After release of House report, widespread calls for Greitens’ resignation

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens greets volunteers at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in February, 2017. After news broke about vandalism at the cemetery, Greitens called for volunteers to gather at the cemetery to work on cleanup efforts. Now, the governor is facing widespread calls for his resignation. File Photo: James Griesedieck

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

A little more than a year ago, parts of the Jewish community felt pride as they observed or participated in the inauguration of Missouri’s first Jewish governor, Eric Greitens.

A Jewish Light story on the festivities got more than 450 likes on Facebook. 

“I still feel that regardless of what side of the aisle someone sits on politically, that for me when a fellow Jew is elected to public office — in this case, the first Jewish governor of our state — that it is something to be proud of,” Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation said after Greitens visited her synagogue for Shabbat services in January 2017.

Greitens, a Republican, won over a few more fans the next month when he organized a “clean up” that drew more than 1,000 volunteers, including Vice President Mike Pence, after 150 headstones were knocked over or destroyed at Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City. 

Oh, how things change. 

Now many in the St. Louis Jewish community are condemning the governor, following the release last week of a graphic report containing allegations that Greitens had been abusive toward a woman he had an affair with in 2015. Greitens is married and campaigned for governor on a platform that touted “family values.”

Greitens has denied allegations that he took a photograph of the woman without her consent and threatened to use it against her. He also described the report as a “political witch hunt.”

The Jewish Light found that local Jews who might otherwise disagree with one other share a common disappointment in Greitens. Some said he should resign — and sometimes, the stronger language came from unexpected places. 

Take, for example, responses from the president of the St. Louis chapter of National Council of Jewish Women and the past chairman of the Republican Jewish Committee.

“The Governor is a disgrace to the Republican Party, to the State of Missouri, and to himself,” Sam Fox, a St. Louis businessman and philanthropist, stated in an email to the Light. In addition to his position on the RJC board, he served as the ambassador to Belgium under President George W. Bush. “He should resign,” Fox added.

Susan Witte, the NCJW-St. Louis president, said since the organization has “a mission to improve the lives of women, children and families, we are very troubled by the allegations against the governor and against any elected official — particularly related to abuse of women.”

When asked whether she thought Greitens should resign, Witte explained that NCJW is not a political organization and declined to comment.

There was a common concern among Jewish community leaders about whether Greitens would be able to govern effectively if he remains in office. Prior to the recent allegations, Jewish leaders had praised Greitens for his efforts to build relations between Missouri and Israel. Greitens hosted Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in August and visited Israel in November. But now in addition to the recent report, he faces a criminal trial on a felony invasion-of-privacy charge related to the alleged photograph.

Jewish Federation of St. Louis “does not take political sides but at the same time we depend on good governance for our region and state and we can’t effectively advocate for the welfare of the most vulnerable and poor unless we have a good partnership (with government) and strong leadership,” said Andrew Rehfeld, President and CEO of Federation. As such, he said Greitens should resign — though he explained that he was speaking for himself rather than Federation. 

Federation board chairman Gerry Greiman also said he thought Greitens should resign — and also clarified that he was speaking for himself and not the organization he represents.

After the election, there were some who could appreciate the significance of a Jewish governor in Missouri — even if they had not voted for Greitens.

“When he was elected, I was so pleased to have a smart, Jewish governor, who seems to support Israel and our veterans and other important charitable causes,” David Rubin, an attorney and member of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion (NHBZ), a Modern Orthodox congregation, wrote in an email to the Light.  He said that while he has never voted for a Republican — and did not agree with many of Greitens’ positions — he was proud when he was elected.

“But the bottom line — I now am embarrassed as a Jew and as a person from Missouri, to have him as my governor,” Rubin stated. (On whether he should resign: “I think it’s too early for him to resign. I think he needs to present his side of the story.”)

NHBZ Rabbi Ze’ev Smason said he has heard similar expressions of disappointment from both Republican and Democrat congregants. 

“The governor is in so many ways a person who is deserving of our admiration and our thanks for his service to the country and for his tremendous accomplishments,” Smason said, noting that Greitens is a former Navy SEAL. He also started an organization, the Mission Continues, to help veterans adjust to life after they serve. 

“He has a resume that until recent times . . . seemed to be too good to be true, but unfortunately sometimes those are the facts, things that seem too good to be true are,” Smason added.

He and others also commented on the separation between a breach of ethics — the admitted affair — and alleged breach of law, regarding the invasion of privacy charge.

“If we were to eliminate from consideration or find disfavor with individuals because of things that didn’t have anything to do with their qualifications for office, it would be slim pickings,” he said. “But once something has passed into the realm of being more than … an unethical [action], regarding a person’s personal commitment [to his wife], but illegal, at that point, you have a clear violation of public trust (and) confidence.”

Smason and others noted that some are particularly upset because of the fact that Greitens is Jewish. 

 “Our marching orders 3,000 years ago were that we were to be a light onto the nations of the world,” said Smason. “It should hurt all of us when anyone fails personally but when we look to the Jews and our fellow brothers and sisters, it hurts a little bit more.” 

It would appear that not all in the Jewish community have distanced themselves from, or condemned, the governor. The Republican Jewish Committee executive director Matt Brooks described Greitens as “family” following the initial allegations. Brooks has not responded to requests for comment following the recent report.

And then there are some who are not talking about it to the Light — or anyone else.

“Engaging in discussion and speaking about others, especially in difficult circumstances, is not something that should be done due to the [Jewish] laws of lashon hara, speaking negatively about other people,” said Mike Rovinsky, an Orthodox rabbi who leads Jewish Student Union, a youth group for local teens. (A number of rabbis from outside the Orthodox community also declined to comment but did not reference lashon hara.)

“Now that doesn’t mean that we live with our heads in the sand. However, in a case like this — where there is no benefit or need to discuss the situation — then it would be prohibited.” 

Asked whether that law would apply even if Greitens were not Jewish, Rovinsky said yes.

 What do you think?

Should Gov. Eric Greitens resign? Vote on the Light’s online poll and see the results in next week’s newspaper.