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Election Shows Growing Split Between American Jews and Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2020

Although President Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed himself “Israel’s best  
friend” in American history and pursued a series of policies in line with  
Israel’s right wing, such as moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, his  
efforts to attract Jewish voters failed dramatically.  
According to exit polling, Trump received only 21% of the Jewish vote to Joe  
Biden’s 77%. Only 5% of Jewish voters listed Israel as their most important  
issue, down nearly 100% since 2016. Top voting priorities for Jewish voters  
were the coronavirus pandemic (54%), climate change (26%), healthcare (25%),  
and the economy (23%). Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J street, declared  
that, “Jewish voters have just totally repudiated Donald Trump and a  
Republican Party that has catered to the most far-right xenophobic elements  
of the country.”  
Israelis, on the other hand, favored Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 77 to 23  
in one recent survey. Chemi Shalev of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes  
that, “Israeli Jews have a blind worship of Donald Trump.” Discussing the  
growing divide between American Jews and Israel, Eric R. Mandel, director of  
the Middle East Political Information Network, writes in the International  
Jerusalem Post (Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2020): “A recent poll of Israeli and  
American Jews regarding whom they favor in the American presidential  
election revealed results that were polar opposites. The overwhelming  
majority of Israelis favor the re-election of President Donald  
Trump...crediting him with moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing  
Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, putting consequences on the  
Palestinian Authority’s incentifying of terrorist activity, and for the  
first time laid down a peace plan that prioritized Israeli security  
interests, while creating the diplomatic work for Israel’s first peace  
treaties with Arab nations in a generation.”  
On the other hand, writes Mandel, “American Jews overwhelmingly favor the  
defeat of Trump, prioritizing domestic progressive or liberal concerns over  
Israeli security concerns. It is no surprise there is a profound difference  
between the two largest Jewish communities’ perspectives....American Jews  
have a much more universalistic perspective, identifying Judaism more as a  
religion they have or had, and are uncomfortable with the survival issues of  
the Jewish state. This has led too many to not only criticize Israel but  
join with boycotters and delegitimizers who share their progressive views.”  
In recent years, sympathy for Zionism among American Jews has been in steady  
decline. A study by social scientists Ari Kelman and Steven M. Cohen found  
that among American Jews, each new generation is more alienated from Israel  
than the one before. Among American Jews born after 1980, only 54% feel  
“comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.” The reason, Cohen asserted,  
is an aversion to “hard group boundaries” and the notion that “there is a  
distinction between Jews and anybody else.” Other polls show that among  
younger non-Orthodox Jews only 30% think that “caring about Israel is  
essential to being Jewish.” Slowly, it has become increasingly clear to  
American Jews that Israel does not share their values—-of religious freedom,  
separation of religion and state, and a citizenship that does not  
differentiate between people on the basis of race, religion and ethnic  
Commentator Philip Weiss (Mondoweiss, Nov. 10, 2020) argues that, “Israel  
will never be a bipartisan issue again because Jews are divided.” He points  
out that, “This (election) cycle has seen the rise of a young progressive  
Jewish camp on the left. J Street’s survey of Jewish voters shows that more  
than one in five Jewish voters under 40 support boycotting Israel—-The two  
organizations that represent Israel-critical Jews, Jewish Voice for Peace  
and IfNotNow both back up Israel’s biggest critics in the House...IfNotNow  
is rallying its following in defense of Raphael Warnock, one of two  
Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia, from smearing over the fact that he  
criticized Israel for human rights abuses from the pulpit of Ebenezer  
Baptist Church. IfNotNow is also trying to discredit AIPAC over its  
acceptance of Trump. —-AIPAC belongs in the dustbin of history,  
along with Trump.”  
There is much speculation about how all of this will affect the Biden  
administration’s approach to Israel. Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy  
Forum believes that, “Not every single thing that President Trump has done  
in Israel is going to automatically be something that is opposed by the  
Biden administration. But Biden’s election revisits the relationship between  
the U.S. and Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Joe Biden have a long  
history, not all of it good. When the Obama administration entered into a  
nuclear agreement with Iran, Netanyahu went around the White House and  
encouraged opposition to the deal in Congress and among the American public.  
He was widely criticized for interfering in American politics.”  
Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, now a Middle East specialist  
at the Council on Foreign Relations says, “They (Netanyahu and Biden) have  
two very different approaches and Bibi is going to oppose him over Iran.  
That is going to come up early on, and clearly that is going to determine  
the relationship far more than the question of how to deal with Bibi when he  
calls every other day and demands that the United States do this or that,  
which is what he does—-very needy.”  
Biden has said he intends to rejoin the nuclear deal, conditioned on Iran’s  
compliance with its terms. The Washington Post reports that, “...Biden  
is...likely to confront Netanyahu over Jewish settlements on land  
Palestinians claim for a future state, a sore spot from the beginning of the  
Obama administration. Biden is also expected to reverse Trump policies seen  
as punitive, such as a cutoff of humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza  
Strip. He is likely to try to reopen the Palestinian consulate in  
Washington...and to re-establish ties with the Palestinian government in the  
West Bank.”  
Ron Kampeas, writing in Washington Jewish Week (Nov. 12, 2020) provides this  
assessment: “Biden will reinstitute the emphasis on the two-state outcome as  
an endgame, but don’t expect a major push for peace from his White House.  
Biden will have on his foreign policy team plenty of Obama veterans and they  
feel burned by their two failures (2010-2011 and 2013-2014) to get a deal.  
The sense on Biden’s foreign policy team is that peace has to be organic and  
must be initiated by the Israelis and Palestinians...During the primaries,  
some Democratic candidates spoke of conditioning defense aid to Israel on  
its behavior. Biden repeatedly rejected that proposal outright. He  
intervened to keep the word ‘occupation’ out of the Democratic  
platform...Biden has said that he will reestablish the diplomatic ties with  
the Palestinians that Trump ended. ..Biden has also said he would resume the  
assistance to the Palestinians that Trump cut off.”  
In a feature article about Biden’s new chief of staff, Ron Klain, who is  
Jewish, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that, “Middle East policy is  
not his area of expertise, but when he weighs in, he usually criticizes the  
conservative Israeli prime minister.”  
What seems clear is that groups such as AIPAC are unlikely ever again to  
have veto power over U.S. policy. The basis for their influence was largely  
the myth that it and like-minded groups spoke for American Jews. This was  
never true, but the growing division in American Jewish opinion revealed in  
the 2020 election makes this clear for all to see. The Biden administration,  
it is widely believed, will not fail to understand the inherent problem with  
pursuing racial equality at home and embracing Israel’s policy of inequality  
with regard to both its Palestinian citizens and those in the occupied  
territories. Now, efforts to achieve a genuine Middle East peace and a  
Palestinian state have a growing Jewish constituency, as the election  
results indicate. This constituency is likely to grow dramatically as  
demographic change alters the nature of the Jewish community, a new reality  
that is yet to be widely understood by many. **

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.