December 10, 2018

Election: Jews Favor Israel, Oppose Trump

President Trump at the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial outside Paris. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

American Jews headed to the polls on Nov. 6 spurred by concern over health care, gun violence and the predatory glances that Republican politicians have been casting at Medicare and Social Security. These voters, still burning with anguish over the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and concern over growing xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, profoundly rejected President Donald Trump and his policies.

Jewish voters chose Democratic candidates by a 76 percent to 19 percent margin, according to a new poll conducted by GBA Strategies and commissioned by J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization (full disclosure: I work with J Street as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow). Voters connected the rise of racial and religious bias in the United States and the general deterioration of public discourse with the policies and actions of the Trump administration. A large majority made clear that they have been more concerned with anti-Semitism (81 percent), racism (79 percent) and right-wing extremism (79 percent) since the president took office.

Strikingly, 72 percent of those surveyed — and 66 percent of Orthodox Jews surveyed — state that Trump’s comments and policies are “very” or “somewhat” responsible for the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue.

When asked what issues most strongly motivated their vote in the congressional elections, the top issue for the most Jews from every denomination is health care. Most Jews surveyed said the two issues after that are gun violence and Social Security/Medicare. American Jews reported that domestic issues ranked highest in their consideration of which candidates to vote for, ranking Israel 12th on a list of 14 issues and ranking Iran last. When asked about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, 71 percent supported it, while 67 percent opposed Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement.

American-Jewish voters continue to care about the State of Israel, for which 65 percent report an “emotional attachment.” However, if Trump has been hoping that this attachment combined with his closeness with Prime Minister Netanyahu will win American Jews to his side, he should be disappointed. American Jews are not markedly fond of the Netanyahu — about a third of the respondents rated him favorably. Netanyahu’s policies, favored by Trump, are not popular with American Jews, 83 percent of whom support a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and 78 percent of whom support such a two-state solution based pre-1967 borders with land swaps, international peacekeepers and a Palestinian capital in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Seventy-six percent of American Jews think that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank should be fully suspended or restricted only to certain areas.

“Smart voters recognize Trump and Netanyahu are deeply out of step.”

Eighty-four percent of American Jews think that someone can be pro-Israel while being openly critical of the Israeli government’s policies. After all, these are voters who love the U.S. while being vocally critical of our current president — who criticize him because they love America and cannot abide the effects of his misrule on our country.

American Jews value a vigorous democracy that promotes healthy debate and curiosity about difference, not murderous hostility. They recall that we are commanded to care for the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. They value care for the sick, the elderly and young — for the widow and orphan as our prophets demanded. 

Whether it comes from Netanyahu or Trump, they dislike aggressive rhetoric and policies that promote social division and hatred. In Israel and in the U.S., they want to see security maintained and peace pursued, not through fear, but through diplomatic conflict resolution.

In the context of today’s political configuration, this means that American Jews solidly support Democratic Party candidates, and that is unlikely to change. American Jews are a small percentage of the population, but, increasingly, elections are decided by tiny portions of the electorate, and Jews are motivated voters. Smart candidates continue to recognize that Trump, Netanyahu and the voices that support them are deeply out of step with the American-Jewish electorate.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland, and blogs at jewishjournal.com/erevrav.