With the recent announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky, extended family gatherings at the high-profile Clinton household look poised to become a lot more colorful.
With her choice of a mate, Clinton, daughter of a former president and the current secretary of state, is marrying into a family that includes a former congressman convicted of fraud; another member of Congress who fell on her sword for a future in-law in a vote that ended her political career; no fewer than 10 brothers- and sisters-in-law, and a fervently anti-Zionist uncle.
It’s a family with deep roots in the world of Jewish politics. Marc’s father, Ed Mezvinsky, was an Iowa congressman who is now remembered for later running numerous fraud operations that led him to spend years in prison. His mother, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, was a one-term congresswoman from Pennsylvania, and his uncle, Norton Mezvinsky, is an academic known for his anti-Israel views.
Ed Mezvinsky grew up in Ames, Iowa. The son of a Jewish grocer who owned a store in the middle of a Catholic neighborhood, he became involved in local politics as a consumer-rights advocate and, after a failed initial attempt, got elected to Congress in 1972. As a member of the House of Representatives’ Watergate panel, Mezvinsky voted in favor of impeaching then-president Richard Nixon.
“He was not one of those who distanced themselves from Jewish issues,” recalled Douglas Bloomfield, who was a congressional aide during the time Ed Mezvinsky served in the House. Mezvinsky took pride in his Jewish identity, was a supporter of legislation relating to Israel and was seen as “something unusual” as a Jew elected to Congress from Iowa, he said.
But after two terms in the House, Mezvinsky’s political career seemed to be over. He lost his re-election bid, and after moving to Pennsylvania he failed in races for the state’s Senate seat, for attorney general and for lieutenant governor.
Mezvinsky’s legal troubles began in 1980 but were not revealed until two decades later, when FBI agents raided his mansion in suburban Philadelphia. Soon after, he was charged with 69 counts of fraud. Mezvinsky argued that he was driven by a mental disorder and therefore was not responsible for his actions. He even recruited his rabbi from Har Zion Temple to raise money for a professional mental assessment, but the court turned down this argument and sentenced the former congressman to 80 months in prison. He was released in 2008.
Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky also had a short-lived political career, and owes her failure to both her husband, Ed, and her future in-law, then-President Bill Clinton.
Elected to Congress in 1992, she was the deciding vote in the House that ensured the passage of Clinton’s 1993 budget, which included a tax increase for the wealthy. Her willingness to vote for the bill was used against her in the following election cycle, leading to her defeat. She later tried running for Senate, but dropped out of the race when forced restitution payments related to her husband’s fraud conviction forced the family into bankruptcy.
The couple divorced in 2007. But before then, Marjorie and Ed raised 11 children, most of them adopted from overseas. In a 1996 interview with j., a Jewish news weekly, she said that the family chose the Conservative branch of Judaism as a compromise between her Reform upbringing and her husband’s Orthodox background.
As lawmakers, the Mezvinskys supported but were not prominent on Israel-related issues. If the former president and current secretary of state do raise the issue of the Jewish state during a family gathering, they might get a mouthful from Marc Mezvinsky’s uncle. Norton Mezvinsky, a professor who has been labeled as anti-Zionist, holds strong views questioning the right of Jews to a homeland in Israel.
Mezvinsky recently retired from Central Connecticut State University’s history department, where he taught for four decades. This past summer he became president of the newly established International Council for Middle East Studies, a think tank affiliated with Georgetown University.
In his academic work and in books he authored, Mezvinsky accused Israel of deliberately creating the Palestinian refugee problem. He supports a one-state solution for the regional conflict. Mezvinsky co-authored a book about Jewish extremists in Israel with Israel Shahak, a Hebrew University chemistry professor, since deceased, who was known for his strong views against the Jewish state.
“He uses his Jewish background to attack Israel; he represents the left of left among intellectual scholars,” said Asaf Romirowsky, adjunct scholar at Campus Watch, an organization that monitors academics dealing with the Middle East and Israel.
But David Gerwin, a professor of social studies at Queens College who worked with Mezvinsky at CCSU, paints a more nuanced picture. “He is driven, passionate and inspired, a force of nature,” he said of Mezvinsky, with whom he shared an office on campus. While agreeing that Mezvinsky’s views on Israel were “left of the left of the left,” Gerwin said that on issues relating to immigration or affirmative action, his approach was “way to the right.”
The Clintons and Mezvinskys have not yet announced their wedding arrangements, and despite intense blogosphere discussions, it is not clear whether the mixed-faith young couple will choose to have both Christian and Jewish clergy at their ceremony. Chelsea Clinton, however, was seen attending High Holy Day services with her fiancé at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Conservative Judaism’s flagship academic institution.
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.