If pro-Israel voters had doubts about Hillary, few remain

Hillary Clinton can hardly be called a consensus candidate.
June 2, 2016

Hillary Clinton can hardly be called a consensus candidate.

During her decades-long stint in national politics, there has hardly been a more divisive surname than “Clinton” — unless it’s Bush. But among pro-Israel voters, she’s quickly emerged as the candidate of convergence.

Last month, with two weeks left until California’s primary, Bernie Sanders, the first person of Jewish heritage to be a factor in the state’s presidential nominating contest, seems to have more or less broken with the tribe.

On May 23, Sanders appointed James Zogby, a pro-Palestinian activist, to a crucial Democratic National Committee (DNC) organ. 

The next day, Howard Welinsky, a Warner Bros. executive and Los Angeles Democratic leader, logged onto Facebook to register his outrage.

Throwing proper capitalization to the wind, he wrote: “I will never Forgive Bernie Sanders for appointing a supporter of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] of Israel to the DNC drafting Platform Committee! BDS is a form of anti-semitism. So what has he done?”

Welinsky, a Clinton supporter, has served three times on the platform committee, the larger body that amends and votes on a party platform written by the inner circle Zogby joined. Welinsky said he’s offered his experience to the Clinton camp as a participant in the July convention in Philadelphia.

“I’ll do anything that the campaign asks of me, really,” he said.

Describing himself as a “two-trick pony” who votes based on the issues of higher education and Israel, Welinsky called his support for Clinton a “no-brainer,” even though he supported Barack Obama in 2008.

As for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, Welinsky doesn’t see him as much of an option. 

“I’m not sure Trump knows what his position is on Israel, or it changes with whatever comes into his head at the moment,” he said.

The Zogby appointment wasn’t the first time Sanders has had a brush with the world of pro-Palestinian activism. 

Many of his supporters align with political identity groups such as Black Lives Matter, for which the Palestinian cause resonates. A case in point is another Sanders selection for the drafting committee, Cornel West, a patron philosopher of critical race theory who has spoken out for solidarity between the African-American struggle and Palestinian activism.

“[Sanders] is an anti-Israel person, so he acts accordingly,” said Haim Saban, an Israeli-American investor and philanthropist whose donations of more than $10 million to Clinton’s cause put him among her top donors.  

Saban added, “He appoints people who are pro-BDS, that don’t look at the situation in a balanced way, who are very clearly anti-Israel. It’s consistent with who he has been for 25 years. There’s no surprise there.”

By contrast, Saban described Clinton as a staunchly pro-Israel candidate: “If Hillary Clinton ran for prime minister of Israel, she would win,” he said.

Clinton has repeatedly affirmed her support for Israel. Most recently, she urged the United Methodist Church, of which she’s a member, to reject a divestment motion aimed at Israel.

So with Sanders playing the part of her foil, Clinton’s already warm relationship with the Jewish community seems, well – bashert, foretold.

“It remains to be seen what ultimately will happen at the convention,” said Sam Yebri, a business litigator and president of the Jewish- Iranian organization 30 Years After. 

But, citing Clinton’s record on Israel, he added, “I have confidence that given the many leading pro-Israel supporters that are backing Hillary, she’ll stand firmly behind the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Even among millennials he knows, Yebri said, Sanders has burned up a lot of goodwill that previously existed.

“Virtually all of my friends for whom Sanders’ messages resonated were turned off by his baseless criticisms of Israel and his desire to turn the Democratic Party back on 60 years of supporting Israel,” Yebri said.

In general, younger Jews relate differently to Israel than their parents, said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, who has an aggressive social media presence and is popular among many millennials.

Their self-conception as pro-Israel voters is based on 21st-century geopolitics: While Jewish baby boomers experienced an Israel defending itself from destruction, their children see a strong nation with an elite fighting force, he explained.

“There’s a huge love of Israel among so many millennials and college students,” Bookstein said. “But it’s definitely not the same kind of instinctual care and love that previous generations might have had.”

Combined with their more questioning relationship to Israel, a creeping sense of disenfranchisement has delivered many young Jews to Sanders, he said. 

“Are those millennial Jews on campus going to throw their support behind Hillary if she becomes the nominee, or are the disenfranchised going to go into hibernation and apathy mode?” he said. “I don’t know.”

The youth vote is by no means a monolith.

“A lot of my young female friends are incredibly enthusiastic about Hillary,” said Laura Donney, 25, who identified herself as a Clinton supporter and lifelong feminist.

She said that members of her generation who instinctually dismiss Clinton are succumbing to a false media narrative that paints the candidate’s internal contradictions — a mainstay of the human condition — as dishonesty.

“She’s this or that. … She’s either rich or wants to help, strong or weak,” Donney explained. “Hillary is and-both. She’s wealthy and she wants to help — and in what world is that impossible?”

Whatever the view from atop millennial shoulders, many Jewish Angelenos are increasingly seeing Clinton as the only viable option.

“For me, in this election right now, it’s been a very easy choice,” said Jesse Gabriel, a business litigation and public policy attorney. “I don’t see Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders as credible presidents.”

In addition to Clinton’s stance on Israel, Gabriel said he believes her domestic policy appeals to Jews by virtue of prioritizing children and other vulnerable groups in a way that is “consistent with the teachings of our tradition.”

An upper-cusp millennial, Gabriel, 34, sits on a generational divide: His younger friends and acquaintances skew Sanders, and those older than him skew Clinton, he said.

But in mainstream Jewish community circles, he sees support for Clinton approaching unanimity. 

As an example, the host committee list for a “Jewish Americans for Hillary” event scheduled for May 31 in Beverly Hills features dozens of prominant rabbis, community leaders, politicians and philanthropists.

“Virtually everybody I meet and speak with is supporting Hillary on the Democratic side,” Gabriel said. “And I think, folks who are involved in a serious way in the Jewish community — I can’t think of many people I know who are supporting Senator Sanders. Maybe one.” 

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Sacrifice Works Both Ways

If Israel is to recognize a Palestinian state, then the Palestinians should be obligated to recognize Israel – as a Jewish state.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.