed against him.  ”I think he was poking fun of how New Yorkers are portrayed in film and TV, like in ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Billionaire.’”

NBC‘s Saturday Night Live thought otherwise:


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