Forward Thinking

Rocky Start to GOP Orthodox Outreach

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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The nascent alliance between the ultra-Orthodox and the Republican Party that some analysts say could revolutionize New York state politics is getting off to a rocky start.

UPDATE: Click through for Yossi Gestetner’s response.

That’s the takeaway from the drama over Yossi Gestetner, the Hasidic political operative who abruptly resigned from his position directing Jewish outreach for the GOP after just a few days on the job. He quit following a report from The Jewish Channel about his ties to ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist groups.

The Jewish Channel also reported that Gestetner has been a spokesman for an event supporting an Orthodox alleged child molester, and that he had argued that Jews should report crimes to rabbis before going to the police.

In a blog post on June 20, Gestetner denied that he resigned over his anti-Zionist ties.

Gestetner wrote:

“Another issue which brought a distraction to the NYGOP is my ongoing work to defend the Orthodox Jewish Community and the Hasidic way of life against an endless amount of attacks, lies from forces inside and outside the Jewish Community…[M]y work to push fair and balanced treatment of Orthodox Jews in the public arena, has been a distraction to the State Committee, and as such I stepped aside.”

The debacle suggests that the potential alliance may not be as made-in-political heaven as some believe. The Democrats have a long history and deep roots in the Jewish community, which is enormously helpful when it comes to vetting newcomers. The GOP, not so much.

That Gestetner is not a Zionist should not have been a surprise to anyone. Ultra-Orthodox groups have a range of theological positions on the Israeli state, from the outright anti-Zionism of the Satmar and Neturei Karta at one extreme to the Lubavitch on the other, who often make common cause with Zionists.

Most of these positions, fully expressed, are foreign and even offensive to the Israeli-flag waving of the non-Orthodox Jewish mainstream.

As we have written extensively over the past two weeks, the growing Orthodox community shares some ideological positions with the Republicans, and could theoretically serve as an important constituency for the party in the state, if the party is able to win them over.

That’s apparently what they were trying to do when they hired Gestetner. That he only lasted a week suggests that the Republicans don’t fully understand their putative dance partners – at least not yet.

UPDATE: Gestetner emailed the Forward to assert that the state Republicans new exactly what they were getting when they hired him.

“Republicans in NY who have dealt with Satmar and all other Orthodox/Hasidic sects for decades, were and are fully aware that few-to-none of its members consider themselves Zionists,” Gestetner wrote.


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