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Congratulations may be in order for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who announced she is retiring after 38 years in elected office. But her departure from the House can be only sad news for friends of Free Cuba and of Israel. The Florida Republican has had a spectacular run, capped by her chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and it’s hard to think of many in congress who have stood so strongly for those two magnificent causes.
Our favorite Ros-Lehtinen moment is the one in which she schooled Prime Minister Netanyahu about Cuba. We’ve written about it several times here. It followed Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Cuba’s aging communist dictator, Fidel Castro. In that interview, we recalled in an editorial last year, Castro claimed that, despite all he’d said over the years, he believes Israel has a right to exist. Mr. Netanyahu, normally a savvy sort, and Israel’s then-president, Shimon Peres, reacted warmly.
When Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen communicated her displeasure, Mr. Netanyahu reportedly called her to apologize. It’s hard to think of another moment in which a few growls from a congressperson precipitated an apology from a sitting premier of Israel. It was a measure not just of the regard in which Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen is held in Israel but also of the clarity of her thinking. Mr. Goldberg’s interview with Castro was a deservedly famous scoop, but not a word Castro said was worth the paper on which the Atlantic printed it.
Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen’s hardline anti-communism grows from a liberal spirit. She has been an active defender of the LGBT community, which was represented in her district at Florida. Her views on this issue are often attributed to her son, Rodrigo, who is described on Wikipedia as the first openly transgender child of a member of Congress. Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen herself has said: “It’s important to listen to your children, accept your children and have your children know that you love them unconditionally.”
We’d like to think that this courageous mother understood that Castro’s own role in the persecution of Cuba’s gay community — Castro admitted he was personally to blame — was a natural outgrowth of the communistic ideology of totalitarianism to which he’d long since succumbed. Tolerating differences isn’t communism’s long suit. We don’t know Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen and can but speculate on the connection between this issue and her anti-communism. But whatever the explanation, it adds up to a courageous career.
The betting is that a Democrat will rise in her district, Florida’s 27th, which was recently redrawn. McClatchy News notes it “leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points,” her “biggest margin of any Republican-held seat in the country.” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen herself sounded a bipartisan note: “I’m not one of those name-callers that think the Democrats don’t have a single good idea,” McClatchy quoted her as saying. Let’s hope the 27th reciprocates the sentiment.