(November 6, 2022 / JNS) In recent years, evangelical Christians have started to prioritize Israel and a candidate’s position on Israel when they vote. A short time ago, former President Donald Trump controversially asked why American Jews don’t do the same thing.
If you ask an evangelical why they are so supportive of Israel, they will quote Genesis 12, in which G-d says to Abraham that He will “bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” To make it clear that this applies specifically to the Jews, in Numbers 24:9 G-d directs Balaam to say of the Jewish people, “Those who bless you are blessed and those who curse you are accursed.”
Shouldn’t American Jews also vote for candidates who bless rather than curse the Jews? Candidates who prioritize Jewish issues and thus, the Bible says, will be blessed themselves? As the U.S. midterm elections approach, Jewish voters are once again faced with these questions.
In some ways, former President Trump was wrong. According to Gallup, American Jews are far more pro-Israel than the average American and about 95% of them do care about Israel. Nonetheless, they will not necessarily vote for the candidate who is most supportive of the Jewish state.
For example, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz is unquestionably pro-Israel, even writing a book called The Case for Israel. However, Dershowitz has made it clear that he may not vote for the most pro-Israel candidate because of other issues that concern him. This isn’t unusual. A rabbi in California once told me it was immoral to vote for Trump in 2016 because of his character.
It is a mistake, however, for Jewish voters to give secondary priority to Jewish concerns, among which are the safety and security of Israel and the Jewish community. This is the case even when certain candidates make Jews uncomfortable for various reasons.
For example, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has had numerous marriages, affairs and children born out of wedlock. But the Jewish community in Britain rightly overlooked these shortcomings and voted overwhelmingly for Johnson over his anti-Israel and anti-Semitic opponent Jeremy Corbyn. If the Democrats nominated Rep. Rashida Tlaib—who supports Israel’s destruction—for president in 2024, it is obvious that moral questions would be thrown to the wind and the Jewish community would rightfully vote in overwhelming numbers for the Republican nominee.
Today, anti-Semitism and hate crimes against Jews are at an all-time high across the U.S. This should be the most important issue for Jewish voters, even it means voting for candidates about whom they have serious concerns. For instance, the safety of the Jewish community is a major issue in the New York gubernatorial race, and I believe that only Republican candidate Lee Zeldin will take action to protect the Jews. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been extremely good for Israel and the Jewish community, and Jewish day schools rely upon the state assistance he has provided their students. If his opponent wins, this assistance will not continue at the same level.
Prioritizing Jewish concerns is equally important in presidential elections. For example, it was clear in 1980 that Ronald Reagan would be much better on Jewish issues than the obviously anti-Semitic President Jimmy Carter. In 1992, it was equally clear that Bill Clinton would be better for Israel than President George H.W. Bush, whose Secretary of State James Baker was infamously hostile to the Jewish state. Baker reportedly once said, “F— the Jews, they didn’t vote for us anyway.” This became a self-fulfilling prophecy when Bush’s share of the Jewish vote dropped from 35% in 1988 to 12% in 1992, which helped cost him the election.
Character, moreover, is often deceptive. Oskar Schindler, for example, spent all of his money to save 1,100 Jews who have tens of thousands of descendants today. He was unquestionably a hero. Yet Schindler was also an adulterer and a drunk.
By contrast, at the Wannsee Conference on Jan. 20, 1942, where the final solution was approved, half of the Nazis in attendance had doctorates and were from the German elite. Outside observers may have thought they were people of the highest character, yet they became mass murderers.
Schindler may have acted badly in many cases, but in the end, he showed extraordinary character, saving numerous lives when others did nothing or worse.
In the face of the serious challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people, Jewish voters must put their misgivings aside and put Jewish concerns first.
Farley Weiss is Chairman of the Israel Heritage Foundation (IHF) and former president of the National Council of Young Israel, as well as an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy. The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily representative of NCYI.
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