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Va. Republican: 'Jews are not monolithic'

When the 107th Congress is called into session, four new Jewish faces will be seen in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency
December 14, 2000

WASHINGTON—As one of only two Jewish members of the Virginia House of Delegates, Rep. Eric Cantor was a staunch advocate for Richmond's small, close-knit Jewish community.

For example, when a law requiring public schools to start after Labor Day meant that doors would open on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Cantor stepped into action. With the support of the state superintendent, Cantor visited many local schools where Jewish children would be affected and successfully encouraged the schools to change their starting date.

"No child should have to miss the first day of school because of his or her religious faith," he says.

Cantor, 37, says he hopes to bring that kind of responsiveness to the people with him to Washington when he assumes his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives this January.

Though he will join 26 other Jewish colleagues there, he will be one of only two Jewish Republicans.

Cantor bristles at the notion that Democratic and Jewish perspectives on issues are one and the same.

"The idea that there is a 'Jewish position' on most nonreligious matters is not reality," he says. "Jews are not monolithic."

Cantor, a lawyer and longtime Republican stalwart who earned a decisive victory over Democratic opponent Warren Stewart, intends to stick to his conservative principles in Congress. His top priorities include limiting the size of the federal government, lowering taxes and strengthening the military.

Cantor also supports school choice, educational tax credits and vouchers. All three of his children once attended Richmond's only Orthodox day school, though they now attend public school.

Making the case for vouchers, Cantor says, "I can afford to live in a place where the public schools are the best. But we need to look at it from a child's standpoint. If they're stuck in a poor school now, it could take years to fix anything."

While the voucher issue has divided the American Jewish community, Cantor says that its unity behind Israel is one of its greatest strengths.

In the Virginia House, where he was elected in 1991 at the age of 28, Cantor worked to initiate the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board and privately raised more than $200,000 to back its work. The board-on which his wife, Diana Fine, now sits-promotes high-tech trade between Virginia and Israel.

"The best thing for Israel is to normalize relations with as many places as possible," he says.

Cantor adds that he feels "resentment" toward the Clinton administration for "pushing Israel into concessions and talks that were well before their time."

In the upcoming term, Cantor hopes to advocate a U.S.-Israel policy that would support the Jewish state while also allowing "Israel to determine its own fate."

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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