Today is a big day for electoral primaries, those greasy pistons of a thriving democracy. All across the country, eager first-timers are entering the political fray, riding the tide of anti-establishment, anti-insurgent fervor as far as they can. One of the newcomers is Sergey Shevchuk, a Russian émigré, Orthodox Jew, and renegade Republican from northern New Jersey. He is vying for a chance to unseat six-term Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman.
It’s an uphill slog. But Shevchuk’s candidacy testifies to the resiliency of the Tea Party’s political moment, and the centrality of Israel in U.S. elections.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in New Jersey’s ninth congressional district, which covers most of Bergen County, nearly three to one. It went strongly for Gore, Kerry, and Obama, and was last represented by a Republican in 1982. For nearly three decades, in fact, Republicans have not had a primary. Today, though, there are three GOP contestants.
Shevchuk is running as the “Tea Party” candidate. (His Website redirects automatically to the candidate interviews with the NJ Tea Party Coalition.) But so are both of his primary opponents! All three have platforms of Ayn Randian disregard for big government, tax cuts, gun control, and “Obamacare.” One of them, Michael Agosta, received the support of the Republican Party; Shevchuk is using this against him. On Shevchuk’s Facebook page (his de facto campaign site), he proudly notes that he is running “without any party support.”
At the core of Shevchuk’s narrative is his experience living in Soviet Russia (like Ms. Rand!). He knows real socialism, he contends, and is deeply troubled that we are heading in that direction. “The country needs to be shaken up to its core,” he told the Tea Party Coalition, “with the strong and clear message, free from any political correctness and fear of political retribution.” His narrative mirrors fellow Soviet Jewish émigré (and fellow Republican candidate) Orly Taitz. Although, from his online statements, Shevchuk doesn’t appear to share Taitz’s particular dedication to fringe theories. He did not return Tablet Magazine’s requests for comment.
Another central tenet of Shevchuk’s platform is a fierce solidarity with the Israeli government, something he hopes resonates with the growing Orthodox Jewish population in the district. The town of Teaneck, at the heart of the district, has 18 Orthodox synagogues for a population of 39,000. It elected its first Orthodox mayor, Elie Katz, in 2006; Katz was succeeded by Michael Kevie Feit, another Orthodox community leader.
Immediately after the flotilla incident, Shevchuk released a flurry of statements siding with the IDF. “We are in the final stages of the battle between good and evil in the world,” he wrote on Facebook, “and Israel is on the front line of this war, fighting it on our behalf.”
Of course, all three Republican candidates support further Israeli settlements. And on June 2nd, Rep. Rothman released a statement calling the flotilla a “violent provocation against Israel.” “Many people in the Jewish community,” Councilman Katz told Tablet Magazine, “have felt that Rothman has been very good for Israel.”
Earlier: Israel Hits the West Coast