In last week’s mid-term elections, we learned a lot about the state of our divided nation. We in the American-Jewish community learned a lot about ourselves as well.
For many of us, the choice this year was different than in previous elections. The fact that it came only days after the worst attack on our community in US history made it deeply personal. The Pittsburgh massacre brought home to us, in the most dramatic way possible, that President Trump’s racism, constant lying and demonization of minorities, women, asylum seekers, Muslims and immigrants in general also have direct consequences for us as Jews.
This was confirmed by a poll of American Jews conducted by the polling firm GBA Strategies and commissioned by J Street, the pro-Israel pro-peace organization. It found that 72 percent of Jewish voters believe that President Donald Trump’s policies and comments were somewhat or very responsible for inspiring the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, a stunning and unprecedented indictment of the President. Over 79 percent said that they were concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism, and racism since the president took office.
It was perhaps not surprising that 76 percent of American Jews backed Democratic candidates versus 19 percent who voted for Republicans, according to the poll. American Jews have been one of the most loyal parts of the Democratic coalition for almost a century. Since World War II have voted on average for 70 percent for Democrats. Yet despite that well-established trend, right-wing Jewish and Republican-affiliated groups again spent millions of dollars in this election on attack ads specifically trying to falsely smear Democratic as being somehow “anti-Israel” — simply because they back a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or because they supported the strong diplomatic achievement of the Iran nuclear agreement.
Why did those attack ads fail? For two reasons. First, they were fundamentally false and most Jewish voters know how to distinguish between truth and lies. Second, because they relied on a totally misguided understanding of how Americans think about Israel, and what policies they support. J Street’s poll showed that the vast majority of American Jews feel strongly attached to Israel — and believes that one can be both pro-Israel and critical of specific policies of the Israeli government.
While President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu may largely revile proactive diplomacy, the vast majority of American Jews stand firmly behind it. Seventy-eight percent of American Jews support a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that results in two states for two peoples, defensible borders, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and compensation for Palestinian refugees. 72 percent support the Iran nuclear agreement – an increase of 8 points since 2016.
Beyond these disagreements on foreign policy, there is a strong sense in our community that President Trump is dangerously undermining America’s most important democratic institutions including the justice department, intelligence services, and the free press. Ultimately, our most precious possession as Americans is our democracy — which is also the most important bulwark of our safety as Jews.
American Jews know in their guts that we’ve never had a president in this country who stands so firmly against so many of our core beliefs. We are commanded to love the stranger; Trump spurns the stranger. We are commanded to protect the weak, the widow and the orphan. Trump targets them. We are commanded to pursue peace; Trump pushes us closer to war. We are exhorted to treat our fellow humans with respect and to honor the dignity of all humans “created in the image of God.” Trump does the opposite. We are taught to seek out the truth. Trump lies and lies and lies.
In response to this unprecedented threat, American Jews are not backing down or staying silent. Through groups like J Street and others that share our values, we have mobilized politically and voted our conscience. We are battling for our goals and supporting leaders who we believe can promote a better future for our country, for Israel, and for the world.