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March 31, 2016 7:22 am

On Israel, American Jews Face a Tough Choice in the Presidential Election

avatar by Isi Leibler

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

The turmoil associated with the American presidential elections has impacted on much of the nation, and certainly on the Jews. Many, both liberal and conservative, feel that their traditional political affiliations have been destabilized.

Grass-root voters have rebelled against entrenched long-term politicians and have astounded analysts by supporting relatively obscure personalities who have introduced levels of primitive populism into American politics unseen since the days of Huey Long.

Those deeply concerned about Israel find themselves in a special quandary.

Democratic supporters witnessed a struggle between Hillary Clinton — who until recently faced virtually no competition — and Bernie Sanders, a relatively unknown older Jewish senator from Vermont, a leftist throwback to prewar Jewish socialists raging against the “domination” of Wall Street and calling for a redistribution of wealth. He is also highly critical of Israel and a J Street supporter, pandering to the growing anti-Israeli sentiment among left-wing Democrats. His populism has generated substantial support, especially from young people.

Nevertheless, despite being widely resented and distrusted in her own party, Hillary Clinton is likely to win the Democratic nomination. But the dramatic flow of support of the radical views promoted by Sanders has created concern that in office, she would seek to placate the radicals within the party. That, in turn, could encourage her to revert to the hostile attitude that prevailed during her term as secretary of state toward Israel and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It also reinforces concerns about some of the vicious anti-Israeli advisers she had engaged in the past, who were exposed in her declassified emails.

Every presidential candidate invited to the recent annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), passionately supported the Jewish state. The only exception was Sanders, who declined to address AIPAC and spoke at another location where he bitterly criticized Israel. But electoral pledges and passionate undertakings by presidential candidates and politicians at AIPAC must be treated with considerable cynicism, as from experience, they are frequently watered down or breached.

Yet, Clinton’s address to AIPAC was significant. Despite justifying President Barack Obama’s Iran policy and criticizing Israeli settlements, her powerful endorsement of support for Israel was warmly received. She distinguished herself from Obama by promising that a renewal of good relations with Israel would be a priority, and that one of her first acts in office would be to invite Netanyahu to Washington. She expressed these views obviously aware that she would be intensifying the ire of the radical anti-Israel elements in her party.

The uneasiness concerning the Clinton candidacy shared by some traditional Jewish Democratic supporters pales when compared to the turmoil among many Republican supporters at the explosive ascendancy of Donald Trump, who was initially perceived as a clown, with virtually all analysts predicting his early political demise.

Trump primitively denigrates intellectual discourse but has displayed an extraordinary populist talent to communicate and reach out to the disaffected masses who have flocked to support him, ditching seasoned leaders like former Governor Jeb Bush, eliminating Senator Marco Rubio, and at this stage enjoying a substantial lead over Senator Ted Cruz, his sole remaining credible opponent.

He has adopted crude, inconsistent and contradictory policies but struck a responsive chord from many Americans alienated and frustrated with their current status and seeking radical solutions.

He has created a major schism in the Republican Party because of his rabble-rousing, vulgarity, abusive remarks about women and discriminatory outbursts against minorities — especially Mexicans. Many traditional Republicans, including senior party leaders, refuse to endorse him and some have even stated that they would never vote for him as president. His critics include the neoconservatives and the most prominent conservative thinkers and commentators who are outraged by his isolationist outbursts and demagogic anti-intellectual approach.

Trump attests to his long track record of friendship for Jews and Israel and constantly highlights the fact that his daughter converted and leads a traditional Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

But those voters seeking the restoration of warmer relations between the United States and the Jewish state are concerned with Trump’s ad lib flip-flop responses in relation to Israel.

Initially, he antagonized supporters of Israel by stating that he would be “neutral” in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On one occasion, he promoted the extreme isolationist view that Israel should not be reliant on US defense support and should repay American military aid. He even suggested that the US should withdraw from NATO. He particularly angered Jews when initially, perhaps in ignorance, he dismissed calls to dissociate himself from support he was receiving from white supremacists and extreme anti-Semites.

When it was announced that Trump would join other presidential candidates and address AIPAC, a group of Reform and Conservative rabbis planned a demonstrative walkout as he approached the podium. Their widely publicized threat turned out to be farcical and resulted in the boycott of only about 30 of the 18,000 participants.

Trump’s address to AIPAC was his first attempt to present a crafted policy on any subject. He used a teleprompter which diverted him from his customary ad-libbing. It was an extraordinary political coup in which he received repeated standing ovations as he swept the audience off its feet by pressing all the pro-Israel buttons and systematically presenting a coherent case for Israel. He contradicted some of his earlier critical remarks, including his intention of being “neutral” in order to consummate a “deal” between Palestinians and Israel. He also announced his intention to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump’s direct critique of Obama drew such a demonstratively wholehearted response from his audience that Lillian Pinkus, the newly elected president of AIPAC, desperate to display ongoing bipartisanship, felt obliged to go to the other extreme and reprimanded him, tearfully apologizing to Obama supporters and castigating the enthusiastic applause of Trump’s denigration of the president.

Events of the past few weeks indicate that, barring a dramatic last-minute turnaround at the national convention, Trump should win the Republican nomination.

But he is widely distrusted and considered unpredictable, even among those who are bitterly opposed to Clinton. Indeed, some may ultimately support her as the lesser of two evils.

Ironically, the hostility Trump faces among segments of the Republican Party matches the opposition Clinton faces from within her own party. It is unprecedented for both party representatives to face such resentment and distrust from their own circles.

AIPAC can take satisfaction that the 18,000 enthusiastic participants at their convention included a healthy and diverse cross section of young people, demonstrating that, contrary to what much of the media and liberals maintain, committed Jews remain strongly supportive of Israel. It also highlights the fact that, notwithstanding its confrontation with Obama over Iran, AIPAC has not lost its clout and remains one of the most effective bipartisan lobbying groups in the US.

There could be many surprises before a new president is elected. Although today, polls suggest that Clinton seems destined to win overwhelmingly against Trump, one should not underestimate the huge anti-establishment anger that prevails among voters.

Undoubtedly, Trump gained support from some Jews with his unexpectedly coherent pro-Israel AIPAC address. But other than the most committed supporters of Israel, the majority of Jews will not vote exclusively or even primarily on a single issue.

Yet if Trump’s AIPAC speech was the harbinger of a more responsible and coherent approach, dispensing with vulgarity and seeking support from centrists, predictions that he will be defeated by a landslide could prove to be wrong. Further terror attacks, especially an incident in the US, could also tilt many voters in his direction.

Indeed, many Jews — like other wavering American voters — will probably only decide at the last minute, and even then may hold their noses when they go to the polling station, concerned that their candidate will prove to be unpredictable and will not live up to their expectations. Some may even abstain, although most will retain their allegiance to the Democratic Party.

There is one ray of sunshine: Irrespective of who is elected, the next president will endeavor — at least initially — to reaffirm and repair the relationship with Israel. And whoever is elected should still be a massive improvement on the current US president.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom and the Jerusalem Post.

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  • Allan Richter

    I follow Trump paying close attention to what he says and does. He is intelligent and well educated. He takes all questions and does not use a prepared speech. He demonstrates an extraordinary mastery of the media. I have never misunderstood his meaning. Leibler’s characterizations are unfounded. Trump has been a victim of “mobbing”.

  • Reform School

    G-d Bless David Sarnoff, the inventor of Television, which enabled in only three generations, undoing the Noble Experiment, which took millennia and war to form.

    If news shows reported News, why 10 minutes of WHY for each minute of WHO-WHAT-WHERE-WHEN? Are we stupid, or is there a reason they call it programming?

    Must we stare in a mirror to see how they turned a mogul into a maggot, carefully reshaping his public image?

    Is blocking an 8-year scandal-ridden Assistant President from 2 terms in the White House to 4 grounds for character assassination. Does nobody remember how Hillary got Bill elected governor of Atkansas?

    Is changing the image of godless lawyer to goddess ant tougher than turning the REAL inventor of OBAMACARE into the Pied Piper of Hamelin? Not with modern electronics!

  • Al Talena

    The vast majority of Jews will do what they always do: Vote Democrat. They do not consider Israel as a major issue in their view. So while they preach to Israel about the danger to Israel’s democracy from the safety of their homes in America and hope that Israel will be reborn in their liberal/lefty image, the vast majority have never visited Israel nor donate to Israel, except perhaps to J street or the pro-palstinian New Israel Fund. The will blindly vote for whoever is the Demo candidate. No wonder many Jewish students on campus march with the arab forces on campus.

  • ita

    This article am its authir are so obviously trying to promote Clinton over Trump that it is a joke. This is not a news article but a political advertisement. It dies not eve qualify as an editorial the author should be banned from this publication. We want to be informed with factual unbiased news suported by facts. Not, onesided opinion with no supporting fact.

    “Although today, polls suggest that Clinton would win….”
    What polls. Where is your proof.

    Emanuel…writes logic. This is the 2nd time recently we had to agree with him. You should invite him to write for you.

  • D. Truth

    Cruz is the only one with the track record and proof of his support for Israel, the US Constitution, and the people of the United States. Fact is, Cruz is the only candidate of them all that isn’t a leftist controlled enemy of the people.

  • Linda

    Bernie Sanders is a self-hating Jew. He hates Israel with a passion. I can’t abide him. I will vote for anyone but the Israel hater. He’s disgusting.

  • Ephraim

    It never ceases to amaze me that so many, including the author of this article, are so hateful towards Trump. He is not a perfect candidate (none of them are even close). But to essentially give Hillary a pass is a dangerous misreading of her as putative president, G-d forbid. As proven by her emails, regardless of whatever else is involved with them, show that each and every one of her advisors, without exception, are rabidly anti-Israel. One of them has a son who is nothing short of a Jewish Nazi, and Hillary has expressed support for him.

    How can any Jew who cares one bit for Israel even consider her candidacy? I may remind you that our jihadist-in-chief expressed total support for Israel, and his long record of dedicated antisemitism, along with his major support of terrorists everywhere, put the lie to that promise within months of his ascending the throne.

    All politicians lie, it is an integral part of their ethics (such as they are). But Hillary’s lies are so bold, so blatantly obvious, that I do not see how anyone could believe a single one of them. Also, unlike the other three, she has a track record of glorifying and supporting terrorism, while abusing Israel. While she was in our jihadist-in-chief’s cabinet, if you checked any official website on Jerusalem, you would not know that a single Jew lived there. As far as she was concerned, it was a Muslim city, case closed. She also was instrumental in assisting Hamas to quickly build tunnels and rearm on her watch.

    No Jew who cares one bit about Israel should support this woman.

    Cruz is a supporter of Israel. I do not doubt it. If he were going to be president just on foreign policy, he would have my vote. But outside of this issue he is well beyond the pale in retrogression. He is a terrible human being, who exhibits the worst aspects of the extreme right wing. If I were in Israel, I would vote for him. But I live in the US, and the harm he would do to this country would live long after him.

    I wish this author, and all the others would think long and hard before saying anything positive about Hillary. I also wish they would put Trump in perspective. He is a loyal supporter of Israel, and his rhetoric notwithstanding, is the only reasonable candidate of the big three.

  • Henry

    Most US Jews have been so very misguided………
    Hillary certainly no friend ……….only goes for the Jewish vote when politically expedient …..part of an administration that has for years pressured Israel but not the Palestinians who we send welfare checks

  • enufizenuf

    Hillary Clinton is an anti-Semite and an Israel-hater.
    Any Jew who votes for her is either ignorant, a fool, or an ignorant fool.

  • stevenl

    For Liberal Jews, utopian universalism supersedes their support for Israel.

  • Isahiah62

    If you are Jewish, who cares about other JEWS, & Israel’s survival, there is only one choice of party REPUBLICAN.
    (b/c Dems removed both Hashem and Jerusalem from their platforms in 2012. Booed 3x and called the vote opposite (lied) b/c the politicians know it was suicide for them to be OPENLY hostile to Israel.)
    HRC history proves she is an Arabist of the lowest sort, on the payroll of USA enemies, she adored Arafat. Sleeps with Huma Abedin, a child of Muslim Brotherhood. Her hubby enabled AL Queda in USA by ignoring the warnings from those who knew the killers of Kahane were not finished in USA – 1993 bombing of world trade was same guys. He supported Muslim base of ops in EU (Bosnia) went against the Christian Serbs trying to hold their country together and from being stolen by Muslim demographics.

    Lib Jews who think they want communism-lite AKA Bernie,disregard his anti_Israel record of voting, and truly think that their party is proIsrael. But most don’t care , the important issues to them are secular humanism, abortion on demand, legal pot and gay rights. Anti Torah.

    Sen Lieberman had to quit that when her realized it is not possible to support Democrats and JEWS b/c the Dems are the NEW LEFT aka commie anti Semites, now referred to as, anti-Zionism or “criticism of Israel” so it sounds better in polite company.

    • Isahiah62

      OH yeah left out most important part

      the best R guy who is and has supported Israel all along is CRUZ- intelligent , informed, polite, not afraid to buck the party

      but if the people on this side choose Trump- I will still vote for him – I do think he is proIsreal and likes Jews

      Not Democrat is NONE not even the Jewish guy who Muslims seem to love and will vote for

  • Veronica R. Kaufman

    I was at the AIPAC Policy Conference and heard all the candidates. Your characterization of “standing ovations” for Donald Trump is overstated. He received applause, mostly polite and laughter. The standing ovations were for John Kasich! Who was the most enthusiastically received of all the candidates. Support for Cruz was more positive than for Trump. I was offended by Lillian Pinkus’ apology re comments by Trump…it was not hers to apologize for and nothing much was said that warranted it. I have been active with AIPAC for over 30 years and, I agree, this election cycle is extraordinarily difficult.

    I also read Bernie Sanders’ speech in AZ “that he would have given at AIPAC”. He was an equal opportunity basher and his remarks certainly support the perception of him as an old time Communist, certainly stuck in his teen age years and incredibly naïve!

  • Jerome R. Verlin

    Surprisingly absent from this good analysis of presidential candidates’ views on Israel was any reference (other than as Trump’s sole remaining credible opponent) to candidate Sen. Cruz. I was present, along with 1200 other appreciative attendees, at a New York ZOA dinner at which three remarkable things happened:

    (1) The ZOA presented an award to the pro-Israel, but liberal, Prof. Dershowitz. (2) Prof. Dershowitz showed up to accept it. (3) What he did when he got there: With high praise, Prof. Dershowitz introduced a main speaker, Sen. Cruz, who told us, among his other pro-Israel actions, of abruptly ending his appearance at a particular Christian group that reacted hostilely to his expressed support of Israel during his talk.

    We need not have doubts of the genuineness of Sen. Cruz’s support.

  • Emanuel

    Nope. Not tough at all. I’ll take the one with the 3 Jewish grand children and the record of support for Israel. The other one is a murderer who has a record of siding with antisemites and taking billions from Saudi and Qatar for political favors and access, oh and attacking the women her husband abused over decades in power.

    • DocReality

      Exactly. It’s not hard to decide at all. And a photo is worth a thousand words:

    • Michael Garfinkel

      Congenital liar is the term the late William Safire employed for Hillary.

      The truth of that statement has never been credibly challenged, for obvious reasons.

      I am neither “one of the masses” nor am “I one of the many Americans alienated and frustrated with their current status” thank you very much – and I support Trump wholeheartedly.

    • Grandma Roz

      I agree. I guess I am a one issue voter. Democrats have lost me. I will vote for Trump or Cruz based on my feeling that I can trust them to support Israel more than I can trust Clinton to do so.