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Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 2020

American Jews are increasingly being targeted in the 2020 election campaign.  
The campaign of President Trump, in particular, is appealing to Jewish  
voters on the basis of his administration’s embrace of the policies of Prime  
Minister Netanyahu’s government in Israel, in particular, the moving of the  
U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The assumption of Republican  
strategists, it seems, is that Jewish Americans cast their votes on the  
basis of what they think is best for Israel. In this calculation, however,  
what is being ignored is the fact that all available evidence points in a  
different direction.  
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a variety of other serious  
issues facing the nation, the Middle East has been the focus of a great deal  
of attention. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the Republican  
National Convention from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. In September,  
President Trump arranged a ceremony at the White House with Israeli Prime  
Minister Netanyahu and representatives of the United Arab Emirates and  
Bahrain. For his efforts, several right-wing parliamentarians in Europe  
have nominated President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize.  
In his Rosh Hashanah statement to American Jews, Trump focused on Israel.  
He spent most of his twenty-minute call with American Jewish leaders making  
the case for American Jews to vote for him. He closed by repeating a line  
that has caused controversy in the past. He said, “We really appreciate  
you; we love your country also.” By “your country,” he was referring to  
Israel. Earlier, introducing his son-in-law Jared Kushner, he referred to  
him as an “unbelievable leader for Israel.” These comments echo others he  
has made in the past that suggest American Jews think of themselves as  
Israelis, including at the White House Hanukkah party two years ago.  
Politicizing White House Events  
Trump’s comments also blurred the line between White House events and  
campaigning. Until his presidency, campaign appeals from the White House  
have been seen as unethical if not illegal. He urged listeners to campaign  
for him and suggested that Israel would suffer if he is not re-elected. He  
said: “Whatever you can do in terms of Nov. 3 is going to be very important,  
because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble.” He boasted of what his  
administration had done for Israel, such as providing “$4.2 billion in  
annual aid.” The correct amount is $3.8 billion, and this was a deal  
brokered by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. “we are in the Middle East  
because of Israel,”. Trump declared.  
Beyond this, Trump lamented that in the 2016 election, he saw a poll that  
indicated he received only 25% of the Jewish vote, despite the fact that, “I  
have a son-in-law, a daughter who are Jewish, I have beautiful grandchildren  
that are Jewish, I have all these incredible achievements.” He hopes that  
abandoning the nuclear agreement with Iran, moving the U.S. Embassy to  
Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and  
eliminating U.S. aid to Palestinians will cause large numbers of Jewish  
voters to support his re-election.  
He also promotes the agreement between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE as  
promoting “peace” in the region. What he ignores, and most American Jews  
understand very well, is that peace requires an accommodation with the  
Palestinians. As The Washington Post (Sept. 29, 2020) stated editorially,  
“Israel won’t be secured by accords with the likes of Bahrain; only a two-  
state settlement with the Palestinians can ensure it remains a Jewish  
democratic state. In that sense the dawn of Mideast peace that Mr. Trump  
sought to proclaim will become possible only if he is defeated in November.”  
Israel’s Influence in Washington  
Indeed, the recognition of Israel by the UAE is an indication of Israel’s  
influence in Washington and the feeling by UAE leaders that the way to get  
closer to the U.S. is to be conciliatory with Israel. The Economist (Sept.  
12, 2020) notes that, “when Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed  
to establish diplomatic relations on August 11th it seemed like a  
straightforward deal. The countries had been moving closer for some time.  
Israel quietly works with the Gulf states to counter Iran. The UAE’s  
decision to become just the third Arab country to recognize Israel, despite  
the occupation of Palestinian lands, reflected these warmer ties. There was  
more to it than that, however. It has since emerged that the UAE is in  
talks with America over an arms deal that will include weapons such as the  
F-35, which America has hitherto only sold to close allies.”  
Hafar Susskind, the president of Americans for Peace Now, points out that  
diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain comes” ...at a  
time when his (Netanyahu) government continues to entrench the occupation  
and undermine even the hope of a two-State solution. Normalization is great  
for the venture capitalists who will benefit from it, but does nothing to  
remedy Israel’s existential problem: its conflict with the Palestinians and  
the occupation that does so much damage.”  
It is, Susskind declares, “...hard to celebrate when the occupation  
continues and deepens. As Netanyahu and his aides are discussing  
normalization with their Emirati counterparts, they are also advancing plans  
to build a settlement in the strategic area of the West Bank known as E-1,  
the corridor between Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. As they negotiate  
with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Israeli officials are pushing plans for a  
settlement in Givat Hamatos on Jerusalem’s southern border. These  
settlements strike at the heart of any plan for a contiguous and viable  
Palestinian state.... Although the UAE agreed to normalize relations only if  
Netanyahu committed to halting preparations for West Bank annexation. Both  
the prime minister and alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, say they are  
committed to formally annexing large parts of the West Bank in the  
future.... Normalization with the Arab world is welcome, but not as a tool  
to normalize the occupation...”  
“Next, the Palestinians”  
In an editorial headlined “Next, the Palestinians,” Washington Jewish Week  
(Sept. 24, 2020) notes that, “the accords, and some of the language in them,  
also put the vexing Israeli-Palestinian conflict into very sharp focus.  
That focus is likely to increase if, as predicted, a stream of neighboring  
countries establishes relations with Israel. Increasingly, it is becoming  
more and more important for Israel...to figure out a way to engage  
meaningfully and comprehensively with the Palestinians in an all-out effort  
to end the conflict.”  
In contrast to President Trump, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden  
used mis Rosh Hashanah message to focus on the religious significance of the  
occasion. He discussed the Rosh Hashanah themes of reflection and renewal  
along with his broader commitment to advancing Jewish values throughout the  
world. He said, “These are the days of awe that give us a chance to  
restart, to speak up...What kind of country do we want to be. Both of our  
faiths, yours and mine, instruct us not to ignore what’s around us.” Biden  
recalled a lesson his father instilled in him as a child—-that silence is  
complicity—-which he said helped him to understand the vow that “Never  
again” should a genocide like the Holocaust be permitted to occur. He  
highlighted how he decided to run after watching neo-Nazis marching in  
Charlottesville in 2017 and being appalled at what he called the president’s  
“equivocations” in condemning racist and anti-Semitic violence. His only  
mention of Israel was when he said, “We can pursue peace in the world,  
including by remaining a steadfast ally of Israel.”  
The Trump campaign is making a concerted effort to raise its number of  
Jewish votes to as much as 35%, which could have an impact on such swing  
states as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In an article entitled “Why Jews  
Should Vote For Trump,”. (The Times of Israel (Sept. 13, 2020) Norm Coleman,  
chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and former U.S. Senator from  
Minnesota, writes: “Virulent anti-Semitism that now flows from the lips of  
the ascendant progressive leadership of the Democrat Party, including Ilan  
Omar, Rashid Tlaib and AOC. President Trump’s record is a story of  
perseverance and success in the face of overwhelming opposition. ...Taking  
the U.S. out of the Iran treaty, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,  
recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, he began  
discussions with the Israeli government about the extension of Israeli  
sovereignty in the West Bank.”  
Definition of anti-Semitism  
Coleman argues that “the administration has spoken out forcefully against  
anti-Semitism” and that it has “adopted the International Holocaust  
Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism which specifically  
includes both traditional anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Israel elements such  
as dehumanizing and demonizing Israel and seeking destruction of the Jewish  
state by the BDS movement...Virulent anti-Semitism, which once stood only  
on the fringe of the Democrat Party is now very much at the center of that  
party.” Of Donald Trump, Coleman declares that, “There. Has never been a  
better friend of Israel and the Jewish community in the White House.”  
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, argues  
that Donald Trump can defeat Joe Biden by getting 30-35 per cent of the  
Jewish vote in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Brooks’ view, he can get  
to that number by running on his record as “the most pro-Israel president  
ever.” The key, says Brooks, is for Trump to increase his share of the  
Jewish vote from 25% in 2016 to 30-35 % this year in battleground states.  
The Republican Jewish Coalition is spending $10 million for the largest  
outreach effort ever undertaken in the Jewish community.  
Brooks argues that, “We don’t need to get a majority of the Jewish vote.  
There is no question that this election is going to be a nail biter. It’s  
going to be an incredibly close election...Florida is a terrific test case.  
Ron DeSantis won the governorship in Florida in 2018 with 40,000 votes over  
Andrew Gillum...He also increased his share of the Jewish vote to 35% in  
his election, a shift that was more than enough to give him the margin of  
victory and I think the Governor even talks about how his increase in the  
Jewish community and the support that he got was decisive in him winning the  
election.” In September, Governor DeSantis signed legislation authorizing  
the creation of a “Florida Stands With Israel” specialty license plate.  
Cabinet meeting in Israel  
DeSantis stressed his pro-Israel record in Congress in the 2018 race and  
soon after he was elected, he held a cabinet meeting in Israel. The Daytona  
Beach News Journal said that he did so in part to help Donald Trump’s re-  
election campaign. Still, most Jews remain liberal. Frank Newport of  
Gallup reports that 64% of Jews are liberal, much higher than the overall  
25% among the general population, making Jews the most liberal of any major  
religious group in the country. Another 36% of Jews are moderates, with 20%  
describing themselves as conservative, compared with 37% of the total  
population. According to Pew Research, 42% of Jews say that President Trump  
favors Israel too much.  
The Washington Post (Sept. 23, 2020) quotes President Trump as saying that  
“Jews stick together” and “care only for themselves,” according to current  
and former senior White House officials describing how the president  
privately described different racial and religious groups.  
For their part, the Democrats maintained a strong pro-Israel position. The  
party platform eliminated the term “occupation” to describe Israel’s role on  
the West Bank. It condemned the BDS movement, but also opposed legislation  
that would penalize the movement, citing free speech concerns. There was  
mention of “Palestinian rights,” although there was no criticism of Israel.  
The Democrats were critical of President Trump’s abandonment of the nuclear  
agreement with Iran. It is clear that criticism of Israeli policy is  
growing among many Democrats. The defeat of Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the  
strongly pro-Israel chairman of the House Foreign Affairs. Committee, in the  
Democratic primary, despite financial support from pro-Israel PACs, is an  
indication of this trend.  
Anti-Semitic tropes  
The group Democratic Majority for Israel said that President Trump is  
trafficking in an anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty. Daniel B. Shapiro,  
former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and a supporter of the Biden campaign, said  
that, “Trump has been trying every day for four years to turn Israel into a  
wedge issue with American Jewish voters and he can’t even move it out of the  
margin of error.” Stash Cotler of the Jewish Political Action Committee  
says that, “The implication that American Jews share some kind of ‘dual  
loyalty’ is textbook anti-Semitism. It’s really scary seeing the president  
using this kind of rhetoric. Trump seems unable to grasp the simple fact  
that Jewish Americans are Americans, period.”  
The idea that appealing to Jewish voters on the basis of support for Israel,  
particularly the policies of the right-wing government of Prime Minister  
Netanyahu, is, it seems, a recipe for defeat and a complete misunderstanding  
of the motivation of Jewish voters. Recent public opinion polls show that  
Donald Trump has a 29% approval rating among Jewish voters and a 69%  
disapproval rating. Polls show that only. 4% of American Jews consider  
Israel the most important voting issue. Health care is put at the top of  
the list by 43% and 29% cite gun violence and 21% point to Social Security  
and Medicare (Polls by Ruderman Foundation).  
American Jews are increasingly critical of Israel’s more than 50year  
occupation and its denial of political rights to millions of Palestinians.  
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-wing Israeli think tank,  
issued a report in July cited by Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss (Sept. 18, 2020)  
entitled, “American Jewry In Transition: How attitudes on Israel May Be  
Shifting.” It found that one quarter of American Jews believe that Israel  
is “racist and colonial” and that its system is similar to “apartheid.” It  
found that 31% would vote for Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar “regardless  
of Israel lobby views of the two congresswomen as anti-Semitic.” And the  
idea that anti-Semitism is coming from America’s progressive movement is  
rejected by most American Jews. This study found that 51% found the right-  
wing and white nationalist groups were the main source of anti-Semitism and  
only 12% believed that the left was largely responsible.  
Appeal to Christian Zionists  
The Trump administration’s embrace of Israel’s maximalist positions may have  
more to do with its appeal to Christian Zionists than to Jews. U.S.  
Ambassador to Israel David Friedman refers to the relationship between  
Israel and the U.S. as “an altar of holiness,” and the U.S. Embassy in  
Jerusalem as a “shrine.” At a ceremony in Jerusalem, he declared that  
Israel “was on the side of God.” making the Israeli state “holy,”. and  
therefore, a legitimate object of worship. This has been accompanied by the  
virtual canonization of those who embrace its occupation of the West Bank  
and East Jerusalem. Miriam Adelson, the wife of billionaire casino mogul,  
Sheldon Adelson, and a major contributor to the Trump campaign, proposed  
that the story of Donald Trump, “hero and patriot,” ought to be added to the  
President Trump may find support for his views among a small group of ultra-  
Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals but if he thinks that this is the way to  
appeal to large numbers of American Jews he is mistaken. At the 2019  
conference of J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobbying group, Rabbi Ayelet  
Cohen of the New Israel Fund said that American Jews are losing interest in  
Israel, are tired of fighting over Israel, and that rabbis are quietly  
dropping Israel from Hebrew school curricula and no one is noticing.  
Clearly, there is now a major transformation in the thinking of American  
Jews which politicians in both parties seem not to have noticed. More and  
more respected Jewish voices are being heard calling for a “one-state”  
solution. Peter Beinart, an editor of Jewish Currents, stirred much  
controversy with his article in The New York Times (July 8, 2020) headlined  
“Why I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” Since Israel has occupied the  
territory which would become a Palestinian state, the only way forward, he  
argues, is to create a single state with equal rights for all, regardless of  
religion or ethnic background.  
Palestinian rights  
Beinart writes: “I knew Israel was wrong to deny Palestinians in the West  
Bank citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote in the  
country in which they lived. But the dream of a two-State solution that  
would give Palestinians a country of their own let me hope that I could  
remain a liberal and supporter of Jewish statehood at the same time. Events  
have extinguished that hope.”  
At the present time, about 640,000 Jewish settlers now live in East  
Jerusalem and the West Bank and, argues Beinart, “...the Israeli and  
American governments have divested Palestinian statehood of any real  
meaning. The Trump administration’s peace plan envisions an archipelago  
of Palestinian towns scattered across as little as 70% of the West Bank,  
under Israeli control...If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fulfills his  
pledge to impose Israeli sovereignty in parts of the West Bank, he will  
formalize a decades-old reality: In practice, Israel annexed the West Bank  
long ago.”  
In reality, Beinart writes, “Israel has all but made its decision: one  
country that includes millions of Palestinians who lack basic rights. Now  
liberal Zionists must make our decision, too. It’s time to abandon the  
traditional two-state solution and embrace the goal of equal rights for Jews  
and Palestinians. It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish  
state...Equality could come in the form of one state. That includes Israel,  
the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem...or it could be a  
confederation that allows free movement between two deeply integrated  
“Israel makes no sense”  
Actor-writer Seth Rogen declared in a radio interview that, “Israel makes no  
sense. “Rogen. grew up in Canada, went to Jewish schools and summer camps.  
His parents met while working on a kibbutz in Israel. On July 27, he  
appeared on the Marc Maron podcast promoting his new movie, “An American  
Pickle,” which looks at Jewish life in the U.S. Maron, who is also Jewish,  
raised the idea of Jews living in many places in the world after the  
Holocaust, but not in Israel. Rogen replied, “I think that’s a better  
strategy—-you don’t keep all your Jews in one basket. I don’t understand  
why they did that. It makes no sense whatsoever. It would be nice to live  
somewhere that is not part of the Christian apocalyptic prophesy—-maybe  
settle somewhere that the Christians don’t think you all have to die in  
order for the apocalypse to happen.”  
Maron asked, “Do you want to live in Israel?” Rogen answered, “No.”. Maron  
responded: “I’m the same way and we’re going to piss off a bunch of Jews.  
For some reason my mother, who’s not religious, her generation, they’re kind  
of hung up on Israel, and they’ve found some comfort in it. I’ve been there  
—-I couldn’t imagine living there.” Rogen replied: “If it is truly for the  
preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because you don’t keep  
something, you’re trying to preserve all in one place, when that place has  
proven to be pretty volatile.”  
Beyond this, said Rogen, “I also think that, as a Jewish person, I was fed a  
huge amount of lies about Israel my entire life. You know, they never tell  
you that, by the way, there were people there. They make it seem like it  
was just sitting there...the doors open literally. They forgot to include  
the fact to every young Jewish person, basically, oh, by the way. There were  
people living there. I don’t understand it at all. I think for Jewish  
people especially, who view themselves as analytical, and who view  
themselves as people who ask a lot of questions and really challenge the  
status quo—-what are we doing?”  
“Paradigm Lost”  
In his book “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution To One-State Reality,”.  
Professor Ian S. Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania writes: “...the  
one-State reality does not mean ending the struggle against the occupation ,  
it simply means ending the occupation in a different way—-not by  
unattainable withdrawals but by honoring Palestinian rights to be full  
citizens in their own land, deserving of suffrage , equal representation,  
and equal command of natural resources. Only in pursuit of such goals that  
serve the interests of Jews and Arabs will alliances be enabled capable of  
defeating Jewish ethnonationalism.”  
The changing attitudes of American Jews with regard to Israel may not yet be  
widely understood. As Americans are increasingly focusing on racial  
disparities in our own society, more and more American Jews are making an  
analogy between our treatment of minorities and Israel’s treatment of  
Palestinians. Other Jewish Americans are lamenting the fact that Jews, who  
have been the victims of persecution, now find themselves persecuting  
In this connection, Sen Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt) said that anti-Semitism is  
not abstract for him. He declared, “I am Jewish and very proud of my  
heritage.” His father emigrated from Poland to escape discrimination.  
Those in his family who remained in Poland after Hitler came to power were  
murdered by the Nazis. As a result of their experience, Sanders says, Jews  
have a special role to play: “Jews who have been victims of discrimination  
for centuries must help lead the effort in fighting back against hatred and  
racism wherever and whenever we see it.”. That, in Sanders’ view, includes  
Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.  
Half-century of occupation  
What he sees, says Sanders, is a Palestinian people crushed and humiliated”.  
by a half-century of occupation.” He urges “ending the occupation and  
enabling Palestinians to have independence and self-determination in a  
sovereign, independent economically viable state of their own.”  
It is values such as these which are likely to be reflected in the 2020  
election as the American Jewish alienation from Israel’s increasingly right-  
wing government continues to grow. Slowly, politicians in both parties will  
come to understand this new reality. *  

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.