Joel Cohen

Trump: Where are American Jews now?

Make no mistake: significant enough swaths of the American Jewish population voted for Trump when he ran for president in 2016. Many voted for him again, somewhat amazingly so, when he ran in 2020.

Why? There was a mixture of reasons, to be sure. Surely, they had an outright dislike or suspicion of Obama. Some, maybe many, persisted in secretly or not-so-secretly believing that he was born in Kenya, and that he is a closet Muslim — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary even by the time of his election.

For many, he was a man who related “too closely” to the Arab World. And maybe there was something in that early in his first term. After all, he made an unprecedented early road trip to the Middle East without having had the diplomatic sense, experience or outright willingness to land briefly in Israel, even if just for a photo op with Netanyahu at the Kotel.

Others inwardly felt, as did many white Americans, that Obama had taken the country away from them. Jews, surprisingly, believe that they are part of the great majority that comprises so-called “white America.” Ridiculous! – American Jews may overestimate the extent to which America sees American Jews as part of “the club.” Nonetheless, quiet as their viewpoint was and is kept, many American Jews saw Trump as their best bet to “take it back — for all of us.”

And, like many Trump supporters, many an American Jewish Trump voter who was the least bit financially successful, liked what Trump has always stood for based on his personal interests, such as a softer tax burden and less regulation.

Trump also promised a less porous Southern border, important even for northerners, no matter the humanitarian issues that Jews are typically sensitive to. Why wouldn’t they favor a modern-day messiah who would protect America from unwanted Third World “invaders,” as Trump promised he would accomplish. Easy enough for Jews to forget how their forebears somehow managed to enter the United States to escape pogroms, famine and other dangers that faced them in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

This all may be extremely unpopular to say, I know. But like the rest of so-called white America weren’t the above reasons what American Jews, as a generality, were truly about in voting for Trump both times? And maybe even now?

But, typically, they wouldn’t (and won’t) say that. No, it’s “all about Israel” for many — a safe topic indeed. Trump, after all, idly promised, among other things, to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, as if that was the be all and end all for securing the votes of Jews, especially those who are Zionists. Trump was promising to be the best president ever for the State of Israel.

So, if you were to ask many Zionist-inclined Jewish Trumpers who would actually acknowledge that they were Trumpers despite his many character flaws, they would basically say “It’s about Israel for me.” Some might even acknowledge that it’s like the famous pitcher, Dizzy Dean, would say: “It’s good for the pitcher if the batter thinks the pitcher is a little bit crazy.”

And many Jews with a personal sense of Zionism did and still do see Trump as that “crazy pitcher” if Hamas or Hezbollah were ever, as has now boldly occurred, to consider stepping up to the plate against Israel. They might continue to argue even today, that that would have been true if Trump had been president on October 7, i.e., that Hamas would have been too afraid of a “crazy pitcher” Trump’s response if they had done what they did on October 7 if he was in the White House. Fair – Trump, one has to admit, could theoretically have gone nuclear without a second thought!

In fairness, though, Israel-supportive American Jews would have to admit that Biden has been as strong a bulwark for Israel as any American president, including “their guy” Trump, since October 7. Just ask the people in Israel. And he has stood solidly for Israel despite increasingly negative world opinion over the terrible civilian death toll in Gaza. And even despite the reelection problem he now faces over the same emerging concern in the left wing of the Democratic Party.

So, will the Jewish Trumpers who voted for Trump and have maintained that “it’s all about Israel” stick with him despite what Biden has so solidly and unambiguously done for Israel? And if they do, what will it say about what truly motivated them to vote for him in the first place?

Maybe pollsters need to be on the alert for crossed fingers when they take their polls of these particular voters. One question they should ask is whether what motivated their vote for Trump the first two times around  (pre-Biden’s overwhelming support of Israel in its most provocative hour) will be the same this time assuming, as is likely, that Trump gets the Republican nomination.

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Petrillo, Klein & Boxer in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Petrillo, Klein & Boxer firm or its lawyers.
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