Donald Trump thinks he has a divine right to Jewish support as the 2020 campaign for the White House heats up. In recent comments on the subject he suggests Jews leaning towards the Democrats (the traditional repository of votes for middle-of-the-road Jewish voters) will be showing ‘great disloyalty’ and a ‘lack of knowledge.’
Trump’s confidence in the Jewish vote largely stems from his unrelenting support of Israel. Almost every American leader of recent times has pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But only Trump has delivered. The US president is fond of declaring he has a special relationship with all manner of leaders around the world, from president Macron in France to the Chinese president Xi Jinping. But in many ways this is no more than what Sigmund Freud identified as a cupboard or false love.
In the case of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel and Trump it is the real thing. When Trump tweeted that two radical Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and and Ilhan Omar, should be barred from a visit to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories the Israeli prime minister agreed.
After a public fuss Netanyahu reversed himself and said that Tlaib should be allowed to visit her grandmother on the West Bank. But the damage had been done. Interestingly an academic Jewish American friend, who despises Trump, seems to hold Tlaib and Omar – who advocate boycott of Israel – in similar disregard.
Trump has given some American Jews the opportunity to rethink the relationship with the Jewish state. There has been evidence for some time that on university campuses the affinity of American students to Israel has been stretched. But as the liberal minded New York Times reported recently Trump has managed to revive Jewish leftist sentiments.
These are Jewish groups who believe that basic human rights are more important than the US-Israel relationship. On 11 August, Tisha B’Av – the most mournful day in the Jewish calendar – more than a thousand protesters (including 12 rabbis) occupied the Amazon Book store in New York. They were protesting Amazon’s technical support for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They liken the internment of immigrants in camps on the Mexican border to Hitler’s concentration camps. As unpleasant as these detention centres may be, the parallel is crude. But it shows how Trump has helped isolated Jewish groups on the left to argue that the idea that anti-Zionism is the equivalent of antisemitism is false.
What America’s middle-of-the-road Jews want is a Democrat candidate in the White House who is less friendly to Europe’s new right such as Viktor Orban in Hungary, supports traditional liberal values and adopts sensible policies towards Israel. The current regime in Washington largely is guided by the hard-right socially conservative evangelical movements rather than mainstream Jewish leadership. Even the normally Israel, right or wrong Aipac leadership, had trouble with Trump’s intervention on the Congress women’s Israel trip.
The huge Democratic field has lacked an obvious leader for the Jewish community to rally around. Veteran leftie Bernie Sanders, who gave Hillary Clinton such a fright in 2016 and is Jewish, has never been a devoted friend of the Jewish state. I am reliably told that campaign donations, from the Jewish community, have been heading for a previous political unknown Peter Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. A former US Marine the Mayor has impressed during chaotic debates outperforming more established candidates. He is seen as a moderate with a good understanding of the Jewish community and Israel.
It is impossible to say at this early stage in race, which does not get underway proper until the Iowa caucuses in January next year, who among the Democrats will emerge from the pack. What is clear is that Trump’s perceived undying support for Israel may not be able to command majority Jewish support in 2020. Indeed, his association with racist policies has incentivised Jewish activists to work against him.
No recent president has been so divisive for America’s Jews.