December 10, 2018

Jews, Is Trump Responsible for Thousand Oaks Too?

Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order on Jan. 29. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

(Looking at the outcome of a JStreet survey of Jewish voters)

 

I am not much impressed by the fact that J Street – the leftist Jewish lobby – endorsed so many candidates who made it into Congress. Supporting “128 winning candidates” is not that difficult when one knows well in advance that a Democratic victory is to be expected. However, I am impressed by something else: that so many Democratic candidates embrace the support of J Street. Ten years ago, some of them would hesitate, fearing to be tagged as not-pro-Israel-enough. That they no longer hesitate means that A. J Street succeeded in legitimizing its politics and B. that the Democratic Party is indeed changing its tune on Israel (in my view, not for the better).

Following the midterm election, J Street released its midterm survey of Jewish voters, a commendable exercise conducted after every election. This is a useful tool for understanding Jewish sentiments and political tendencies. Crosstabs are also available for everybody to look at.

The two main headlines produced by this survey were essentially:

Most Jews voted Democratic. No big deal.

Most Jews partially blame Trump for Pittsburgh. A very big deal.

 

A.

 

The wording of the question sets a premise: “How much do you think Donald Trump’s comments and policies are responsible for the recent shooting that took place at the synagogue in Pittsburgh?” So – the question hints that there is responsibility that needs to be measured. Still, respondents could choose “not at all responsible” – and only 16% of them did. They could choose “not really responsible” and only 12% of them did. 72% picked “somewhat” (33%) or “very” (39%) responsible.

The implications of such assessments are profound. Most Jews in America believe that their president is partially responsible for the massacre of Jews in a synagogue. In my weekly print-edition article I explain what this means for Israel-Diaspora relations:

“American Jews feel that Israel is willing to throw them under the bus of anti-Semitism in exchange for the temporary political support of a bigoted president. Israeli Jews feel that American Jews are utilizing a tragedy for political purposes and thus alienating Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States.”

With 72% of US Jews thinking Trump has responsibility for Pittsburgh – with a majority of Israelis considering Trump a true friend – no wonder that we look at each other with horror.

 

B.

 

I wonder what would happen had we asked Jews a similar question about this week’s shooting:

“How much do you think Donald Trump’s comments and policies are responsible for the recent shooting that took place at the bar in Thousand Oaks?”

And then let’s try this one:

“How much do you think Donald Trump’s comments and policies are responsible for the recent shooting that took place in a San Bernardino Christmas Party?”

Oh, he was not yet president at the time of San Bernardino? Sorry, erase that question.

 

C.

 

Amid the recurrent talk about a present danger of distancing, it is worth looking at the J Street question about emotional attachment to Israel for Jewish voters. So as not to stay in the dark, I decided to compare J Street 2018 to the Pew survey of Jews from 2013. The question is the same, the answer is, well, almost the same. And just to make sure you understand what we see here: there is no sign of significant decline in the emotional attachment of US Jews to Israel.

 

 

Want more of this good news? J Street inserted the following question to the survey: “Compared to 5-10 years ago, do you feel more positive, more negative, or about the same toward Israel?” The answer, all in all, is encouraging. There are more Jews who feel more positive about Israel, than Jews who feel more negative about Israel. And this is not me saying. It is J Street, for which the argument of distancing is a frequently used tool.

 


D.

 

The survey has many questions about the two-state solution – J Street’s raison-d’etre. The bottom line: US Jews support this solution. So why do I choose not to elaborate on these many questions? Two reasons. One, because there is nothing new, or counterintuitive to report. Two, because the proposed “solution” is currently unavailable and hence it does not much matter if US Jews do or do not support it.

Take just this one example. In the J Street survey, the premise for future agreement is that “the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and Israel recognizes the Palestinian state as the nation-state of the Palestinian people”. Is there a Palestinian leader that’s willing to recognize Israel “as the nation-state of the Jewish people?” The answer is no. Not one with which Israel can negotiate. So, the premise is false, and hence the result insignificant (23% strongly support, 54% somewhat support).

E.

 

US Jews also support the nuclear deal with Iran (71% in this survey). They oppose settlements. They oppose Israel’s Orthodox domination. We know all of this.

But apropos Orthodox domination: It is quite striking to see that appreciation of US Jews for PM Netanyahu – the man who cancelled the Western Wall deal – is almost identical among Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews (53% and 48%). Appreciation of the Israeli PM has to do much more with political affiliation (Clinton voters vs. Trump voters) than with religious affiliation (Reform vs. Orthodox). The only religiously-defined group that stands out in its unappreciation of Netanyahu is the unaffiliated.

 

F.

 

The unaffiliated are also the least attached to Israel. So disliking Netanyahu goes hand in hand with not feeling much towards Israel, which goes hand in hand with not having connection with Jewish life.

Still, a notable difference in strong attachment to Israel (very attached) can be found when we look at Reform vs. Orthodox Jews (33%-52%) and synagogue attendance or lack of it (59%-20%).

In the next J Street survey, it’d be interesting to analyze how J Street supporters fall into these categories.

 

G.

Health care and gun violence were the top issues for Jews as they headed to the polls. The Jews voted as they usually do, only a little more so. In a GOP wave in 2010, less Jews voted Democratic, in a Democratic wave in 2018, more Jews voted Democratic.

 

 

And if you want to know why Jews were more Democratic this time, don’t look to the most progressive group. They voted Democratic when the country turned rightward and voted Democratic again this time. It is the more conservative Jews – Conservatives and Orthodox – who changed their vote this time and moved to the left.

 

 

H.

 

My understanding of the Orthodox vote in this election? In presidential elections, Israel is more at the forefront – and Trump will benefit due to his favorable-to-Israel policies. In midterm elections, domestic issues (and maybe the echo of Pittsburgh) take precedent, and hence more Orthodox voters decided to go with the Democratic Party.