(April 8, 2019 / JNS) Amid recent anti-Semitic incidents in the Democratic Party, a newly formed millennial movement is seeking to get Jewish voters to say dayenu (Hebrew for “enough”) to what was the party of former U.S. President Harry Truman, who was the first world leader to recognize the State of Israel when it declared its independence in 1948.
The Exodus Movement gained national attention when U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted last month about what was then called “Jexodus,” started by Republican operative Jeff Ballabon.
Professional model and former Trump campaign staffer Elizabeth Pipko appeared on “Fox and Friends” to talk about the cause.
“Obviously, it’s a play on ‘Exodus,’ said Pipko, the movement’s spokesperson. “We left Egypt, and now we’re leaving the Democratic Party.”
Pipko told JNS that as a model, she was in an industry that is ideologically leftward. She grew up in New York, surrounded by Democrats, causing her to go “back and forth” on many issues.
Regarding the genesis behind her movement, she said, “As someone who is constantly having conversations in the Jewish community, I knew that many Jews felt the same way that I did about this issue.”
Jexodus said in a statement, “We reject the hypocrisy, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism of the rising far-left. Progressives, Democrats and far too many old-school Jewish organizations take our support for granted.”
The name change to the Exodus Movement occurred after Pipko received overwhelming support, financial and otherwise, causing her to “transition from an ‘idea’ to a formal organization for our movement,” she said.
The group can “receive donations that will be able to fund the programs that will help us achieve our objectives,” she said, by convincing people through digital messaging “as to why they should be standing with the conservatives that side with them—and not the liberals who consistently side against them.”
Without mentioning specific names, Pipko said that her group has received support from many prolific Jews, and that a formal list of supporters will be released “in the near future.”
The Exodus Movement is currently laying the groundwork for a full-scale operation, having hired a political field director and press secretary.
“All of this is to say we will not be an idle organization. We know we have a lot of work to do, and we know this is not something that will be done overnight or even in a couple years’ time,” said Pipko. “But as the famous proverb goes: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.’ ”
The initiative, however, faces skepticism.
Only 24 percent of Jews voted for Trump in 2016, while 71 percent voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election; and in 2012, 30 percent of Jews voted for Mitt Romney with 69 percent voting for President Barack Obama.
“There’s no empirical evidence suggesting that Jewish voters are switching parties en masse,” wrote Matthew Boxer, an assistant research professor at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, in The Washington Post.
“Massive Jewish defections from the Democratic Party during the age of Trump are as likely as massive evangelical [Christian] defections from a Republican Party with a womanizing, foul-mouthed, profane president,” presidential historian Gil Troy told JNS.
“In general, partisan identification runs much deeper than a person here or a policy statement there and especially because Jewish Democrats perceive Trump as anti-Semitic, and because most liberal Jews conflate their liberalism and their Judaism, it would take a lot more to trigger the kind of identity upheaval required to change,” he added.
“Over time, however, a few things have changed,” wrote Washington Examiner executive editor Philip Klein. “One is that surveys show many Jews are secular and less connected with Israel than previous generations.”
“The populist takeover of the Republican Party is frightening to many American Jews, as is Trump’s nationalist rhetoric,” he added. “A Democratic Jew who is turned off by what’s happening to his party is likely to see Trump as just as prejudiced, if not much more so than Democrats. The fact that he’s been the most pro-Israel president ever may not factor much into their consideration … [as] there are a whole host of economic and social issues on which most Jews identify as liberal.”
Therefore, Klein said, “for many Jews, they’ll see a choice of a Democratic Party that has become overly tolerant of anti-Semitism, but who they otherwise largely agree with, and a Republican Party with whom they largely disagree, who is led by somebody they see as emboldening bigotry. They are likely to grasp on to any reassuring statement by a Democratic presidential candidate to avoid having to cast a vote for Trump.”
Moreover, while the Exodus Movement shares numerous goals with the Republican Jewish Coalition, according to the former’s Yael Halon, whereas RJC has a broader mission in conservative and GOP politics, the Exodus Movement “will have a much narrower focus, aimed specifically at the persuasion of Jewish Americans in key states” through having “a bipartisan sheen to our efforts and want to work across traditional party lines with those who may not share a political party, but are strong on Israel and anti-Semitism, which is something the RJC is not able to do by the nature of the organization.”
Additionally, in the aftermath of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Ku Klux Klan members marching in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 to protest the scheduled removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, Trump said that there were “some very fine people” on both sides of what was a violent skirmish between them and counter-protesters, one of whom was killed in a car-ramming incident by a neo-Nazi, who also injured 19.
In response to how Jews can support a president who made such a moral equivalence, Pipko said that she would not have worked on the campaign if she was skeptical about the president’s views on the Jewish people.
“I am also a big believer in the fact that ‘actions speak louder than words,’ especially in politics,” she said.
“President Trump is a true friend of the Jewish people, as seen by his unwavering support for their policy priorities, such as his strength on terrorism and opposition to those who wish to do ill to Jews around the world,” she continued. “President Trump has also had several major achievements of importance to the Jewish people, including the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which has been promised by many politicians but only became a reality under his leadership.”