Illustration by Steve Greenberg

Why some Jews still support Trump


Watching President Donald Trump equivocate during his criticism of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., many liberal Jews saw a new low for an administration they felt never occupied high moral ground in the first place.

But many of Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters had an entirely different reaction, responding to his freewheeling commentary with little more than a shrug, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” To them, criticizing Trump for a lack of moral clarity because he failed to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation was just another example of the liberal media and the Democratic establishment blowing his comments out of proportion.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis,” said Warren Scheinin, a retired engineer in Redondo Beach. “He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

For right-leaning Jews in the Southland like Scheinin, who have stood by the president so far, the media rather than Trump or even neo-Nazis pose the greatest threat to American democracy. To many Trump supporters, if Charlottesville mattered at all, it mattered far less than his promises to reverse the course of the previous administration at home and abroad, especially on difficult issues involving Israel, North Korea and immigration.

While it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Jews who still support the president, it’s likely small. More than two-thirds didn’t vote for him in the 2016 election.

Among all Americans who cast ballots for Trump, however, many apparently continue to stand by him. A CBS News poll found that 67 percent of Republicans approved of his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a separate poll this month by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., 41 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the president. Of those, 61 percent said nothing he could do or fail to do would cause them to change their minds about him.

Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who researches Jewish political sentiment, said it is difficult to measure how many Jews continue to enthusiastically support Trump rather than merely accept his leadership.

“For those who are in bed and comfortable with him, and even with his quirks and his inconsistencies, there’s little that will push them away from him,” Windmueller said. “But for those who are troubled by at least some of his statements and actions, I think they’re simply hoping for some way out of this nightmare.”

Windmueller pointed to a “credibility gap” between those who put their faith in Trump and those who trust mainstream media outlets.

“Whatever he said, the media would twist it,” said Alexandra Joans, 66, a property manager in Tarzana who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries but shifted her support to Trump once he became the nominee. “If he said today was Friday, they would say, ‘You’re a damned liar, you should be impeached.’ ”

President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

Benjamin Nissanoff, 45, the founder of a line of body-care products who lives in West Los Angeles, said the media are quick to label Trump a Jew hater, but they didn’t criticize President Barack Obama when, in an interview with Vox, he did not denounce a 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris as anti-Semitic. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.” However, he did not refer to anti-Semitism in the Vox interview.) 

“The media not only didn’t challenge [Obama] on it, they defended him against it,” Nisanoff said. “To me, that is almost an equivalent, analogous situation. Where this president, in my opinion, made a gaffe and — instead of defending him like they did for Obama — they went on offense and they attacked him for a poorly worded and phrased condemnation.”

For some Jewish voices that have defended Trump in the past or stayed silent while others attacked, the president’s comments on Charlottesville seemed to cross a line. But that put them out of lockstep with his base among conservative Jews.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January, said he wished that Trump had been a more effective communicator at a time of crisis.

“If he was concerned there not be any violence at the demonstrations, he could have said, ‘I appeal to all Americans to obey the police and not violate any of the rules,’ ” Hier said. “But instead, he seemed to draw a moral equivalency between perpetrators and victims.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which praised the president when he appointed a diplomatic amateur, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, and withheld criticism when he failed to mention Jews in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, spoke out against his Charlottesville comments.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis. He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

Responding to Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, the group’s national chairman, Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Matt Brooks, its executive director, contradicted him in an Aug. 16 statement, saying, “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the [Ku Klux] Klan.

“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.

But other Jewish Republicans saw nothing objectionable in the president’s comments, only the backlash that ensued. After the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers in Sacramento, rebuked Trump for his comments, the only Republican member, State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County, resigned from the caucus.

In an Aug. 17 statement, the caucus said Trump “gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence.” Stone fired back hours later with a statement of his own, saying the caucus “receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”

Carol Greenwald of Maryland, co-founder of the grassroots group Jews Choose Trump, who supported him throughout the 2016 campaign, dismissed the criticism from organizations like the RJC.

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” she said. “They didn’t support Trump for a minute during the campaign.”

She sees the fallout from Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as part of a crusade by the media aimed at damaging the president.

“They ran out of the Russian collusion [story], that Trump is a traitor, because there’s obviously no evidence for it, and so they’re now trying to destroy his presidency by saying Trump’s a racist,” she said.

Scheinin also believes Democrats are running with the Charlottesville story to damage Trump.

“The only reason he’s being harassed about it is because the left loves to harass the president,” he said.

Counterdemonstrators attack a white supremacist during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

The former Northrop Grumman engineer agreed with the president that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.

“I don’t know why people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the media coverage. “If the counterprotesters hadn’t showed up, nobody would have been killed. It would have blown over.”

Like Joans, Greenwald and others interviewed for this story, Scheinin said he sees far-left groups such as antifa, known for its use of violence to intimidate conservative speakers and protesters, and Black Lives Matter, which has equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with genocide, as more of a threat to democracy and Jewish life in America than the far right.

“The skinheads don’t really bother me,” Joans said. “They’re useless to me. I worry about the left more because they’re the true fascists.”

For Trump stalwarts, the perception that violence and hatred are rampant on the left makes it easier to sympathize with the president’s suggestion that both sides of the Charlottesville rallies should be targeted for condemnation.

Estella Sneider

Estella Sneider, a celebrity psychologist who campaigned for Trump and appeared frequently on television to support him, disputed allegations that Trump is a racist or a xenophobe, pointing to his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, foreign-born wife and Blacks he appointed to positions in his administration, such as White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault. “Why are people not seeing this?” Sneider said.

Sneider’s family on her father’s side was almost entirely annihilated by the Holocaust. She said she was nauseated by the Nazi symbols and chants at the torchlight march in Charlottesville. After watching Trump’s remarks, however, she was satisfied that he had unequivocally condemned the white supremacists.

“It would be unfair to lump every single Trump supporter into being white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis, in the same way it would be unfair to lump all liberal Democrats into being antifa,” she said. “Trump was right in saying that not everybody there was a neo-Nazi.”

Nissanoff, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he was offended by comparisons between Charlottesville protestors who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and Nazis.

“The word ‘Nazi’ is such a powerful idea that to dilute it and start to equivocate with a bunch of losers who run around with tiki torches I think diminishes what a Nazi and Nazism really was,” he said.

In Los Angeles, members of the Israeli community continue to provide a source of Jewish support for Trump.

Ari Bussel, 51, who runs a liquor distributorship in Beverly Hills, was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Israel. He described himself as a proud Republican and said he felt Trump has not been given a chance to lead the country. He said Trump has been “vilified as the greatest Satan, the actual fulfillment of imaginary fears and baseless accusations.”

“As for the latest accusations,” Bussel added, “whatever the president would have said would not have satisfied some people and the American-Jewish leadership — exactly those who vocally and fiercely fought against his being elected.”

For Adi Levin, 47, a homemaker in Woodland Hills who emigrated from Israel in 2000, Trump’s support for Israel is more important than his record on race relations. She said the coverage of Charlottesville has been biased against the president.

“They like to criticize Trump and will continue doing so no matter what he’ll say or do,” she said. “I never heard them criticize Obama the same way, even though he never criticized or said anything about Muslim extremists.”

However, Levin said she wishes Trump would pick his words more carefully.

Cheston Mizel

“It’s obvious that the media doesn’t like him,” she said, “but I don’t think it will hurt to try and be more politically correct.”

The Orthodox community has been another source of pro-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles and beyond. For some of his observant supporters, Trump’s record on religious liberties and Israel far outweigh his handling of race relations.

Cheston Mizel, president of Mizel Financial Holdings and a congregant of Pico Shul, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, said the attention to Charlottesville and to other presidential controversies has distracted from Trump’s successes, including appointing the pro-Israel Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“While there are obviously things that are problematic about this presidency, Nikki Haley and Neil Gorsuch are two clear bright spots,” he said.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft, 58, owns the Mitzvah Store on Beverly Boulevard and goes to synagogue nearby at Congregation Kehilas Yaakov. He grew up in a liberal Democratic family in Kansas City, Mo., but in the 1980s, after meeting Ronald Reagan at a Kansas City Jewish country club where he was a lifeguard, he changed his party affiliation to Republican.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft

Although he originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries, once Trump made it to the general election, Kraft’s choice was clear, he said: He voted to make America great again.

Asked whether he feels Trump has adequately denounced white supremacists, Kraft pulled out his iPhone and played a YouTube video of clips edited together to show Trump repeatedly denouncing white supremacist David Duke in various interviews with reporters.

“It was sufficient,” Kraft said of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. “Those who hate Trump could not accept his condemnation of the violent left.”

Ayala Or-El contributed to this article.

Senate Muslim Brotherhood bill provokes controversy


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2017 last week in a bid to “fight against radical Islamic terrorism.” The bill notes that “it is the sense of Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist designation.” Nonetheless, since the legislative branch does not have the authority to make such a determination, the measure would require the Secretary of State to submit such an evaluation and report back to Congress within 60 days.

Cruz notes in a press statement, “A grand détente with the Muslim Brotherhood and a blind eye to the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) are not pathways to peace in this struggle; they guarantee the ultimate success of our enemy.”

Jillian Schwedler, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of a book on Jordanian Islamists called the Senate bill “deeply problematic.” She told Jewish Insider, “The terrorist designation really is only appropriate for groups that have been actively engaged in the use of violence towards civilian populations and the Muslim Brotherhood in no way fits that category.” Since the different branches of the organization operate independently and at times in a contradictory manner, such a terrorist designation for all of the Brotherhood across the Middle East lacks “nuance,” Schwedler emphasized.

In addition to the Senate measure, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) have introduced a similar bill in the House. The resolution cites the multiple countries that have labeled the Brotherhood a terrorist organization including the 1979 decision by the regime of Hafez al-Assad in Syria, in addition to Russia banning the organization from operating in the country in 2003. Offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood include the AKP, Turkey’s Development and Justice Party– the ruling group in Ankara— which is considered to have ties with the incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The bill also claims that a chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood operates in the United States but does not offer any additional details.

The terrorist designation is a “worthwhile issue to address,” Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Foundations for Defense of Democracies, explained to Jewish Insider. “It is clear that there is an appetite to address the Brotherhood and whatever potential threats it may pose,” Schanzer added.

Given the escalating tensions between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the timing of the measure is noteworthy.  “It would be taken by the Egyptian regime to vindicate one of the most widespread campaigns of repression in Egyptian history,” Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science at George Washington University and Non-Resident Fellow at Carnegie, told Jewish Insider. According to the BBC, approximately 40,000 people have been jailed and 1,000 killed since Sisi came to power in 2013.

In 2014, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) introduced a similar measure to label the group as a terrorist organization. However, her legislation failed to win enough votes to pass Congress. Bachmann had described senior aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Huma Abedin as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a move Senator John McCain called “sinister.”

Yet, Rep. Balart emphasizes that the timing of the Trump’s upcoming administration is exactly the reason why he proposed the bill now. “We have an incoming president who appreciates the threat of terrorism and has vowed to defeat it,” he said.

Experts also questioned how the new bill will impact American ties with allied nations across the Middle East. Citing Jordan, a longstanding US partner who has tried to contain extremism in the country by not placing all Islamists under the umbrella term of terrorists, Schwedler asked, “So, then does Congress hypothetically say we are cutting aid to Jordan until Jordan outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood in its own country?”

In addition to the bill’s affect abroad, Schanzer also noted that the Cruz measure may have an impact in America. “My sense is domestic charities are likely to come under scrutiny again,” he stated. “Some of these US-based charities could have ties with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Schanzer added.

The GOP backed bill appears to fit with the priorities of the upcoming Trump presidency. At the nominee’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson singled out the Islamist organization as a threat. “The demise of ISIS will also allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam like al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and certain elements within Iran.”

Long a rival, Ted Cruz endorses Trump in U.S. presidential race


In an abrupt shift, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday, saying he is the only candidate who can stop Democrat Hillary Clinton from winning the White House on Nov. 8.

“A year ago, I pledged to endorse the Republican nominee, and I am honoring that commitment. And if you don't want to see a Hillary Clinton presidency, I encourage you to vote for him,” the former Republican presidential candidate said in a lengthy statement.

Cruz, a senator from Texas who is a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, was one of Trump's last challengers for the Republican presidential nomination to drop out of the race.

When Cruz addressed the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland, where Trump accepted the nomination, he declined to endorse Trump and was essentially booed off stage by the New York businessman's supporters.

During the heated primary battle, Trump had insulted Cruz's wife, Heidi, for her physical appearance. His wild suggestion that the senator's father was linked to President John F. Kennedy's assassin prompted Cruz to denounce Trump as a “pathological liar.”

In July, Trump said, “I don't want his endorsement.” On Friday he said he was greatly honored to have Cruz backing him.

“We have fought the battle and he was a tough and brilliant opponent. I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again,” Trump said.

Cruz cited the possibility of Democrats taking control of the U.S. Supreme Court as a major reason why he decided to drop his opposition to Trump.

Trump earlier in the day released the names of 21 prominent conservatives and said he would pick from this list in nominating a replacement for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

The Senate has refused to take any action on President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, chief judge of the federal appeals court in Washington, to fill the vacancy.

One of the names on Trump's list was that of U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a key ally of Cruz.

Cruz said that for some time he had been seeking greater specificity on Trump's views toward filling the opening on the court, which is currently deadlocked between four right-leaning and four left-leaning jurists.

He said Trump's list “provides a serious reason for voters to choose to support Trump” and that Lee “would make an extraordinary justice.”

Cruz noted his qualms about Trump, saying, “I have struggled to determine the right course of action in this general election.”

But in the end, he decided, Trump “is the only thing standing in the way” of a Clinton presidency that he said would be devastating to the United States.

Mindful voters, mindless news: Trump is a teachable moment


The sun rose blood red this morning. Sunlight stained the pine of my bedroom bookshelves a shade of Indian paintbrush. For minutes I just stood there, ambushed by the angled light in the silent room. As the sun crept across the carpet, I knew I was watching – even thought I could feel – the earth turn. The whole world was shot with wonder.

But then I turned on cable news and checked out links on Twitter and Facebook.

I know that’s nuts. Why kill the moment? Why can’t I keep my hands off the clicker and my iPhone?

I can make two arguments that surrendering my attention to cable news and social media is virtuous: 1. It’s my responsibility as a citizen to be informed. 2. If I’m informed, I can make a difference.  There’s also a third argument that doesn’t invoke virtue but makes me feel less guilty: I can’t help it. 

The first two rationales are axiomatic among educated people. But would I really have been a less responsible citizen if, instead of watching every minute of convention coverage, I’d gone fishing?  What of lasting importance would I have missed if I’d gone on a news fast? What patriotic duty would I have to do less because I missed a few weeks of news cycles and a few billion gallons of the Twitter fire hose?

At a farewell-Cleveland event the morning after his acceptance speech, Donald Trump reminded the nation that the National Enquirer – a publication he said deserved a Pulitzer Prize – had linked Ted Cruz’s father to Lee Harvey Oswald. He also invited his social media director, who had recently distributed an image connecting Hillary Clinton and piles of cash to the Star of David, to take a bow. For more than 40 minutes Trump presented the clinical symptoms of megalomania that his handlers had managed to contain during the four days of the convention.

I was riveted by the nakedness of Trump’s narcissism and vengeance. But what, truly, did I learn from it? The only news was no news: The con hadn’t changed.  He saw no need to continue to fake a pivot to Temperament 2.0 in order to gull more marks.  I’ll never get those hours of watching the Republican convention back. I could have been hiking the high desert, plein-air painting, listening to Lang Lang, grilling a perfect yellow peach. Consuming convention coverage didn’t make me civically smarter; it just added fresh meat to the chronicle of American descent, and depressed the hell out of me.

I’d like to think that paying close attention to this week’s Democratic convention can make me a better advocate for beating Trump. But I doubt Clinton will win any more votes because the time that I spend watching four days of speeches, reporting and panic about Debbie Wasserman Schultz will better equip me to persuade someone that Clinton’s plans to grow the economy or fight terrorism are better than Trump’s. He has no plans. What he has is messianism, dog whistles and “Believe me.” It’s hard to imagine that Philadelphia coverage will give me new ammo to convince a Trump supporter to switch sides or an undecided voter to tilt Clinton’s way. If knowledge could do that, a Clinton landslide would be coming into view. But the most that more information can accomplish has already been done; it has made the race a dead heat.

My excuse for being hooked on campaign news is that humans are hard-wired to be hooked by narrative. We’re ravenous to know what happens next. Sheherazade stayed the blade of the sultan’s executioner for 1001 nights by delaying the endings of her tales. All news is “BREAKING NEWS” for the same reason storytellers used suspense, surprise and conflict around prehistoric campfires: to hold their audience’s attention.

Trump won the nomination by gaming the attention economy. He won free coverage and the networks won big ratings because he was outrageously entertaining, and there was no profit incentive to hold him accountable for blatant lying and thuggish incivility. Will the news business avoid making the same mistake in the general election? Can it do more for its audience than – in Neil Postman’s phrase – amuse us to death?

During the conventions, a heat dome has been searing the nation. That juxtaposition offers an opportunity. This year is on track to be the world’s hottest on record, exceeding the previous hottest year, 2015, which exceeded the previous hottest year, 2014.  For the news media, this campaign offers a teachable moment. If you want to tell the most important story in human history, if you believe that rousing your audience to civic action is part of journalism’s job, you might want to cover the 2016 campaign against the backdrop of brutal climate change, and to frame this election as a choice whose consequences could be irreversibly damaging for the rest of human history.

The sun that lit my bedroom bookcase is the drought sun that fueled the wildfire that flung the ash that turned the rising sun blood red.  The sun that demanded mindfulness this morning is the sun now scorching the planet.  

News, too, is a bid for attention. Sometimes its flash is a trick to get eyeballs. But its luminousness also holds the power to enlighten, to mobilize, to rescue. If news tried more to do that, I bet we’d notice. We might even feel the earth turn.


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Cruz may be down, but he is not out as a favorite of the pro-Israel right


Wednesday night’s gripping tale of a dramatic, sudden repudiation of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by Sheldon Adelson, the major pro-Israel philanthropist and Republican donor, seems a little less consequential in the light of Thursday morning, according to folks who are close with Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

There is no rift, they say, only a cooling off until after Nov. 8, Election Day. Until then, the Adelsons are invested in Donald Trump, while Cruz remains a darling of the pro-Israel right.

Reports Wednesday night said Cruz had been banned from Adelson’s suite at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland after Cruz declined to endorse Trump during his convention speech Wednesday night and exited the stage to boos from the delegates.

Describing what occurred as a snub or a ban would be to “utterly misrepresent” it, said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was present and issued a statement at the Adelsons’ behest.

“After the speech, given its newsworthy content, it appears that a large contingent of reporters followed the Senator as he made his rounds, including to the Adelsons’ suite,” Boteach said. “The decision was taken by advisers to the Adelsons not to make a spectacle in the small private suite given the intense media scrutiny engulfing the Senator at that moment and to instead meet him in private the following day.”

Boteach, whose advocacy group The World Values Network is funded in large part by the Adelsons, said the couple planned to meet privately with Cruz on Thursday.

“Whatever issues they would have had with Senator Cruz’s speech, they would never have chosen to disrespect a friend who is a United States Senator, a patriot, and a staunch friend of Israel,” he said.

Cruz still stands out as perhaps the best political friend to the wing of pro-Israel activists who embrace settlements and would like to put the two-state solution into deep freeze, according to Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America.

“There is no one better than Cruz,” said Klein, whose group is also a major beneficiary of Adelson’s largesse but who emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the casino magnate.

“I mean, others are just as good,” he said, naming former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee among once and possibly future presidential contenders. “But there is no one better.”

The Adelsons kept out of this presidential race for months, in part because their generous backing for Gingrich in the 2012 cycle is believed to have set back eventual nominee Mitt Romney’s bid to unseat President Barack Obama (who, like this year’s Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, they consider a greater threat than Trump).

Still, Adelson did reveal last year that he favored Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, while his wife was impressed with Cruz. Both candidates had what the pro-Israel right regards as unassailable records on Israel and on opposing the Iran nuclear deal.

Adelson did not pronounce his preference for Trump until May, after Rubio’s campaign imploded – he lost his home state, Florida, to Trump — and after Trump had emerged as the presumptive nominee, despite a formidable late-in-the-game challenge by Cruz. Adelson reportedly told Trump that he would back his campaign to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

There was not much love lost between the two. When Trump was boasting last year that he did not need Adelson’s money, sources in the Adelson camp were quoted as saying that he had assiduously courted the casino magnate. Trump’s refusal to say he would completely kill the Iran deal – he says he hates it, but appears open to tweaking it as opposed to scrapping it outright – and his back-and-forth on whether he would be “neutral” on Israel were also of concern to Adelson and other Republicans.

So when it emerged late Wednesday that Adelson ordered Cruz turned away from his suite, there was speculation of a rift. Those reports appeared to be confirmed when Adelson’s adviser, Andy Abboud, posted a photo on Twitter of Trump posing with the Adelsons captioned, “The Adelsons and their choice for president!”

However, a source close to the Adelsons immediately told CNN that they shut out Cruz because they did not want him to use the couple “as a prop against Trump” – suggesting that the distancing was about electoral strategies (which will be irrelevant post-Nov. 8) and not about a permanent falling out.

Cruz was a headliner at the annual ZOA dinner in 2014. The 2016 headliner is Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, but Cruz would get a hero’s welcome were he to turn up, Klein said. (The dinner takes place in December, after the election turns primaries tensions into mist.)

“Jews who are staunch supporters of Cruz, almost entirely because of his pro-Israel stance, I believe this will have little impact,” he said. “Because support for Cruz is all about his strong positions on Israel.”

Reality ‘Trumps’ preference for much of Republican Jewish Coalition


Joel Geiderman’s view of a potential Donald Trump presidency has shifted since March.

Two months ago, in an op-ed in these pages, Geiderman — the California chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and co-chair of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Emergency Department — wrote, “I would Dump Trump. If it came down to the choice between Hillary Clinton (another terribly flawed candidate) and him, I would either not vote at all or support a third-party conservative candidate, if that were an option.”

But last week, in an email to the Jewish Journal, Geiderman wrote that he was “encouraged but not yet convinced” by developments since March. Geiderman said Trump has “moderated his speech,” “made peace with some of the people he offended” and acted more “presidential.”

And Clinton, he said, has “moved further to the left, from offering free college for all, single-payer health care, to attacking Wall Street and banks.” 

“To be honest, for me, the balance has been tilted,” Geiderman said, and without saying outright that he plans to vote for Trump in November, he indicated he’s in a place similar to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican said early this month that he’s “just not ready” to endorse Trump, but has since met with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and wants the “party unified so that we are full strength in the fall.”

Is Geiderman’s movement in the past nine weeks representative of a shift among conservatives once-steadfast members of the #NeverTrump crowd? Or are most Republicans, regardless of who they supported in the primaries, already rallying behind their party’s presumptive nominee simply because, well, he’s not Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?

“As this race materializes, and as we move through this process, and you really get people focused on a binary choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I think you’ll see a lot of the folks who have heretofore been critical coming around,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, said in an interview.

After Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended his campaign on May 4 — one day after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his — the RJC released a statement congratulating Trump, but that was not so much an endorsement of him as it was a comment on the prospects of a Clinton presidency, which the RJC said would “compromise our national security, weaken our economy and further strain our relationship with our greatest ally, Israel.”

In December, Trump generated controversy when he spoke at an RJC forum in Washington, D.C., comparing the many businesspeople in the room to him, specifically in regards to negotiation skills. “Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room?” Trump said, evoking what critics said was a classical Jewish stereotype. “This room negotiates them, perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.” 

He also said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians. That’s fine.”

RJC spokesman Mark McNulty rejected criticisms that Trump’s comments were anti-Semitic. The Anti-Defamation League, which has been highly critical of some of Trump’s comments during his campaign, also did not believe his remarks to the RJC were anti-Semitic.

In February, Trump was strongly criticized by many Israel supporters when he said he would try to be “neutral” between the Israelis and Palestinians. But the presumed Republican nominee has since taken a decidedly pro-Israel tack, particularly during his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference in March, which many Jewish Republicans were pleased with.

“His speech at AIPAC was terrific,” Geiderman said. “He would probably be very good for Israel. The person I have concerns about is Mrs. Clinton.” Geiderman specifically criticized the former secretary of state’s support for President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and “her attempt to punish Israel for extending some settlements contiguous to existing settlements.”

For some, like Florida businessman and RJC board member Marc Goldman, however, support for Trump is stronger than just party default. “There’s more reasons to vote for Trump than he’s just not a Democrat. He’s not out of the government,” said Goldman, who initially supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “Anyone who’s been in business knows … whatever the product, service or what have you that you’re providing, if you’re not providing it in a way that is satisfactory to your customers, and profitable, then the inherent discipline is: You go out of business — so you’re living in reality.”

“I think he has a chance to be very good, and I think people are ready for someone who’s going to come in and break up some of that status quo,” said Dr. Richard Roberts, a prominent Republican donor in New Jersey, who also initially backed Walker. “Trump is now reaching out to experts in a lot of different areas, and that’s a big relief to know that he’s doing that.”

In mid-March, Roberts told Jewish Insider he was “dismayed” by a conference call he was invited to with top Republican donors in advance of the Florida primary. The group — which included Hewlett Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, and hedge fund manager and RJC board member Paul Singer — was coordinating an anti-Trump effort, which Roberts characterized as a “disingenuous” attempt to “deny the groundswell of grass-roots voters their overwhelming choice.”

The RJC’s May 4 statement also focused on maintaining Republican majorities in the House and Senate, which most conservatives, #NeverTrump ones included, believe is important whether or not Trump is on the top of the ticket.

“We will support the nominee of the Republican Party,” said Ronald Krongold, a Florida real estate developer who initially supported the candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Asked whether the RJC will put its focus on Senate and House races more than it did previous election cycles, he said, “I believe it will be the same as it is in any presidential year.”

Brooks declined to answer the same question, saying he doesn’t “want to telegraph to the Democrats our playbook.”

Singer, who supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, has said he will not back Trump or Clinton. Politico published a piece May 16 saying “plenty” of RJC board members, in addition to Singer, will not get involved in the presidential race and will instead focus on down-ballot races.

Geiderman, when asked whether he sees a #NeverTrump divide among Jewish Republicans, as there appears to be among conservative pundits, said, “There is no actual divide.”

In late April, at an RJC’s board meeting in Las Vegas, Geiderman said RJC members “expressed different opinions” and “engaged in thoughtful conversation.”

“But that was during the primaries,” he said. “In the end, I think most will work hard to elect the Republican candidate. It’s too important to hold onto the Supreme Court and the Senate.”

Geiderman, who is scheduled to be honored by the RJC on Sept. 25 at the Beverly Wilshire, said that after he penned his anti-Trump op-ed in March, he offered to step aside as honoree if his words would present a conflict. But he was encouraged to remain the honoree. “Republicans have a big tent and value a variety of opinions. No one retaliated against me or spoke out against me,” Geiderman said. 

“There is no party orthodoxy.”

Trump wins big in Indiana, with a clear path as Cruz quits


Republican front-runner Donald Trump swept to a commanding victory in Indiana on Tuesday, putting him on a glide path to the party's presidential nomination as Ted Cruz finally ended his campaign.

The New York billionaire won decisively in a state where Cruz, his nearest rival, had hoped to show he was still a factor in the race for the Republican nomination.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Trump the party's presumptive nominee in a tweet and said, “We all need to unite and focus” on defeating Clinton.

As the vote returns flowed in, Cruz announced that he has ended his campaign at an event in Indianapolis, with his wife, Heidi, at his side. Cruz, 45, sounding beaten but defiant, said he no longer sees a viable path to the nomination.

“Together we left it all on the field in Indiana,” said Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas. “We gave it everything we got. But the voters chose another path, and so with a heavy heart, but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign.”

Trump was on track to take over 50 percent of the vote. Ohio Governor John Kasich was running a distant third.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders was leading Hillary Clinton by a modest margin, but the race was still considered too close to call.

Cruz had been counting on a win in Tuesday's primary to slow the New York businessman's progress toward the nomination. But Trump rode momentum from wins in five Northeastern states a week ago to wrest Indiana from Cruz, whose brand of Christian conservatism had been expected to have wide appeal in the state.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said the Republican race is over.

“Cruz is certainly young enough to fight again another day. Kasich's a serious guy but if stays in this he could look silly,” Yepsen said.

The loss for Cruz was a sour ending to a rough day in which he got entangled in a harsh back-and-forth with Trump.

It began when the billionaire repeated a claim published by tabloid newspaper the National Enquirer that linked Cruz's father, Cuban emigre Rafael Cruz, with President John F. Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Campaigning in Evansville, in the state's southwest corner, Cruz sounded deeply frustrated by the bombastic real estate mogul, who has ripped Cruz at every turn.

“The man cannot tell the truth but he combines it with being a narcissist,” Cruz said, “a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen.”

Cruz termed Trump a “serial philanderer” – likely as part of his strategy to try to win the support of evangelical voters. Trump, in response, said Cruz had become “more and more unhinged.”

The only hope Kasich has for becoming the Republican nominee is to somehow deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright and force Republicans at their July convention in Cleveland to choose one of them.

Kasich vowed to stay in the race.

“Tonight's results are not going to alter Gov. Kasich's campaign plans,” Kasich senior strategist John Weaver said in a campaign memo. “Our strategy has been and continues to be one that involves winning the nomination at an open convention.”

Cruz: Vote for Trump if you support the Iran Deal


Barnstorming the state before the critical primary in the Hoosier State, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz insisted that he still has a path towards winning the nomination if he loses on Tuesday.

“I am in for the distance. As long as we have a viable path to victory, I am competing until the end,” Cruz told reporters in Osceola, Indiana, following a retail stop. “This isn’t about me. It isn’t about Donald Trump or any of the candidates. This is about our country and our future.”

After predicting an upset in tomorrow’s primary, Cruz made the point that voters are facing a basic choice between himself, a candidate who stands with Israel and is committed to “rip to shreds” the Iran nuclear deal, to candidates “who will continue to abandon Israel.”

“Both Hillary in Donald say they will keep in place this Iranian nuclear deal,” Cruz told reporters. “If you agree with the Iranian nuclear deal; if you think it’s a good idea to send $150 billion to Ayatollah Khamenei, a radical Islamist terrorist who chants ‘Death to America,’ then you should vote for Donald and Hillary. As president, I will rip to shreds this Iranian nuclear deal.”

“I think it’s high time we had a president who stands with Israel,” he added.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Cruz argued that Trump and Hillary Clinton are the “flip sides of the same coin” on domestic and foreign policy issues alike. “[Trump] can’t criticize her on foreign policy because Donald agrees with Hillary Clinton that America should be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians, and he also agrees with Hillary Clinton that we should keep in place this disastrous Iranian nuclear deal,” Cruz told host Chuck Todd.

Cruz repeated that claim during a radio interview on Monday. “He said that if he were president he’d be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians… Both Donald and Hillary Clinton have said they would keep in place Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal,” Cruz told radio show host Greg Garrison on “

Republican Cruz to name Fiorina as running mate


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, looking to slow front-runner Donald Trump's momentum, was expected to announce on Wednesday that former business executive Carly Fiorina will be his vice presidential running mate if he wins his party's nomination, media reports said.

The reports by WMUR, an ABC station in Manchester, New Hampshire, and other news outlets followed a statement from Cruz that he would make a major announcement at a 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) rally. He gave no further details.

Fiorina, 61, endorsed Cruz, a 45-year-old U.S. senator from Texas, for the nomination in March, one month after she dropped out of the Republican race herself.

The unusually early announcement of a running mate appeared to be a bid by Cruz to recover from Tuesday's crushing losses to Trump, who swept party nominating contests in five U.S. Northeastern states.

The victories brought the New York billionaire closer to the 1,237 Republican National Convention delegates he needs to win the nomination at the July 18-21 event in Cleveland.

Traditionally, the winners of the Republican and Democratic presidential contests announce their running mates in the period between clinching the nomination and the summer national conventions.

But Cruz was looking for a boost to his increasingly difficult campaign after Tuesday's drubbing by Trump, 69, in all five states that held primary elections: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The race pivoted to Indiana's primary next Tuesday, which was shaping up to be Cruz's best – and perhaps last – chance to hinder Trump's march to the nomination.

If Cruz can win a large share of the Midwestern state's 57 delegates, it will boost the chances that Trump will not be able to clinch the nomination on the convention's first ballot.

After that, many delegates will be free to turn to Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, the other remaining candidate, or a dark-horse establishment candidate on a second or subsequent ballot.

After Tuesday's voting, Trump had 954 delegates, Cruz had 562 and Kasich had 153, according to an Associated Press count that included unbound delegates free to support any candidate.

The choice of Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard Co chief executive, could help Cruz with women voters, a group the pugnacious Trump has had difficulty winning over to his outsider campaign.

Trump criticized Fiorina earlier on Wednesday as a potential Cruz vice presidential pick. “I think it would be a bad choice,” he said, “not because she's a woman but because she did not resonate at all with people.”

“It's too early to do it,” Trump said. “And frankly, he's wasting his time because he's not going to be the nominee.”

Ted Cruz in, Bernie Sanders out on senators’ letter urging more ‘robust’ defense package for Israel


An AIPAC-backed letter to President Barack Obama urging a more “robust” defense package for Israel reportedly has garnered the signatures of 83 senators, including Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz but not Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Reuters reported Monday that 51 Republicans and 32 Democrats, more than four-fifths of the Senate, had signed on to the document.

The letter, initiated by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., was one of the lobbying day requests during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference last month.

Reuters said Cruz, of Texas, had signed and Sanders, an Independent of Vermont, did not. Sanders is the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests.

Israel and the United States are negotiating a 10-year defense assistance package, or Memorandum of Understanding, to follow the package set to expire next year that guarantees $3 billion annually. The new agreement is widely expected to be significantly larger.

AIPAC praised the letter.

“We applaud this statement from the Senate of overwhelming bipartisan support for a robust, new Memorandum of Understanding with Israel that increases aid while retaining the current terms of the existing program,” the prominent Israel lobby’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said in a statement.

The letter does not specify an amount to increase the overall defense assistance package, but notes that Congress is already considering increasing the nearly $500 million annually it budgets for missile defense cooperation, which until now has been considered separately from the defense package.

It cites a series of what it depicts as enhanced threats in the region, including a missile buildup by Hezbollah in Lebanon; Syria becoming a battleground for an array of forces hostile to Israel, including Iran and militant Sunni Islamist groups, and an increase in terrorism in the Sinai.

The letter also notes what it says is the influx of weapons into the region and the possibility that Iran will abrogate the recent nuclear deal and seek nuclear weapons.

“The nature and breadth of the current threats mean that the United States must enhance its investment in the long-term security requirements of our closest Middle East ally,” the letter said. “We urge you to conclude an agreement for a robust MOU that increases aid while retaining the current terms of our existing aid program.”

Cruz shows off ‘pastrami on rye’ during campaign stop in Indiana


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz did all the mitzvahs needed to court Jewish voters in the Republican presidential primaries. He spoke at shuls during Shabbos services, printed red yarmulkes for his Jewish supporters, and even tried his shot at “>playbook and ordered a kosher-style “pastrami on rye” during a campaign stop in Indianapolis.

Following a campaign rally, Cruz greeted some 300 supporters at Shapiro’s Delicatessen, a Kosher-style delicatessen that has been serving the Indianapolis community for 110 years, ordered a “pastrami on rye with brown mustard” and showed it off to the press and the crowd, 

Cruz orders a pastrami on rye with brown mustard. Holds it up to the crowd, the crowd cheers. “>April 21, 2016

Cruz Endorses Netanyahu’s call to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Sunday endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Speaking at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting held on Israel’s border Sunday morning, Netanyahu said he had told Secretary of State John Kerry in a recent phone call that the Golan Heights is not on the table for discussion in the ongoing talks to settle the Syrian civil war.

“I chose to hold this festive Cabinet meeting on the Golan Heights in order to deliver a clear message: The Golan Heights will forever remain in Israel’s hands. Israel will never come down from the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu said. “The time has come for the international community to recognize reality, especially two basic facts. One, whatever is beyond the border, the boundary itself will not change. Two, after 50 years, the time has come for the international community to finally recognize that the Golan Heights will remain under Israel’s sovereignty permanently.”

In a statement issued hours after the Prime Minister’s remarks, Cruz stated, “Today, the government of Israel reiterated the reality that the Golan Heights are part of Israel’s sovereign territory. Given the presence of hostile terrorist organizations ranging from ISIS to Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, it is foolhardy and dangerous for elements in the international community to try to pressure Israel to abandon the Golan to the chaos engulfing Syria. The path to peace cannot involve Israel’s abdication of its own security.”

“I applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu’s courage in standing up for the safety of his people. America stands with you,” the Republican presidential hopeful said.

In New York, Cruz decries White House boycott of Netanyahu’s ‘positive’ speech to Congress


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz blasted the Obama administration’s treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he pitched his candidacy in a front of a skeptic crowd of hundreds of New York Republicans on Thursday.

“For seven years, we’ve seen an administration that abandons our friends and allies, and that shows weakness and
appeasement to our enemies,” Cruz said during a speech at the New York State GOP gala at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. “Three years ago, I was at this dinner. If I just suggested at this dinner three years ago that the elected prime minister of Israel would come to the United States would address a joint session of Congress and he would be boycotted by the President the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and every member of the cabinet, that would have been laughed at. That could not possibly be true.” surely we were not living in

Cruz described  Netanyahu’s speech to Congress as “positively Churchillian.”

“We have a president who insults and ridicules the Prime Minister of Israel,” he continued. “We have a president who celebrates a nuclear deal with Iran, that I believe poses the single greatest threat to our national security of anything in the world. My opponents in this race – all four of them – pledged to maintain that Iranian nuclear deal. One of them (Donald Trump) says he’ll re-negotiated. Well, let me be very clear: As president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”

“We have a president who insults and ridicules the Prime Minister of Israel,” he continued. “We have a president who celebrates a nuclear deal with Iran, that I believe poses the single greatest threat to our national security of anything in the world. My opponents in this race – all four of them – pledged to maintain that Iranian nuclear deal. One of them (Donald Trump) says he’ll re-negotiated. Well, let me be very clear: As president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”

Earlier in the program, Donald Trump and John Kasich both criticized Cruz over his comments on New York values.

The New York primary presidential is next Tuesday.

The chasidic bloc vote and other notes from N.Y. primary


Jewish voters are all over the map when it comes to their plans for voting in New York’s presidential primary on April 19.

Except for New Square, the all-Chasidic village of 8,000 in Rockland County, about 30 miles north of Manhattan. In this insular Charedi Orthodox community led by the Skverer rabbi, David Twersky, many residents simply wait for voting instructions from the kehilla, the body that supervises communal affairs.

“We make a bloc vote,” said one Chasidic man who requested anonymity. “Whatever they say, we vote. It’s not for us to decide. The kehilla decides.”

Although this community is devoted in large part to keeping the outside world at arm’s length — the entrance to the village is marked by a “No outlet” sign — on Election Day, New Square residents take their civic responsibility very seriously, from yeshiva students to mothers commandeering infants in double strollers.

“We feel we do something to help the whole community when we vote,” said the Chasidic man, who was interviewed in the basement of the village’s main yeshiva study hall. “All the politicians know how it goes in New Square.”

As of last Friday, community members said, the kehilla committee had instructed registered Democrats to vote for Hillary Clinton but had yet to announce its candidate in the Republican contest.

Bernie’s New York vs. Hillary’s New York

With 291 New York delegates up for grabs, Clinton and rival Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders have been jockeying over who is the more authentic New Yorker.

Sanders, who is Jewish, is from Brooklyn and has that unmistakable accent. But he hasn’t lived in the Big Apple since the late 1960s, and he blundered last week when he said it takes a token to ride the subway. The system hasn’t accepted tokens since 2003.

Clinton moved to New York in 2000, on the eve of her Senate campaign, and represented New York in the Senate for eight years. She knows you need a MetroCard to ride the subway but didn’t seem to know how to swipe one; it took her five tries to get in when she took a very public ride on the train last week. And Clinton, whose accent still bears traces of her Chicago roots, has never quite managed to shake her reputation as a carpetbagger.

Both candidates have their headquarters in Brooklyn, New York’s most populous borough and, starting a few years ago, its hippest. But the similarities end there.

The Sanders campaign office is in Gowanus, a neighborhood that, like the candidate, combines gritty and trendy, with auto mechanic garages bumping up against trendy coffee shops. The Sanders HQ can be hard to find, accessible only through a parking lot where a crooked Bernie banner hangs on a back building. Inside, the windowless office doesn’t look like much, except for a steady stream of volunteers heading in and out.

The Clinton campaign headquarters in downtown Brooklyn couldn’t be more establishment. Located in a high-rise office building with multiple security guards, it is around the corner from a street that bears the same last name as the candidate (presumably named for New York’s sixth governor, DeWitt Clinton). Clinton’s campaign office is open only to those with a prearranged appointment. 

On the Republican side, Donald Trump was raised in Queens and lives in Manhattan. But he eats pizza with a fork — a cardinal sin that some New Yorkers view as more reprehensible than what Trump has said about immigrants, Muslims and Democrats.

Backhanded support for Trump

Rochel, a 63-year-old from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn — like most of the Orthodox Jews approached on the street by a reporter, she declined to offer her last name — is leaning toward voting Trump for president.

But you wouldn’t necessarily know it by speaking with her.

“I think Trump is a maniac. He’s coarse and gruff and inappropriate and an embarrassment to the country,” Rochel told JTA in an interview, excusing herself because, she said, she doesn’t like to say anything bad about people.

But?

“But” she went on, “because of his business expertise and his no-nonsense approach and the fact that, like Michael Bloomberg, he doesn’t have his hands tied by people sponsoring him and doesn’t owe any political favors. If I look past his grubkeit [coarseness], he has a good head on his shoulders.”

Norman, a 60-year-old Orthodox man in the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood of Queens, who also did not provide his last name, said he, too, might vote for Trump.

“I don’t think Trump is as big a meshugana as people say,” Norman offered. “And anyway, there’s a limit to what he can do.”

But neither Rochel nor Norman is planning to vote next week. Like many Jews encountered on New York’s streets, they don’t bother to vote in primary elections.

Cruz-ing for Jews

Ted Cruz flew to Las Vegas on April 9 to deliver a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring leadership meeting at The Venetian resort. It was an important campaign stop for Cruz because the RJC’s biggest backer is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who happens to be the biggest political donor by far to Republican candidates. (Adelson had to leave the confab early to attend a wedding.)

But Cruz got nearly as much attention last week for a drop-in at the Chabad Neshama Model Matzah Bakery in south Brooklyn. The senator from Texas looked a bit out of his element in his buttoned-up navy-blue suit as he leaned over a flour-covered table to roll matzo dough while overenthusiastic Chabadniks pushed in on the candidate and urged him to join in their song: “Roll, roll, roll the matzo dough.”

Most of the other bakers were 3 years old.

Cruz was asked if he wanted holes in his matzah — a mainstay of the bread of affliction. Cruz assented. The song resumed, slightly modified: “Make, make, make the holes.”

As they worked to perforate the dough, Cruz cracked a joke that killed in the room, according to an account of the event in The New York Times.

“That is a lot of holes,” Cruz praised a little girl nearby. “It’s hole-y matzo. There we go!”

The event wrapped up with a rendering of the Passover song “Dayenu” before Cruz continued on to his next event: a more adult-oriented meeting at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach.

Welcome to New York. 

Fearing Trump, Republican Jews give Cruz another look


Ted Cruz came here to woo Republican Jews over the weekend, and in the absence of his opponents for the GOP presidential nomination came away with qualified support based not on who he is but who he is not — Donald Trump.

Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich skipped the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, leaving Cruz as the sole hopeful to address the 560 Jews packed into a conference room at The Venetian casino resort.

Trump’s high negative approval ratings among women and minorities coupled with his seeming fecklessness on Israel — pledging neutrality one week and support the next — seemed to drive many in attendance to give Cruz a second look after months of shunning the Texas senator for his social conservatism and reputation for not making nice with other Republicans.

“This is a room of dear, dear friends and people who are becoming dear friends,” Cruz said during his Saturday night address.

No one questioned Cruz’s Israel bona fides, and his impassioned expressions of support for the country earned standing ovations, the longest when he swore to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But his more important qualification was the possibility that he could beat Trump, whose candidacy, as folks whispered in conversations in the corridors, would lead inexorably to President Hillary Clinton.

“There was a very clear realization that where we are today, Ted Cruz is our best choice to be the nominee,” Jay Zeidman, a Houston businessman, said after the RJC weekend. He and his father, Fred, had been leading bundlers for the campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “Everyone understands we need to get Cruz to get to the convention to at least stop Trump from getting the nomination.”

Trump had planned to attend the RJC event as part of a Western campaign trip, but the tour was canceled. Kasich, badly trailing Trump and Cruz, is working the corners of New York state hoping to garner enough delegates in its primary next week to make his remaining in the race seem less than absurd.

“Senator Cruz was the only one to accept our invitation,” Michael Epstein, a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in his introduction of the candidate. The room burst into grateful applause.

Cruz addressed the hesitation, the fraught quality of this getting-to-know-you session.

“Many of you started with someone else,” he said. “That’s a perfectly natural, reasonable thing to do.”

One of the more emotional moments came when Joel Geiderman, a Houston doctor and the child of a Holocaust survivor, refuted the TV pundits, including Geraldo Rivera, who said Cruz’s derision of “New York values” was a dog-whistle to anti-Semites.

“We don’t think you have an anti-Semitic bone in your body,” Geiderman said, stirring a standing ovation.

There were also anxious, awkward questions about his social policies.

“I recognize that is a question that many people here wrestle with,” Cruz said after one of the attendees earned applause for saying Cruz’s hard-line attitudes on abortion and gay marriage were unpopular with many Jewish Republicans.

Cruz said social issues devolve to the states and suggested he would not seek to impose his views as a president.

“Nobody wants to elect a hectoring scold,” he said.

Yet within minutes, he was hectoring, however politely. Wealthier Republicans needed to acknowledge the strong feelings of blue-collar voters who believe they are losing jobs to undocumented immigrants, Cruz said.

“You want to understand the rage,” Cruz said. “That frustration, that anger – median income has not changed in 20 years” for the working class.

He acknowledged that he would not win on a first vote at the convention.

“On a subsequent ballot,” he said, “we’re going to win the nomination.”

Cruz is working hard at it. He spent Friday at the RJC event meeting privately with fund-raisers. The reception was positive, said Nick Muzin, a senior adviser to the campaign.

“On issues that matter most, Ted is on the same side,” Muzin said. “He’s going to do what he says.”

Cruz flew early Saturday to Colorado to work its Republican Party state convention, to productive effect — he walked away with the state’s entire slate of pledged delegates.

He flew back to Las Vegas in the afternoon. Rains drenching the city kept him circling the airport for an hour or so while the RJC activists paced the cavernous Venetian casino, owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major funder of the RJC and a Republican kingmaker.

Cruz did not score the prized Adelson endorsement; the magnate left the RJC confab early for a wedding.

In the halls,  Jewish Republicans were more inclined to talk about whom they did not favor – Trump – than offer a glowing recommendation of Cruz.

“No one knows who [Trump] is,” said Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former Florida state legislator who backed Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator from her state. “His negatives are extremely high.”

What about Cruz?

Bogdanoff thought a moment. “I’d like to see someone who would win,” she said in a tone suggesting she wanted Cruz to convince her.

David Gilson, a lawyer from Arlington, Virginia, who backs Kasich, said conference-goers were not, at least, negative regarding Cruz.

“I do hear cracks about Trump,” he said.

One member explained his support for Trump — “so far” — in pragmatic terms.

“There’s no point in backing someone if he’s not going to be elected in November,” said David Pulver, a Florida businessman.

Mark Hirsch, a real estate investor from Scarsdale, New York, decried Trump’s “politics of personal destruction.”

“We haven’t focused on the failed presidency of Barack Obama or factored Hillary Clinton into it,” he said, worried that the momentum for such a narrative is slipping away.

Asked about Cruz, Hirsch — like others — paused, then said: “He’s brilliant but rigid.”

After Cruz spoke, many in the room appeared reassured.

“Ted Cruz helped himself a lot at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting,” Ari Fleischer, an RJC board member and the first-term spokesman for President George W. Bush, said on Twitter. “He’s going to leave here with a lot of support.”

Walking out of the room, Hirsch said: “I liked hearing that he feels he can bring the party together. He hasn’t run a negative campaign.”

Cruz takes a shot at matzah baking in Brooklyn


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Thursday tried his luck at baking matzah as he seeks to earn the support of the Jewish community and compete for delegates in the New York primary later this month.

Flanked by Jewish community leaders and guided by Rabbi Moshe Winner of Chabad Neshoma Center, Cruz toured the Chabad Model Matzah Bakery in Brighton Beach. The Model Matzah Bakery at Chabad Neshoma Center in Brooklyn is one of hundreds run by Chabad-Lubavitch, around the world, to teach children about Passover in an interactive, hands-on way.

After posing for pictures, Cruz joined a group of young kids and started rolling a matzah. As he was rolling the matzah, Cruz told one the community leaders that were accompanying him that the story of the exodus is familiar to him and that he was privileged to attend several seders in the past.

Chaskel Bennett, a local community leader and board member of Agudath Israel of America toldJewish Insider that he chatted with the Texas Senator at the dough table, telling him that the Jewish story of survival has been an ongoing ‎saga for generations, “And this special country has ‎allowed and encouraged our people to flourish and stay true to our heritage because of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.‎” To which Cruz responded that he has made it his mission to protect religious freedom in the United States.

“It’s hole-y matzo,” Cruz joked as he observed that the matzah rolled by a girl aside him had many holes. Cruz was then offered to put the matzah in the oven, as he asked about the difference between this oven and a pizza oven.

“Next year in Jerusalem,” Cruz said at one point, a phrase that is recited at the conclusion of a Seder. When told that because Passover had not yet come, the appropriate phrase would be “this year in Jerusalem” at this stage, Cruz remarked, “Well, next year in Jerusalem, hopefully I’ll need a bigger plane to get there.”

Cruz then took a bite of the fresh baked matzah as some in the crowd started singing “Dayenu.”

As he exited the building, Cruz was met with cheers from the crowd – mostly Orthodox Jewish supporters and onlookers – gathered outside. “Jews for Cruz,” several Hasidic men yelled.

“We are fortunate to enjoy tremendous support in the Jewish community here in New York and across the country,” Cruz told Jewish Insider. “I think that’s the result of having built a long record – fighting to strengthen our relationship with the nation of Israel and fighting to defend religious liberty.”

Asked if he expects to see his steadfast support of Israel pay off with votes in the April 19 primary, Cruz said, “I certainly hope so. It the right thing to do so, regardless, but I would be grateful if it also earned the support of many people in New York and elsewhere.”

Cruz faces an uphill battle in the New York primary. According to a new Monmouth poll, Trump has the support of 52 percent of likely GOP voters in New York followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 25 percent. Cruz is in third place with 17 percent.

NORPAC to host Cruz fundraiser on eve of NY primary


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is expected to spend the eve of the New York primary at a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by NORPAC in Manhattan.

The NYC fundraiser is hosted by the group’s president Dr. Ben Chouake, Elliott Lauer, Ben Heller, Batya Klein, and Steve Lonegan among others, according to an invitation obtained by Jewish Insider.

NORPAC is a non-partisan political action committee whose primary purpose is to support candidates and sitting members of the Senate and House of Representatives who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel. however, in February, Chouake announced his endorsement of Cruz. “Since entering the Senate, Ted Cruz has made support of US-Israel relations a priority,”he said in a statement. “He has used the legislative powers of his office to advance the relationship, and his bully pulpit to add a moral voice for America’s most important ally in the Middle East. It is evident that Senator Cruz’ support for Israel is heartfelt and effective.”

Chouake later joined Cruz’s Jewish Leadership team.

On Thursday, after touring a matzah bakery in Brooklyn, Cruz told Jewish Insider that he hopes to see the Jewish community pay him back for his steadfast support of Israel by voting for him in the remaining primary contests. “We are fortunate to enjoy tremendous support in the Jewish community here in New York and across the country,” Cruz said. “I think that’s the result of having built a long record – fighting to strengthen our relationship with the nation of Israel and fighting to defend religious liberty.” Asked if he expects to see his steadfast support of Israel pay off with votes in the April 19 primary, Cruz said, “I certainly hope so. It the right thing to do so, regardless, but I would be grateful if it also earned the support of many people in New York and elsewhere.”

The Cruz campaign announced on Friday that it had raised more than $12.5 million in the month of March, making it the highest amount raised in one month during the entirety of the campaign.

Debra Messing, matzah baking, bashert making — what to expect ahead of the New York primary


For the first time in decades New York, politically, is about to live up to its “make it here, make it anywhere” promise.

The vast state and its huge Jewish community –nearly 2 million, or just under 10 percent of the population — have not figured as crucially in an election since 1976, when President Gerald Ford spent most of the year beating back a challenge from Ronald Reagan among the Republicans and Americans were just getting to know a former peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter.

In 2016, the stakes may be even higher. Forty years ago, victories in New York by Ford and Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash., were not determinative. This time around, the results on April 19 could conceivably change the race.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will vie for 291 delegates. Among the Republicans, real estate magnate Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are competing for 95 delegates.

Saturday features a Democratic caucus in Wyoming, but all eyes are on New York.

Sanders and Cruz hope to consolidate their wins this week in Wisconsin into the inevitability of contested conventions, where they believe the insurgents have a chance of prevailing in second, third or subsequent rounds of delegate voting.

Trump and Clinton, the front-runners, hope home-state advantages will secure leads secure enough to land them at their conventions with guaranteed majorities. Kasich wants to stay alive in a state he believes is amenable to his moderate outlook.

Do the candidates court the Jews? Do Baptists bake matzah? Cruz did on Thursday. It’s kind of inevitable: New York City’s metro area holds 13 percent of all U.S. Jews, the largest such concentration, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center. And Jews are likelier to vote, said Sarah Bard, Clinton’s Jewish outreach director.

“The Jewish vote is about 16-19 percent of the primary vote, even though we’re about 10 percent of the population,” she said. “The community is very engaged on the issues.”

Here’s what to look for.

It’s a closed primary, so the race to watch is Sanders-Clinton.

Most Jews — even conservatives — are likely registered Democrats, said Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, because if you want to influence outcomes at the local, state and federal level, you need to be registered as a Democrat in most of the New York districts where Jews live.

And “because the state is considered safe for the Democratic candidate no matter what happens,” he said, the Jewish vote will be more significant in the Democratic primary than the Republican one, and certainly in the general election.

That goes for Orthodox Jews, even though they are trending increasingly Republican, said Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union. Diament posted a chart on Twitter showing presidential election votes since 2000 spiking for Republicans in a number of heavily Orthodox precincts, including Brooklyn.

But Diament cautioned in an email: “I would note that in places like New York and Maryland, i.e., states where the ‘whole game’ is about the Democratic primary, most Orthodox Jews are still registered Democrats.”

Switching parties is also less likely in New York, which has the earliest party-switching deadline: Oct. 9 of last year. First-time voters had until the end of last month to register with a party.

Hillary Clinton loves Israel. And did you see that Bernie Sanders interview?

Look to Clinton to repeat the themes she sounded last month in her speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, recalling her closeness to the state’s Jewish community and the pro-Israel lobby when she was a U.S. senator representing New York from 2001 to 2009. (Just saying the words “senator from New York” got her applause at the conference.)

She will continue to draw contrasts with Trump, who said he would remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian front — until he said he wouldn’t.

“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who-knows-what on Wednesday because everything’s negotiable,” she said at AIPAC.

Clinton, smarting from her Wisconsin loss, has taken shots this week at Sanders, questioning his judgment on an array of issues, including foreign policy.

On MSNBC, Clinton cited an extensive Sanders interview with the New York Daily News editorial board in which he faltered on some points, unable to pin down policy details.

“The interview raised a lot of really serious questions,” she said.

Insiders said Clinton would focus ahead of the New York primary on the lengthy Israel portion of the interview, in which Sanders said Israel needed to improve its relations with the Palestinians if it wanted to maintain “positive” relations with the United States. He also stumbled over the number of Palestinian civilians killed in the 2014 Gaza war, wondering if it was 10,000. (Israelis say the number is closer to 1,200 out of 2,125 killed.)

The Daily News, owned by Clinton backer Mort Zuckerman, made hay of Sanders’ Israel comments in aneditorial titled “The scary Bernie Sanders.”

Campaigners said they would mine Clinton’s deep ties in the state’s Jewish political establishment. Ruby Shamir, who worked for Clinton at the White House and then when she was senator, had been working the phones calling Jewish community leaders.

“Leaders, rabbis are recalling specific interactions with her,” Shamir said. “Her visits to shiva, asking about sick parents.”

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., would be a principle surrogate, said Bard, the Jewish outreach director. Mark Levine, chairman of the Jewish caucus on the New York City Council, was pledged to get out the vote.

An emphasis would be on Jewish women, where Bard suggested Clinton’s candidacy was especially resonant. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., led an “action call” for Jewish women, and the campaign would deploy actress Debra Messing, one of Clinton’s most prominent celebrity surrogates, in the community.

Bernie Sanders is the oldest Jewish millennial.

Sanders, after winning in Wisconsin, reminded voters that he, too, had a personal stake in New York.

“I know a little bit about New York because I spent the first 18 years of my life in Brooklyn, New York,” he said, in case anyone hadn’t discerned the borough’s drawn-out vowels in his accent until now.

Cohen of HUC said that Sanders’ likeliest target among the state’s Jews are its secular, younger and unaffiliated Jews – Sanders has slaughtered Clinton among millennials. That constituency is “likely to resonate with the secular Jewish identity that Bernie Sanders broadcasts,” he said.

When Sanders mentions his Jewishness, he says the horrors of the 1930s and ’40s and the loss of much of his father’s family to the Holocaust have shaped his championing of the oppressed.

In the Daily News interview, Sanders was expansive about Israel, noting that he spent time in the country as a kibbutz volunteer in the 1960s.

“I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel,” he said. “I believe 100 percent not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks.”

Jews for Bernie, a group not affiliated with the campaign, is arranging a “seudah shlishit, the third meal of the Sabbath, on Saturday evening to organize volunteers to canvass for the candidate in Brooklyn.

All food for the event, dubbed “ShaBERNIE,” must be “vegetarian/dairy/vegan,” the organizers said on their Facebook page. Another poster links to a manufacturer of Bernie Sanders condoms, “in case you meet your bashert” (soul mate) at the event.

Jews trend Democratic, but it makes sense for Ted Cruz to make matzah.

Trump is expected to take the state, with a Monmouth University poll on Wednesday showed him garnering half the Republican votes. But it is not winner take all; Republican rules in the state allot three delegates to each district. If one candidate does not hit 50 percent in the district, two delegates go to the candidate with the most votes and one goes to the second-place finisher.

Cruz will be working the 27 districts to peel away delegates, with a special emphasis on Orthodox Jews, said Nick Muzin, a senior adviser to the campaign.

“We think we can pick up a lot of delegates in New York, especially with the Jewish vote in some of those downstate areas,” he said. “His message is going to be religious freedom, school choice, and the foreign policy message on Iran and Middle East issues.”

Hence Cruz’s matzah-making session Thursday at the Chabad Neshama Center in Brighton Beach, a Brooklyn section with a large population of Russian Jews. He telegraphed his message for the state’s Jewish voters in his victory speech in Wisconsin.

“Catholic schools and Jewish schools, Brigham Young [University] and the Little Sisters of the Poor, will see a Supreme Court that protects their religious liberty,” he said, referring to challenges to Obama administration policies on contraception coverage and on hiring discrimination that have rankled religious groups. “We’ll see a president who stands with Israel, clearly and unapologetically. Instead of negotiating with terrorists, we’ll rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”

John Kasich has a lot of Jewish friends

Kasich in a speech in December to the Republican Jewish Coalition notably riffed on his Jewish friendships. Brad Kastan, one of the Ohio governor’s leading home state backers, said Kasich plans to emphasize those relationships, cultivated since he started life in state politics in the 1970s and then through his years in Congress in the 1980s and ’90s.

“In the Jewish community areas, he will play really well,” Kastan said of the sole remaining establishment GOP candidate in the race. “When the community gets to hear about his lifelong friendships with the Jewish community, what he did with the Holocaust memorial, his support of religious schools, his moderate social views, his visits to Israel – he plays well.”

Kasich in 2014 dedicated a Holocaust memorial on the statehouse grounds in Columbus.

Trump will be Trump

The Trump and Sanders campaigns did not return requests for information about Jewish outreach.

Since speaking to AIPAC last month, Trump has  maintained his pro-Israel line, pledging to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal. He also likes to mention that his daughter, Ivanka, has converted to Orthodox Judaism, and mentions his many Jewish friends and colleagues in New York’s real estate business.

But don’t expect retail politics of the matzah factory/JCC debate variety. Trump has throughout his campaign emphasized big arena events. He switched to small-bore meet-and-greets in Wisconsin, but it didn’t help. He appeared relieved to be back in New York, doing the crowds thing.

“Just made a speech in front 17,000 amazing New Yorkers in Bethpage, Long Island,” he said Wednesday evening on Twitter. “Great to be home!”

 

Tribal Podcast: Drew Kugler, communication and leadership coach