Alan Zimmerman (VA): ‘I Don’t Think It’s Anti-Israel to Be Critical’
Alan Zimmerman (61), a Democrat from Charlottesville, VA, was president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right march in August 2017. Zimmerman remembers standing on the steps, watching armed neo-Nazis shouting “Heil Hitler.” He was “not surprised that there is anti-Semitism in America—I’m not naïve—but that it could be displayed so brazenly and even proudly in the streets of an American city was frankly shocking.”
How would you describe your politics?
For most of my life, I considered myself a Democrat. But in the last two years I’ve felt that the party system isn’t working for me. I decided I will now vote based on positions and values, not party. But I suspect, given our current political climate, that 98 percent of the time I’ll vote for Democrats.
Does religion affect your political views?
Absolutely. I think certain core Jewish values are indisputable, like welcoming the stranger. To me, that means we should be opening our arms to refugees. The question shouldn’t be how do we keep refugees out, but how do we accommodate them?
What issue is most important to you?
My top issue by far is health care because it’s personal to me. My youngest son is a type 1 diabetic and on the autism spectrum. The main reason I’m still working is for the health insurance. Our main concern is our son finding reasonable health care after his 26th birthday. Because of the autism, it’s unlikely he’ll find a job that offers insurance. And since he is diabetic, if protections for pre-existing conditions go away, he’ll have some real problems.
How do you feel about Israel?
Israel is very important to me. I don’t think anyone could run on an anti-Israel platform and be a viable candidate. But I also think we should recognize that its approach to a lot of Palestinian issues is wrong. I don’t think it’s anti-Israel to be critical of Israel.
Is politics a source of tension among friends and family?
At some point in the last two or three years, I completely lost interest in engaging in political discussions with people who don’t agree with me. The conversations lead nowhere and left me thinking less of the person. My way of dealing with it is to avoid those subjects altogether.
What do you think about the Democratic field?
I think it’s good overall, but I don’t like Bernie Sanders. As for Joe Biden, I think his time has passed. It’s not about his chronological age; he’s just from another era. I think as a nation and as a progressive movement, we need to be looking ahead. That said, if he is the nominee, I will enthusiastically support him. Elizabeth Warren appeals to me most, followed by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.
How do you feel about Donald Trump’s presidency?
I’m very concerned about white supremacy and anti-Semitism. The Unite the Right rally marched past our synagogue in 2017. I think Trump has given a license to elements in society that are anti-Semitic and racist, and we need to find a way to address it. The president needs to provide some moral leadership, especially in difficult times.
Do you support impeachment?
There is little doubt in my mind that he deserves it, not just for this Ukrainian stuff, but also for what came out in the Mueller report. So in that sense, I support it. I’m undecided about whether it is a good political strategy; time will tell, though I tend to think it will be a net negative for Trump and the Republicans. Sometimes, though, you just have to do what’s right and let the chips fall where they may.