Live from New York, It’s Anthony Weiner
Months later, the two lawmakers sat next to each other at the State of the Union address in January, in a break with tradition meant to project a spirit of bipartisan cooperation in Washington. “It was my wife’s idea for us to sit together,” King recalls. “She said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the two biggest loudmouths in Congress who people think don’t like each other sat together for the night?’”
Adds King: “Anthony takes a point, pushes it as far as it can go and then pushes it even beyond that. People in other parts of the country find him loud and abrasive, but to me, he’s the kind of person you meet on the street corner of New York. He’s a character.”
Weiner has always been assertive about his Jewishness. In his own words, he’s spent “more time at melaveh malkahs [post-Shabbat gatherings], a lot more time at shul, at sisterhood breakfasts, and at bond breakfasts than probably just about anybody else.” He doesn’t belong to a synagogue or consider himself close to a single rabbi—except to say, consummate politician that he is, “all the shuls in my district are my home shuls.” Says Warren Hecht, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council: “He’s a Jewish official who hasn’t forgotten” his roots or his district.
Weiner, whose middle name is David, had his bar mitzvah at Union Temple in Park Slope, Brooklyn. As part of a promise to his Twitter followers, he recently released a photo of himself on his big day as an awkward-looking 13-year-old boy, complete with a self-described 1970s Jewfro. “We weren’t a very religious household, but we had a very strong sense of our Judaism,” Weiner says of his upbringing.
He came by his solid Zionist inclinations early on. “Support for Israel was always a very big focus in my household growing up,” says Weiner, who has been to the Jewish state more than a half-dozen times. He remembers wearing a homemade pin to Sunday school that read, “I am a Zionist.”
As a congressman, he has consistently pushed pro-Israel legislation, and Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), counts him among the “top 10 congressmen” in terms of Israel issues. In 2006, he supported legislation that would ban the Palestinian Authority delegation from the United Nations and urged its members to “start packing their little Palestinian terrorist bags.” Last year, he announced his opposition to the administration’s decision to sell a fleet of F-15s to Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia has not behaved like an ally of the United States,” Weiner wrote in a letter to President Obama, criticizing the move. “Saudi Arabia has a history of financing terrorism, is a nation that teaches hate of Christians and Jews to their school children, and offered no help to the U.S. as gas prices surged during the spike in oil prices. Furthermore, this deal would destabilize the region and undermine the security of Israel, our one true ally in the region.”
He has consistently criticized President Obama for going “too far” in opposing natural growth in the West Bank. In addition, he is actively working to secure the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, who he describes as “confined to a sentence that far exceeds the appropriate term for the crime he has committed.”
Recently, Weiner’s remarks on Israel raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. At a March 3 debate in New York about the Goldstone Report—prior to its author’s public mea culpa—featuring former Congressman Brian Baird from Washington state and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, Weiner repeatedly reiterated that there is “no Israeli occupation in the West Bank.” He also said there was no Israel Defense Force presence in the West Bank and that Israel’s eastern border was the Jordan River. These statements were covered in the Jewish press, as well as in liberal blogs, and as Gal Beckerman wrote in The Forward, “Weiner undermined his credibility completely by making statements that showed that he was either a) on the most extreme right of Israel’s political spectrum, or b) ignorant of basic facts about the conflict. Whatever the explanation, his lack of information on crucial and basic points made for much intense heckling.”
From the outside, Weiner’s hawkish Israel views appear to have collided with his personal life. His wife, Huma Abedin, was born in Michigan to a Pakistani mother and an Indian father, and raised in Saudi Arabia. Her late father, an Islamic scholar, established an institute there that aimed to deepen religious tolerance, while her mother, who is a sociology professor in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, helped create one of the first women’s colleges in the country.
Abedin has worked for Hillary Clinton since 1996, first as an intern for the first lady, then as right-hand aide to the senator, presidential-hopeful and secretary of state. Her beauty and legendary fashion sense have attracted a fair amount of attention, and for Weiner, who was known for bachelor exploits with some of New York’s most eligible women, the connection is said to have been love at first sight. In his speech at the wedding, former President Bill Clinton, who performed the ceremony, hinted that the feeling wasn’t mutual, but that Weiner’s determination paid off. “I have one daughter,” Clinton has said in the past. “But if I had a second daughter, it would be Huma.”
The pair dated for two years before announcing their engagement, and Weiner was uncharacteristically tight-lipped about their courtship. In a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board in 2008, Weiner dodged a number of personal questions but was adamant when asked if his relationship posed a potential risk to his political ambitions. “I’m certain that the relationship was not the product of a political calculation,” he said. Later, he also refused to answer what his Jewish mom thought of his girlfriend. “It’s not something I want to talk about.”
The July 2010 wedding was covered widely. The reports were gushing, accompanied by photos of the couple with the beautiful bride in a white Oscar de la Renta gown. Response in the Jewish community was tepid: “Christian President Marries Jewish Congressman to Moslem Political Aide on Shabbos,” read the headline on The Yeshiva World News after the Saturday nuptials.
The ZOA’s Klein is more direct: “People I’ve spoken to in his district said they wouldn’t support him because he intermarried.” In fact, before Weiner came to the ZOA dinner in December, Klein warned him that his marriage to a Muslim might elicit jeers from the crowd. Weiner told Klein that he could handle it, and in the end, the night went off without a hitch. Weiner says that “most people have congratulated me and chided me for how long it took me. I can’t say that never did anyone have something discordant to say, but it’s very rare. Her faith and my faith are things that are important to our identities and things that we talk about. Our faiths and our grounding in religious ideals have made us closer.”