Josh Mandelbaum (40), a Democrat from Des Moines, IA, comes from a long line of Iowans and attends Temple B’nai Jeshurun, the congregation his great-great-grandfather helped found in 1873. He works for the nonprofit Environmental Law Policy Center on clean energy and clean water issues. He has volunteered for political campaigns for more than 20 years and currently serves on the greater Des Moines Jewish Federation Board.
We are providing the unfiltered opinions of voters interviewed for this project. Those views are based on their understanding and perception of facts and information from a range of sources. In some cases, that information may be misleading or incorrect.
How concerned are you about the rise of anti-Semitism in this country?
I’m very concerned; the number of incidents that we’ve seen across the country is alarming. Anti-Semitism is something that many people thought was in the past or was less of an issue today. It’s been a real wake-up call. We had a community meeting at the temple after one of the attacks in New Jersey. All of the Jewish facilities around town have invested in security measures—doors are locked, people filter through just one door. We are more often hiring armed off-duty Des Moines police officers on regular Shabbats. So, yeah, I would say I’m very, very alarmed.
Do you think anti-Semitism is being addressed adequately by the presidential candidates?
I think we need to be speaking up to our common values, our aspirations and inclusiveness, and what makes this country great. Part of the response is that we should be embracing those things that have made this country great for years and welcoming people who want to make opportunities here. In that regard, I think a number of our candidates do that. I don’t know that I’ve paid enough attention or looked for enough examples to know if they are doing this in the context of addressing anti-Semitism.
How do you, as a member of the Des Moines City Council, deal with anti-Semitism in your community?
I struggle with the way we deal with hate before it manifests itself in an actual physical act. We have a gentleman in the area I represent who lives right next door to one of the more diverse Des Moines elementary schools where 60 percent are students of color; many are immigrants and refugees. This person has chosen to put up Confederate flags and a swastika in his yard. People have asked me to do something, but it’s free speech. Someone can say hateful, bigoted, awful things in this country. And precisely because what they’re saying is so abhorrent, we protect it.
What do you think is the reason for the increase in anti-Semitism?
My biggest disappointment on the anti-Semitism front is really our president because I think he traffics in hate and has almost encouraged or allowed hate to fester. The hate that he traffics in is closely related to some of the anti-Semitism. The type of hate displayed by gentleman in our community with the Confederate flags and swastikas may have existed in the shadows, but those folks are more comfortable now coming out and spewing things, and that’s really what I’d like to see condemned.