A slew of challenges face the US: climate change, the rise of political extremism, and threats to democratic institutions. Since 2016 Jewish Americans have also been feeling the rising threat of antisemitism. Difficult times call for confident and pragmatic leaders – something Greg Landsman, the freshman congressman, and Cincinnati’s first Jewish representative, sees himself as.
“We’ve got to buckle in for decades worth of really tough, hard elections until we have our democracy and our freedoms and our economy secure,” said Landsman.
Landsman is serving his first term in Congress and gearing up for his re-election campaign in 2024. He is the first Democrat to represent Ohio’s first congressional district since 2010. To see how the congressman is doing so far, and what he expects to focus on in 2024, Cincy Jewfolk caught up with him over a phone interview.
As Landsman sees it, there are three main issues he will base his re-election campaign on.
“At the top of my list are: What’s going to happen to our democracy, what is going to happen to our freedoms, and how are we going to build an economy where everyone gets a fair deal,” said Landsman.
Another of Landsman’s core issues is combating extremism and antisemitism. Earlier this year President Biden released the White House’s plan to combat antisemitism. Landsman welcomed the plan and sees it as an opportunity to increase funding in fighting antisemitism locally. Earlier this summer Landsman welcomed former speaker Nancy Pelosi to Cincinnati the two met with Jewish community leaders and with SAFE Cincinnati.
“I had Speaker Pelosi come in and we were able to get all the SAFE Cincinnati folks in the room and walk her through what we’re doing,” said Landsman. “It is a unique thing we have, working on behalf of our Jewish community and for communities across the state, and it has already helped protect people and save lives.
SAFE Cincinnati is a community initiative to monitor and deal with security threats to the Jewish community, which won an award from the FBI earlier this year.
“One of the ways Congress can be helpful is supporting the kind of public-private partnership that we have with SAFE Cincinnati,” said Landsman. “You have the Jewish community working alongside law enforcement. These are powerful partnerships that we can help support and incentivize all over the country where they’re working together, looking at data, and using that data to keep people safe.”
In recent years antisemitism and extremism have been thriving online. Social media sites have become platforms where hate groups can easily spread their message to a wider audience than ever. Landsman acknowledged the danger minority groups face online.
“The other thing we have to take on because it goes beyond just antisemitism – and we have to deal with it as soon as we can – is content moderation,” said Landsman. “We need to get serious about getting reforms passed so social media is a safer place for people.”
In his first year in office, Landsman has been working closely with many of his colleagues on issues to do with Israel. He has visited the country twice since being elected, and in July had the opportunity to introduce the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, to Congress. Israel has become a divisive issue between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and mainstream Democrats. To Landsman, the US-Israel relationship is now more important than ever.
“Israel has always been a strategic partner,” said Landsman. “It is a critical relationship for our security and theirs. It’s something I care deeply about, and we need pragmatic thoughtful leaders, not the flame throwers, who are the folks who kick up dust and go on Twitter and cable news and frankly make things worse in the region by raising the temperature.”
Even with the current political turmoil in Israel, Landsman is hopeful about the future of the small country.
“Israelis are having an intense conversation on where they want to go in terms of their democracy, and democracy has kicked in. That’s why we’ve seen these protests with hundreds of thousands of people doing it peacefully, that is democracy working,” said Landsman
Identity, Tattoos, and Courage
Landsman credits his Jewish identity and background as one of the main influences on his call to service. And like a growing number of Jewish Americans, Landsman has tattoos, that remind him of his values and ideals.
“I’ve got two [tattoos] in my daughter’s handwriting, one that says ‘never give up,’ the other is ‘courage’ in Hebrew,” said Landsman. “She was learning at the time and it just reminds me that this experience is going to be tough, but you have to keep choosing courage to make sure that you’re there for people and willing to do what has to be done.”
Public service always has its challenges, especially in the 435th Congress, and Landsman has always found his calling to it in a verse from the Torah, Micah 6:8.
“It is the only time in the Torah where somebody asked G-d directly what are we supposed to do? And god said clearly ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with me,’” Landsman said.
“To do justice is hard but important. It is to go out and do as much good as you possibly can to make your community, city, state, country, and the globe better,” he said. “I think it is a lost art, but it is something we overlook, and that is just being kind to people. And being all in on how we treat other people. And humility – it is needed so you can build the relationships that are needed for the people who need you.”