The American-Jewish vote that has been traditionally and overwhelmingly Democrat might change in a significant way in Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election. The reason is the substantial gap between the significant pro-Israel policies of U.S. President Donald Trump and those advocated by former Vice President Joe Biden.
Historically, the American-Jewish community has illustrated that when there is a discernible divide between the candidates concerning the issue of Israel, at least 10 percent swing to the candidate considered more favorable to it.
In an Aug. 27, 2019 article, Gallup senior scientist Dr. Frank Newport wrote that “about nine in 10 American Jews are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. (That compares to about six in 10 of all Americans.) Additionally, 95 percent of Jews have favorable views of Israel, while 10 percent have favorable views of the Palestinian Authority—significantly more pro-Israel than the overall national averages of 71 percent favorable views of Israel and 21 percent favorable views of the Palestinian Authority.”
It is not surprising that the left-wing Jewish organization J Street, with its own agenda in mind, repeatedly tries to release polls that paint a different view of the Jewish vote, contradicting the extensive polling of Gallup and the actual voting history of the Jewish community, which shows the accuracy of Newport’s analysis.
The most recent example can be seen in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race, in which now-Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, made Israel an important issue in his campaign against Democrat Andrew Gillum. DeSantis was the leading member of Congress involved in moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and, during the race proclaimed that if elected, he would be the most pro-Israel governor in the United States.
Gillum also asserted that he was pro-Israel, and had visited Israel three times, yet he did not support the embassy move. A Fox News exit poll found that Gillum had won the Jewish vote in Florida by a 65-35 percent margin. It is noteworthy that this same poll found that Senator Rick Scott won only 27 percent of the Jewish vote against Senator Nelson in Florida, and a good case can be made for attributing this to Scott’s not having made Israel the same major issue in his campaign as DeSantis had done.
In 2016, Trump received around 24 percent of Florida’s Jewish vote. And DeSantis’s 35 percent of the Jewish vote represented around a 50 percent increase in support for a Republican candidate by Jewish voters in Florida.
Historically, the Jewish community did not always vote Democrat by the large margins that we have seen more recently. The Jewish community voted 40 percent for Republican Dwight Eisenhower. It then dropped to 18 percent for Richard Nixon against Hubert Humphrey.
But when George McGovern was perceived as not favorable to Israel, Nixon won 35 percent of the Jewish vote in 1972 against McGovern. President Gerald Ford was not perceived well by the Jewish community due to his pressuring Israel during the two years after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As a result, President Jimmy Carter received 71 percent of the Jewish vote, which proved decisive in Carter’s close win against Ford.
Ironically, Carter was then perceived as not being a friend of Israel’s as compared with Ronald Reagan—and as a result, Carter received only 45 percent of the Jewish vote against Reagan’s 39 percent, with the rest going to Independent John Anderson.
There is further evidence: In 1992, George H. W. Bush received 35 percent of the Jewish vote against Mike Dukakis, but with Secretary of State James Baker publicly blasting Israel by alleging that it did not care about peace, Bush’s support in the Jewish community dropped to 11 percent, and he lost the election to Democrat Bill Clinton, who won 80 percent of the Jewish vote.
The Republican-Jewish vote finally got to 31 percent in 2012, when Republican candidate Mitt Romney faced President Barack Obama, specifically because many American Jews viewed Obama as being generally unfriendly to Israel and specifically hostile to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Like Gillum in Florida in 2018, Obama tried to claim that he was pro-Israel, yet his support in the Jewish community changed more than it did in any other group between his two elections. He won 78 percent of the Jewish vote against John McCain in 2008, but just 69 percent of the Jewish vote against Romney in 2012. Romney had not made Israel a major issue in the campaign, but it was a key topic in his last presidential debate, which helped him with the Jewish vote.
In 2016, support in the Jewish community dropped for Republican presidential candidate Trump to 24 percent, but he was still able to win the election. The reason for his vote-drop in the Jewish community was because it largely perceived Hillary Clinton as pro-Israel from her days as a New York senator, even though it subsequently viewed her as doing Obama’s bidding when she was secretary of state.
Trump did not make Israel a prominent issue in the last election; the topic barely came up in his debates, campaign speeches or convention address.
Since his inauguration in January 2017, however, Trump has impressed the Jewish community with his strongly pro-Israel positions and actions—most significantly, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transfer of the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. He recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Trump closed the Palestinian Authority office in Washington, D.C. and significantly cut financial aid to the P.A. (now it has been ended by the P.A. itself) because of its official policy of promoting and financing rewards for the murder of Israelis and American Jews.
Trump also designated the Jerusalem consulate as subordinate to the Jerusalem embassy. He withdrew America from the Obama-era 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a decision supported by the government of Israel. Unabashedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran routinely calls for Israel’s total destruction; as a result, the Jewish community has been very concerned about Tehran.
Regarding the large Jewish voting bloc in Florida, the fact that Trump won Florida with 24 percent of the Jewish vote makes his victory in that state even more likely this time, as his Jewish support is thought to have increased substantially. Furthermore, Trump mentions the embassy move in every campaign speech, and his pro-Israel credentials were highlighted at the Republican National Convention, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed from Jerusalem.
In this light, Trump’s recent decision to finally change U.S. policy and allow American-Israeli dual citizens born in Jerusalem to have Israel list as their place of birth on their U.S. passports has an impact on many Jews and or their relatives, and will further help him with the Jewish vote.
It is important to note that Israel is a much more important issue for Jewish voters in a presidential election than it would be in a gubernatorial race. Democrats have tried to paint Trump as either anti-Semitic or sympathetic to white supremacists. The Trump campaign responded with a video of him denouncing white supremacy more than 30 times over the last few years.
His policies towards Israel and his December 2019 signing of the Anti-Semitism Protection Act to help Jews suffering discrimination on college campuses, show quite demonstrably that he has been a friend to Israel and the Jewish people.
Moreover, though Biden has been a friend of Israel and voted for the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, he opposed the move of the embassy to Jerusalem—yet says he will not move it back if elected president. However, he also said that he would reopen the U.S. consulate in eastern Jerusalem that had functioned as a type of embassy to the P.A. It is nevertheless unclear whether he would maintain Trump’s recognition of eastern Jerusalem, which includes the Western Wall, as part of Israel.
Trump has ended U.S. public criticism of Israeli settlement-building and a U.S. policy of not allowing economic ties with Israeli businesses based in the settlements. Biden, on the other hand, has repeatedly and publicly criticized Israeli construction of houses not only in the settlements of Judea and Samaria but in eastern Jerusalem as well.
A significant concern to the Jewish community has been the influential role of the new Democrats in Congress and “squad” members Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Tlaib and Omar have been open about their support for the anti-Israel BDS movement, which—according to the international definition of anti-Semitism—is anti-Semitic. Instead of viewing these positions as anathema to the Democratic Party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed both of them for reelection and, worse, contributed financially to their campaigns.
While Biden condemns BDS, he has failed so far to specifically condemn Tlaib or Omar. Biden also chose not to denounce Omar’s endorsement of his campaign—the way he has repeatedly demanded that Trump denounce those extremists who might have endorsed his own. The contrast is glaring, yet often ignored.
Trump may not win Florida or the election. However, it is likely from non-partisan polls that he will increase his support among Jewish voters, because the Jewish community does consider a candidate’s support for Israel as a major concern when it comes to casting a ballot.
Farley Weiss is president of the National Council of Young Israel. He is an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy.
The views expressed in this article are his own.