Jewish Voters and the Criteria for a Pro-Israel President
In 2016, I broke Jewish voters into five categories and suggested nine criteria for a pro-Israel president. Joe Biden has replaced Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, which has led me to add a sixth category — but otherwise, little has changed. Here are updated versions of my earlier categories of Jewish voters.
True believing Democrats — This is the largest category of Jews, who automatically vote for any Democratic candidate. They are staunch liberals who could never vote for a Republican. They believe any Democrat will maintain, if not strengthen, the US-Israel relationship.
Nose Holders — In 2016, this category consisted mainly of Jewish Republicans who could not stand Hillary, but were more frightened by Trump. This group has grown over the last four years and they see Biden, but not Bernie Sanders, as someone they can live with.
True believers in Donald Trump — Orthodox and other conservative Jews, like evangelical Christians, are prepared to ignore everything that they would otherwise find objectionable because of Trumps’ support on their core issues. For evangelicals, it’s opposing abortion, and for Jews, it’s support for Israel. While many Jews were skeptical Trump would follow through on his campaign promises, he, unlike his predecessors, made good on those pledges and has gone even further in both his commitment to Israel and tough stand against Iran. While many liberal Jews see even Trump’s policies toward Israel as harmful, the MAGA Jews consider him the most pro-Israel president ever.
ABT/ABSers — In 2016, some people so despised Clinton they were prepared to vote for anyone else. This time, the “Anyone But” voters have nowhere to turn if Sanders is the nominee. Anti-Trump Republicans fear Sanders so much that they’re more likely to sit out the election. Similarly, anti-Sanders Democrats could never vote for Trump and might also choose to stay home.
Obama Haters — I’ve added this category because of Biden’s close association with Obama’s Middle East policies and his statements that he plans to adopt many of them if he becomes president. Some moderate and conservative Jewish Democrats find this alarming because they believe Obama’s hostility toward Israel and his deal with Iran damaged the US-Israel relationship. Nevertheless, they could never vote for Trump. Moderate Jewish Republicans and neocon anti-Trumpers are also troubled by the prospect of a return to Obama’s polices, but believe Biden is sufficiently pro-Israel to cross party lines.
Non-Voters — Jews vote in disproportionate numbers compared to almost every other political constituency. They are especially energized for this election, both to support Trump and defeat him. As noted above, this could, however, become an unusually large category if Sanders is the nominee.
Moving on, many Jews disagree whether the policies on Israel of Trump and Biden are indeed pro-Israel, raising the question: What makes a president pro-Israel? Let me suggest the following criteria:
Close consultation — The president should not spring any diplomatic surprises on Israel, such as Obama’s call for a settlement freeze that included Jerusalem. By contrast, the team formulating Trump’s peace plan worked closely with the Israelis. The relationship is most effective when both countries are in constant contact.
Private Criticism — If the president has a problem with Israeli policy, he knows the prime minister’s phone number and can express concern directly. Public criticism creates the perception of tension in the relationship and raises the hopes of Israel’s enemies that a wedge can be driven between the two allies. Bill Clinton was a model for this policy; Obama was the antithesis.
Commitment to Israel’s security — Israel’s enemies must have no doubt that the United States has Israel’s back and will provide assistance if needed. The United States must remain faithful to the longstanding promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. Obama negotiated a 10-year military aid deal with Israel that Trump has implemented. Unlike Sanders, Biden has said he would not threaten to cut aid to Israel to coerce changes in policy.
Understanding Israel’s neighborhood — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently reminds Americans that Israel is in the Mideast, not the Midwest. The president must recognize the threat posed to Israel by Palestinian terrorism, radical Islam, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Recognition of risks for peace — Israel has repeatedly offered compromises to achieve peace; however, Israel will not give in to pressure to capitulate to all Palestinian demands. Israel can only take risks for peace if the president meets criteria 3 and 4.
Understanding peace cannot be made in Washington — Every president feels the need to offer a peace plan, as did Trump, but they have all failed because the Palestinians and Israelis must sit together to reach an agreement. The president can be a mediator, but a solution can only come from face-to-face negotiations.
Support at the UN — Israel faces an automatic majority that promotes the Palestinian agenda and condemns Israeli policies. The president has little influence in the General Assembly besides ensuring the United States stands beside Israel and strenuously objects to the annual cavalcade of anti-Israel resolutions. With its veto, the US has great power in the Security Council, and Israel and the rest of the world should know that the president will not hesitate to use that power to prevent the adoption of resolutions singling Israel out for condemnation, attempting to impose a settlement on Israel, or recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a bilateral peace treaty. The Trump administration has been especially forceful in defending Israel at the UN and its associated agencies.
Condemnation of terrorism — The president must condemn incitement and terrorism directed at Israel or Jews, no matter the source. Israel and the United States should stand shoulder-to-shoulder in fighting radical Islam.
Israel is special — The president cannot see Israel as just another country. To appreciate this special relationship, the president must feel a connection with the Israeli people in their kishkas like Ronald Reagan, based on their ideology like George W. Bush, or because of their faith like Harry Truman.
Israel may not be a deciding factor for most Jewish voters; nevertheless, it behooves them to consider my criteria to determine who will be the best choice for strengthening the US-Israel relationship.
Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.