Donald Trump struggles with Jewish voters despite pro-Israel record

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His record on Israel is so strong that radio host Mark Levin once called him “the first Jewish president,” but President Trump has yet to feel the love from the Jewish electorate.

A Pew Research Center poll released this week showed that 70% of registered Jewish voters support Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden over Mr. Trump, who was the choice of 27% — slightly more than the 24% who backed him in 2016.

That barely perceptible move of the needle comes even as the Democratic Party’s progressive wing continues to trend away from Israel and toward Palestinian causes, led by rising stars such as Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, while Mr. Trump has time and again aligned himself with Jerusalem.

As far as Jewish Republicans are concerned, it shouldn’t be a close call. “President Trump has been the most pro-Jewish president in history,” said Neil Strauss, communications director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

In fact, Mr. Trump appears to be far more popular with the Jewish community in Israel than he is at home. A Direct Polls/i24 survey released Monday found 63% of Israelis believed Mr. Trump would be “better for Israel,” versus 19% for Mr. Biden.

In addition, 53% said that they thought Israel would be “significantly harmed” if Mr. Trump lost the Nov. 3 election. What’s more, 48% of Israelis said American Jews were “mistaken” in backing the Democratic Party, while 35% said they were “correct.”

“Their [Jewish voters’] considerations when going to vote are not just Israel,” Dani Dayan, former counsul general of Israel in New York, told i24. “I would like very much if they would allocate to the Israel issue a much higher weight than they do, but there are other issues that concern them.”

Indeed, conservatives have long banged their collective heads in frustration over the Jewish voting bloc’s unwavering support for the Democratic Party, which appears to bear little relation to either party’s record on Israel.

“Why American Jews consistently support Democrats has been one of the mysteries of the decades,” said Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson, who runs the Legal Insurrection website. “For as long as I can remember, liberalism has been the predominant political ideology of American Jews, particularly in the Reform Jewish movement, the largest group within the American Jewish community.”

He said those demographics are changing as the percentage of U.S. Orthodox Jews rises, “but the change has not taken place yet.”

“I don’t think it revolves around support for or hostility towards Israel,” Mr. Jacobson said. “Other than far-left groups that receive a lot of media attention, the vast majority of American Jews support Israel regardless of political affiliation.”

Logan Bayroff, communications director of the liberal Jewish group J Street, called it “not at all surprising that polls indicate the overwhelming majority of American Jews plan to vote against Donald Trump.”

“Every election for decades has demonstrated that most American Jews are reliable Democratic voters motivated primarily by liberal values and domestic concerns,” Mr. Bayroff said in an email.

At the same time, Mr. Strauss said nobody should be surprised by Mr. Trump’s support among Israelis, who “know who will stand with them and the Gulf States against Iran, ISIS, and other radical Islamic terrorist organizations.”

“To Israelis, this is an existential issue,” he said, “and they know who will stand up of Israeli safety and security.”

Jewish grandchildren

Mr. Trump’s list of pro-Israel policies start with the exit from the Iran nuclear deal, an Obama White House agreement that was fiercely opposed by Israel and even some Jewish Democratic lawmakers. Mr. Biden has said he would reenter the deal if Tehran “returns to compliance.”

Mr. Trump’s other milestones include recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that presidents had long avoided over fear of inflaming tensions in the Arab world.

“The Trump administration actually has done something of great symbolic and substantive effect — moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move promised by previous presidents as candidates but not carried out by them once in office,” said Eric Rozenman, formerly of the Jewish Policy Center.

The Trump administration also withheld funding to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza over terrorism concerns. House and Senate Democrats urged the administration earlier this year to resume aid, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Rozenman described it as a far cry from President Barack Obama’s arms-length relationship with Israel.

“[M]any Israelis across the political spectrum recall the Obama administration’s public policy of ‘putting distance’ between the United States and Israel, on the theory this would somehow make Washington a more attractive diplomatic partner to some Arab countries or the Palestinian Arabs,” he said, “and then Vice President Biden’s role in delivering unpalatable messages to Jerusalem.”

At home, Mr. Trump signed in December an executive order cracking down on campuses that adopted the definition of anti-Semitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Last week, the Trump Education Department settled a complaint brought by a Jewish student in which New York University agreed to take steps to ameliorate anti-Semitism, including adding it to the university’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy while admitting no wrongdoing.

J Street was not impressed. “When it comes to the president’s Israel policies, most of our community recognizes that they have only exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and made a peaceful two-state solution harder to achieve,” Mr. Bayroff said.

Then there are Mr. Trump’s Jewish family ties. His daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism when she married, and son-in-law Jared Kushner are recognized as the first Jewish members of a first family. They have three children, meaning the president has three Jewish grandchildren.

None of that has been enough to inoculate Mr. Trump from allegations of anti-Semitism. A Washington Post report last month accused him of saying Jews are “only in it for themselves” and “stick together,” citing unnamed current and former administration officials, which the White House staunchly disputed.

Mr. Trump’s critics also have accused him of supporting “white nationalism” and white supremacy, which he denies, but his “attacks on democratic norms and his belligerent, reckless foreign policy are all abhorrent and alarming to Jewish voters,” said Mr. Bayroff.

Mr. Strauss disagreed, saying that Mr. Trump “has time and again condemned anti-Semitism on the right and the left.”

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