Chairman Weiss: American Jews Do Care About Israel!

(originally published February 22, 2022 / 21 Adar I 5782)

In an interview that aired last month with Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, former President Donald Trump said that “the Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel.”

His comment indicated a mistaken interpretation of the low support (30 percent) for him among American Jews in the 2020 election. A 2019 Gallup survey showed this not to be the case, however. According to Gallup senior scientist Frank Newport, “[A]bout 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.”

A comparison between the results of the 2016 and 2020 elections is illustrative. In the former, Trump won about 24 percent of the Jewish vote nationally and in the important swing state of Florida. In the latter, following Trump’s extraordinary record of support for Israel—including the historic recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel—support for him among Jews increased from 24 percent to 30 percent nationally, according to The Associated Press, and to more than 40 percent in Florida.

Why did he fare so much better among Jews in Florida in 2020 than among American Jews nationally, when in 2016, the Jewish vote in Florida was equal to that in the rest of the country?

The answer is that he hadn’t even mentioned his intention to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during his first campaign—not in his convention speech or in any of the presidential debates. In 2020, on the other hand, he actively pursued the Jewish vote in Florida, regularly highlighting the embassy move and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

He did not, however, use significant campaign funds to pursue the Jewish vote in New York, New Jersey and California—all with significant Jewish communities—because he didn’t think he’d be able to win in those traditionally Democrat-supporting states. In Florida, the one main swing state where the Jewish vote mattered, he did better than any Republican candidate had in 80 years.

Partly as a result of Trump’s pro-Israel stance, Republican support for Israel has never been stronger. When Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) penned a letter in early November to President Joe Biden opposing the proposed reopening of the U.S. consulate in eastern Jerusalem to serve Palestinians, more than 200 House Republicans—in other words, most Republicans in Congress—signed it.

In response to increased Republican support for Israel, Jewish voters are starting to vote Republican in stronger numbers. A poll conducted by the American Jewish Congress found that 37 percent of the Jewish vote in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November went to Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, helping him win the election.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, won 35 percent of the Jewish vote in 2018. He is expected to surpass the more than 40 percent of the Jewish vote that Trump had garnered in that state in 2020 when he runs for re-election next November.

While Republican support for Israel has increased, the Democratic Party’s failure to condemn “Squad” Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for their support for the anti-Semitic BDS movement has caused Jews much concern. The fact that several other Democratic members of Congress have outrageously called Israel an apartheid state has further fueled anti-Semitism nationwide.

It wasn’t that long ago when support for Israel was a bipartisan issue in Congress, which voted to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. The administration of former President Barack Obama broke with this tradition by abstaining, rather than vetoing, U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, which deemed eastern Jerusalem “occupied” Palestinian-Arab land.

The Biden administration similarly abstained on a vote on the U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a Palestinian-Arab “right of return.” Trump had opposed all such U.N. resolutions.

Jewish Democratic Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) recently introduced the J Street-endorsed “Two-State Solution Act,” which “prohibits the United States from providing support for projects in geographic regions that came under Israeli control after June 5, 1967. It also prohibits the use of any U.S. security assistance, defense articles or defense services provided to Israel for efforts to annex or exercise permanent control over any part of the West Bank or Gaza.”

This bill effectually calls the eastern part of Jerusalem, which includes the Western Wall, as Occupied Palestinian Territory, essentially meaning that it would no longer be recognized as Israeli sovereign territory. It has 38 Democratic co-sponsors and, combined with the members of “Squad,” it has the support of more than 20 percent of congressional Democrats.

Former President George H.W. Bush received 35 percent of the Jewish vote in 1988. When he and his secretary of state, James Baker, were publicly critical of Israel, Jewish support dropped to 12 percent in 1992, contributing to his reelection failure. Baker’s allegedly famous quip of “f**k the Jews; they didn’t vote for us” became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Obama saw his Jewish support drop from 78 percent when he ran against Arizona Sen. John McCain to 69 percent when he ran against Mitt Romney, mainly because of the Jewish community’s view that he was hostile to Israel.

The evidence is clear that American Jews do care about Israel, and this is reflected in a shift towards the Republican Party, due to its support for Israel. The Democrats are likely to feel this impact in the 2022 congressional elections and the 2024 presidential election unless they change course on Israel.

Contrary to what he may believe, Trump received significant Jewish support in Florida precisely because the Jewish community does love Israel, and many Jews will cast their ballots for the candidates who are best for the Jewish state.

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