Shai Franklin
Partner with Gotham Government Relations

Jews, Don’t Apologize When You Vote for Biden

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No one should think themselves a bad Jew for supporting Biden or a good Jew for backing Trump. I don’t expect to change anyone’s vote with this post or with a Facebook comment. Still, it’s important to be clear about what a vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump is not.

Much like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, who feels guilty about helping Jim escape slavery, there will be Jews who vote against Trump’s racist, self-aggrandizing dystopia only to wrongly believe they’ve somehow betrayed Jewish interests or sold out Israel’s future.

Yes, Biden voters tend to support a balanced judiciary and fair policing (incidentally, one of the Seven Noahide Laws incumbent upon all societies). And they favor keeping a woman’s reproductive choices safe and out of the secular courts, in line with most rabbinic opinions.

Many of the 70+ percent of Jews voting Democratic even hold out hope of an eventual arrangement that sets four million Palestinians on an independent path and rescue Israel from the looming train wreck of permanent control, dehumanization, and the downfall of a Jewish democracy.

Despite Biden’s record as Washington’s longest-standing and staunchest friend of Israel, there will be Jews who regret not being able to stand with Trump – the mover of our Embassy to Jerusalem, the negater of Palestinian rights, the impresario of the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And yes, that latest deal should be welcomed, even though it was decades in the making and even though the prime motivation was to provide advanced F-35 jets to UAE and set the stage for a region-wide war against Iran. Good for Israel? For Jews? For America?

Yes, some Jews will vote for Biden fearing for their school-age children under Trump’s expansive view of Second Amendment gun rights. But they will feel uneasy exposing their college students to anti-Israel BDS messages that the First Amendment protects – protections which Trump has tried to overturn to ‘save’ our kids. Government control of universities and restricting the freedom of speech should be triggers for every Jew.

Too many of us will vote for Biden while accepting the charge that we’re somehow voting against Israel or Jewish interests – even though the handful of violent attacks targeting American Jews and synagogues have mostly been by white supremacists in line with Trump’s embrace of “very fine people” and QAnon, his “Stand back and stand by” call to the white supremacist Proud Boys, and his own reprise of the Nazi-era “America First” movement.

Even though the racists’ first targets are Muslims and people of color, and even if scapegoating Jews were just part of the requisite ‘shtick’ to get what “we” want, is this really what we want, on any level?

For those concerned about “Jewish interests”, rest assured: Jews have always looked out for and taken care of ourselves. But most of us have found a way to reconcile these parochial interests with our core values. At our best, we save ourselves and others in ways that exemplify our mission and purpose in the world.

“Had President Trump only passed the largest tax cut in history, Dayenu!” – That’s how the Republican Jewish Coalition opened its version of the classic Passover hymn. Anyone who believes that greed is a Jewish value rather than a vice, that economics is an evil science, or that Trump is somehow on a par with the Lord of Hosts, will not be convinced by any Jewish-based counter-argument.

And that is the point.

Even today, with Trump fanning the flames of confusion and hatred, most of us can readily see that – whichever Jews actually “marched with Martin Luther King” 60 years ago – little has fundamentally changed in America and today we face a stark choice between right and wrong. It doesn’t matter that our philanthropies benefited from Trump’s tax cuts if our African-American neighbors can be gunned down with impunity, with the President’s tacit blessing, and if they’re still denied the right to be our neighbors. We should also remind ourselves that the biggest hit to community institutions in our lifetimes has been exacerbated by Trump’s self-destructive approach to Covid-19.

As for Jewish values of justice and helping the stranger, the poor, the children who cannot fend for themselves, of healing the sick, of humility and courage… That pretty much sums it up, no?

So please, let’s all exercise our Constitutional right to vote. We will have years to try and redeem the friendships torn apart by these dark years and to repair our society in ways Americans failed to do after the Civil War. But we should do so without conceding bedrock principles.

I won’t demand that any Trump voter justify their vote within a Jewish context unless they choose to contrive some claim to Jewish truth.

We should not waste our breath trying to convince those who’ve already narrowed their understanding of Jewish values and interests to fit their choice, nor should we allow ourselves to internalize the pro-Trump theology of control, division, lawlessness, and revenge. These are not Jewish values, they have never worked to our advantage, and – while we shouldn’t go boasting – in no way should we apologize for upholding the highest ideals of our faith.

About the Author
Shai Franklin, a consultant and lobbyist with U.S. and overseas clients, has served as an executive with American and international Jewish organizations and is a Senior Fellow with The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Foundation.
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