“As a proud American Jew, I have been to Israel numerous times from educational, business, and leisurely trips,” the down-but-not-yet-out new member of Congress George Santos wrote in a position paper during his campaign last year to represent New York’s 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The one-pager, outlining the 34-year-old’s policies regarding Israel, was shared last week in a New York Times op-ed by Mark Oppenheimer headlined, “Why Did George Santos Lie About Being Jewish? Additionally, I find myself wondering: Did Santos mean to say “for” such trips, or did he mean he stopped by Israel on his way back from such trips? And do such grammatical misdeeds matter more or less when it’s all lies anyway?
By now, we’re well-versed in the many tall tales spun by George Santos—who at points has also gone by George Devolder or Anthony Devolder. We know that he lied about his education, his work history and his assets. We know he forged checks in Brazil and that he is being accused of numerous campaign finance violations, as well as being part of a Ponzi scheme in Florida. And we know that he is not Jewish but Catholic, just like his grandparents—who did not flee Belgium for Brazil to escape the Holocaust as their grandson once claimed.
With the continual perpetuation of Holocaust denial and distortion, especially on growing social media platforms like TikTok, telling the truth about Jewish people’s experiences as victims and survivors is vital. It’s also an apt time to look back at Moment’s wider, award-winning exploration of truth. Of course, lying and misrepresentation are not values any religion or system of ethics should be based on, but the Winter 2020 issue dove specifically into what Jewish tradition has to say about truth. It presented some compelling ideas that, Jewish or not, any public figure would do well to consider.
The lively “Moment Debate,” for example, asked, “Should Jews Support Leaders Who Lie?” Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon took the “Yes” position, noting that “Truth is a central value in Judaism, but if you look at the most admired biblical figures—Queen Esther, for instance—of course they always adhere to the truth, but the truth by itself does not always bring them salvation. Sometimes, to get to the truth that brings peace and salvation, they have to outfox their enemies.”
Former Vermont Governor and former Ambassador to Switzerland Madeleine Kunin argued “No,” even though she acknowledged that some lies are worse than others. A leader who lies habitually (like Santos or former President Donald Trump) cannot be trusted with decisions that affect the people they represent, Kunin contended. “I would just add that Jews feel embarrassed when a prominent Jewish person is revealed to be dishonest, and we take that almost personally. That’s a normal reaction.”
I suppose it’s also a normal reaction for Republicans on Capitol Hill to be dodging questions about whether Santos should resign, given the very slim House majority they hold now and how a special election in a swing district could affect it. If only they, too, would read our “Truth” issue, including the “Jewish Word” column on emet—the Hebrew word for truth. Quoting Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) that “The world stands on three pillars: on truth, on justice and on peace,” Moment Book & Opinion Editor Amy E. Schwartz interpolates rabbinical teaching that “truth exists along with other cornerstone social values and must be balanced with them.” It may soon be inevitable for Santos and his party to face the truth that he cannot justly or peacefully continue.