(July 25, 2016 / JNS) By Abraham H. Miller/JNS.org
The Jewish community’s polarization in reaction to the selection of Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s running mate illustrates the political chasm that divides American Jewry.
Predictably, the J Street lobby, which had shilled for President Barack Obama’s deceptive Iran deal, sprang into support mode. Still touting its role in bringing the deal to a successful conclusion, J Street has been undeterred by recent revelations of Iran’s hunt in Germany for materials to build an aggressive nuclear weapons program or by its testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles that threaten not just Tel Aviv, but the very heartland of America. Kaine himself was not only an enthusiastic supporter of the Iran deal. He was also a whip for its successful passage.
J Street embraces Kaine for his work in helping bring it to fruition. But J Street and Kaine don’t only share a common bond through the Iran deal. J Street is also beholden to the Obama administration for bringing the organization to the White House conference table on Jewish issues. Obama used J Street to replace AIPAC, the truly pro-Israel lobby.
J Street’s endorsement of Kaine coincided with that of the leftist Forward newspaper that, like J Street, seldom can find an Israeli policy that should not be harshly criticized or a Palestinian act of terrorism that should not be sympathetically rationalized.
In contrast, the Republican Jewish Coalition criticized Kaine for both his role in the Iran agreement and for being one of a handful of senators who boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress on the Iran deal’s existential threat to Israel.
Whether any of this will influence the Jewish community’s traditional support of the Democratic ticket is a big question. After all, Hillary Clinton’s embrace of Suha Arafat (Yasser’s wife)—following Arafat’s speech accusing Israel of poisoning the West Bank’s water supply and land—had almost no impact on Clinton’s Jewish support in her race for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.
The photo of the embrace was a significant victory for the Palestinian propaganda machine and gave credibility to Mrs. Arafat’s false and reprehensible allegations. Some nine hours elapsed before the Clinton spin machine repudiated the allegations. She let an entire news cycle pass with the embrace and affirmation of Mrs. Arafat’s libelous speech being the story.
Hillary Clinton had it both ways. In the Arab media, she was pictured embracing the despicable Mrs. Arafat, while revisiting the gesture after the damage was done. Something for everyone, and Clinton partisans in the Jewish community were given a convenient fig leaf to hide their shame and rationalize their support for Mrs. Clinton’s run for the Senate seat.
Bernie Sanders’s progressive anti-Israel policies caused him to lose big in the Jewish community, which correctly viewed him as a Jew in name only whose sojourn in Israel was spent on an Israeli kibbutz that venerated Stalin. The Orthodox-Jewish community came out in big numbers to demolish Sanders.
But inferring that Jewish support for Clinton in the primary will translate into Jewish support for her in November is a leap of faith. Clinton is no longer running against the “un-Jew,” as Sanders was derisively called. She is running against Donald Trump, whose party put the strongest pro-Israel plank into its platform in the history of any party.
For Jews concerned about the survival of their Israeli brethren, the Iran deal, which unravels daily, will have a negative impact on their support for Hillary Clinton. Her choice of Tim Kaine will not help. Kaine’s role in the passage of the Iran nuclear agreement is already becoming an issue.
Whether this will overcome the strong predisposition of the Jewish community to vote for the Democratic ticket, no matter who is on it, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the choice of Tim Kaine gives ammunition to those who stand firmly on the non-traditional side of the political divide in the Jewish community.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center (@salomoncenter).