Dear Presidential Candidate:
As we approach the U.S. presidential election, you and your competitors are coming after our votes. “Our”, in this case, meaning Jewish, but also extending to every other major ethnic and religious group. For as long as I have been a voter, that has translated to one thing: each of you goes to Jewish audiences and tries to show that you’re Israel’s best friend. And the definition of “friend” is largely that set by organizations such as AIPAC, without which American support of Israel would certainly be much less than it is today.
The problem is that by narrowly defining us, the Jewish voters, and making assumptions about what drives us, you are likely missing our diverse interests. President Obama’s two electoral victories, both with overwhelming Jewish support, also faced outspoken Jewish opposition, largely because he proceeded on the assumptions that: 1. his first job was to lead America in the way he thought best; 2. there were points at which Israel’s policies and American interests were not perfectly aligned; and 3. Jewish voters have a lot of passions, of which Israel is a major one, but not the only major one. In other words, he recognized the diversity of Jewish voters. And he wasn’t wrong.
So, here are some things that you should know about us as you knock at our doors seeking our votes:
- We have a longstanding interest in human rights and equality. That was a rabbi on stage before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington back in the day. Someone who escaped from Nazi Germany, even. And one of our sayings about proclaiming liberty throughout the land made it onto the Liberty Bell. We want to know that our country is a bastion of justice.
- We are concerned about poverty. Back in the day, our farmers left the edges of fields unharvested so that the needy could come and “shop” for their dinner tables. My people do not have monolithic beliefs about how to address poverty best, which is why our votes go to a bunch of candidates. But make no mistake about it — poverty is a major Jewish concern.
- We care about peace in the world. Again, there are a range of approaches for how to achieve a peaceful world. Hey, even our brothers and sisters in Israel are split about how to achieve this end. But remember that we are the spiritual descendants of that prophet who spoke about “Peace, peace, to those far and near”.
- We care about the environment. Our literature talks about God telling the first humans to take good care of the earth because “if you ruin it, there will be no one to repair it”.
- We are crazy committed to education. Read the studies. Jews tend to be far better educated than the general American population. That means the educational system at every level has to be high quality. And not just for other Jewish people, either. For everyone.
The list could go on, but you get the general idea.
Going back to the subject of Israel, I happen to be a supporter of a strong Israel that has the necessary defense for its citizens to live securely. I realize that there are many pro-Israel voices that have a range of approaches for how to get there. To assume that we’re all following the Netanyahu bandwagon is just as erroneous as it is to assume that all Israelis are. We American Jews, like Israelis, are fiercely divided about the best path to security. So your speeches that address only one group of pro-Israel Jews is quite possibly going to alienate another group of equally pro-Israel Jews. Sorry. Deal with it.
Confused? Don’t be. Go deeper. The Jews who are Republicans, Democrats, even quasi-socialists, are pretty much aiming for the same target: a better America, a better world, a safer Israel. Want my vote? Inspire me. Show me how your leadership will bring a “messianic era” a little closer.
Arnold D. Samlan,
Note: The opinions stated here are mine alone and do not represent my employer or any other organization.