What Jewish Voters Need to Know Before Election Day
JNS.org — With only a few weeks remaining before the presidential election, and early voting already underway in most states, Jewish voters may still be weighing their decisions.
Over the last year, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have actively courted the Jewish and pro-Israel vote, especially as they seek to firm up support in key battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania – all home to large Jewish communities.
How each candidate would support and strengthen the special US-Israel relationship has been discussed in numerous speeches and debates, and the issue has played a large part in crafting the platforms of both political parties.
The candidates have also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and addressed the premiere pro-Israel gathering, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) national conference, earlier this year.
In the days before November 8, JNS.org looks at the candidates’ positions and what they have said over the last year regarding issues that Jewish and pro-Israel voters may find important.
- She wrote in a September 2015 op-ed published by The Forward, that she is “deeply committed” to Israel “as a democratic Jewish state… and just as convinced that the only way to guarantee that outcome is through diplomacy. And while no solution can be imposed from outside, I believe the United States has a responsibility to help bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table and to encourage the difficult but necessary decisions that will lead to peace.”
- He has drawn criticism from some within the pro-Israel community for saying, “Let me be sort of a neutral guy [on the conflict],” in an MSNBC town hall conversation in February. “I have friends of mine that are tremendous businesspeople, that are really great negotiators, [and] they say it’s not doable,” he added.
- After a September meeting between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the Trump campaign said “that peace will only come when the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”
- In his speech at the AIPAC conference in March, Trump said he will work to prioritize the US-Israel relationship.
- “When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on Day One,” Trump said, in reference to the strained relations between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. “We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel,” he added.
- In her address to AIPAC, Clinton said the US will reaffirm that “we have a strong and enduring national interest in Israel’s security…We will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us.”
- In a statement following the 10-year $38 billion memorandum of understanding signed between the US and Israel in September, Clinton said the deal “reaffirms the depth and strength of the US-Israel relationship – which is based on common security interests, shared values, and deep historical ties – and sends a clear message to the region and the world that we will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.”
Palestinian statehood and the disputed territories
- David Friedman, one of Trump’s main advisers on Israel, said in June that the Republican candidate would not support the recognition of a Palestinian state without “the approval of the Israelis.”
- Trump has said that Israel should not cease construction in Judea and Samaria. “No, I don’t think there should be a pause…because I think Israel should have – they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward,” Trump told the Dailymail in May.
- Clinton has called Israeli settlement expansion “not helpful” in the efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. “Administrations – both Democrat and Republican – have all adopted the same position that settlement expansion is not helpful,” Clinton said in an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board in April. “In the context of the continuing American interest in helping to bring the parties together to try to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict, I am in-line with prior Republicans and Democrats.”
- Following a UNESCO resolution passed last week ignoring the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and its holy sites, Trump said in a statement to JNS.org, he “will recognize Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel. Jerusalem is the enduring capital of the Jewish people, and the overwhelming majority of Congress has voted to recognize Jerusalem as just that.”
- Responding to the same matter, the Clinton campaign pointed to the 2016 Democratic Party Platform’s language on Jerusalem that states, “While Jerusalem is a matter for final-status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
- Earlier this year, Clinton came out strongly against the BDS movement during a debate within the Methodist Church, of which Clinton has been a lifelong member, over whether or not to join the movement. “I believe that BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace,” Clinton wrote in a May letter to the heads of the Jewish Federations of North America. The Methodist Church ultimately rejected a resolution to divest from Israel.
- While Trump himself has not made any statements directly about BDS, his top Israel adviser, Jason Greenblatt, strongly condemned it in a Fox News op-ed in June: “BDS is a modern manifestation of antisemitism, plain and simple. BDS hurts Israelis, Palestinians and the hope for peace. The BDS movement is not interested in promoting peace and coexistence. It is not interested in forging a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.”
- The Republican nominee has been criticized for alluding to antisemitic rhetoric and tropes in speeches and social media posts, as well as being slammed for the presence of anti-Jewish sentiment among some of his supporters.
- In early July, Trump tweeted an image critical of Clinton featuring a six-pointed star, a pile of cash and the words “most corrupt candidate ever.” Critics contended the graphic invoked antisemitic stereotypes and found that the image had been posted days earlier on an antisemitic, white supremacist message board. The six-pointed star element was eventually replaced with a new image by the campaign. Trump refused to make a formal apology or explicitly acknowledge any wrong-doing.
- Critics condemned the similarity to classic antisemitic themes in an October 13 speech Trump gave in West Palm Beach, where he said, “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), wrote in a tweet: “@TeamTrump should avoid rhetoric and tropes that historically have been used against Jews and still spur #antisemitism. Let’s keep hate out of campaign.”
- The Trump campaign has been criticized for not strongly distancing itself from neo-Nazis and white supremacists, such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The Holocaust denier and ex-Imperial Wizard of the KKK expressed his support for Trump during his bid for senator in Louisiana.
- However, the Trump campaign has disavowed any antisemitism being promulgated and promoted by supporters. “We have no knowledge of this activity and strongly condemn any commentary that is antisemitic,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement to The New York Times regarding an October report by the ADL detailing the antisemitism not uncommon among Trump supporters on Twitter. “We totally disavow hateful rhetoric online or otherwise,” Hicks added.
- In an op-ed first published by JNS.org in April, Clinton said that we must respond to antisemitism and protect religious liberty. “Today, there are new threats to religious liberty and an alarming rise in anti-Semitism. In many parts of Europe, we’ve seen synagogues vandalized and gravesites desecrated,” Clinton wrote. “We must confront these forces of intolerance. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, I would ensure that America continues to call out and stand up to anti-Semitism.”
- Last summer, the Clinton campaign was forced to distance itself from comments made by anti-Israel Jewish journalist Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal, regarding the late Elie Wiesel. The younger Blumenthal said of Wiesel that he “spent his last years inciting hatred, defense apartheid and palling around with fascists.” Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy adviser, told The Jerusalem Post, “Secretary Clinton emphatically rejects these offensive, hateful, and patently absurd statements about Elie Wiesel.”
Iran nuclear deal
- When the nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 world powers (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) was announced in July 2015, Trump called the deal “very dangerous.” He said at the time, “Iran developing a nuclear weapon, either through uranium or nuclear fuel, and defying the world is still a very real possibility. The inspections will not be followed, and Iran will no longer have any sanctions. Iran gets everything and loses nothing.”
- During his AIPAC speech, Trump vowed, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” He added, “I have been in business a long time…this deal is catastrophic for Israel, for America, for the whole of the Middle East… We have rewarded the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with $ 150 billion, and we received absolutely nothing in return.”
- In September 2015, Clinton endorsed the nuclear agreement in a speech at the Brookings Institution, saying that, “diplomacy is not the pursuit of perfection; it is the balancing of risk.” However, Clinton went on to say the deal would work only “as part of a larger strategy toward Iran” and that “distrust and verify” would be her approach to handling Iran. She added, “I will not hesitate to take military action” if Iran still sought to develop a nuclear weapon despite the commitments.
- In July, during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton touted her early role in the nuclear agreement with Iran during her time as secretary of state. “I’m proud that we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot,” she said. “Now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel’s security.”