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Opinion American Jewish voters still despise Trump

President Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in March 2018. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The Jewish Electorate Institute’s latest poll confirms what those who closely follow the Jewish community and political opinion about Israel have long known: American Jews remain among the most anti-Trump religious groups. While the president’s support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies might endear him to evangelicals (his core base of support), it does absolutely nothing for him with American Jews. If Israel’s non-Jewish critics have a beef with our current stance toward Israel, they should take it up with right-wing evangelicals, on whom Trump is entirely dependent and who cheer his embrace of Netanyahu.

The poll tells us:

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Jewish voters believe Jewish Americans are less secure than they were two years ago, 71 percent disapprove of the way President Trump has handled anti-Semitism, and nearly 60 percent believe that he bears at least some responsibility for the shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway. Two-thirds of the Jewish electorate remains firmly aligned with the Democratic Party, and there has been no change in the percentage of Jewish voters identifying as Republicans since JEI’s October 2018 poll; it remains at 25 percent.
Finally, the results demonstrate Jewish voters’ view of President Trump and how they plan to vote in the 2020 election: 71 percent disapprove of President Trumps’ overall job performance, 70 percent view him unfavorably, 67 percent would vote for a generic Democrat over President Trump, and 65 percent would vote for Democratic candidate Joe Biden over President Trump.

For decades now, American Jews have defied the anti-Semitic stereotype of dual loyalty. Their politics is driven by cultural and moral sensibilities, not by politicians’ favoritism toward Israel. This does not mean that American Jews are indifferent to Israel. Far from it; they remain staunchly pro-Israel (about 90 percent are pro-Israel). However, like most Americans, they don’t rank foreign policy at or near the top of their concerns. In fact, for Jews, Israel ranks dead last in their list of concerns. We can speculate whether that is a function of the current Israeli government; a sense that Israel is a robust and successful nation that does not require our constant attention; a widening rift between Israel and diaspora Jewry; or whether, just as with every other group of Americans, Jewish Americans’ domestic concerns that affect their lives swamp issues related to foreign affairs.

And that is precisely why the overwhelming majority of American Jews cannot abide Trump:

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say Jews in the United States are less secure compared to two years ago. A majority (59 percent) think President Trump is at least partially responsible for recent targeted attacks on synagogues, and a plurality (38 percent) have concerns that President Trump is encouraging violent ultra-right extremists. A broad majority (71 percent) disapprove of President Trump’s handling of anti-Semitism, including a 54 percent majority who strongly disapprove.

Should we be surprised that the friend (Trump) of their enemy (white nationalism) is their enemy? The president denies that their enemy is even a threat and therefore earns their enmity. Trump’s replacement rhetoric (the United States is “full”), his blood-and-soil nationalism and his contempt for the rule of law strike at the heart of Jews’ worries about their safety and security in a multiethnic society. Their ancestors left places such as Russia so as not to be at the whim of anti-Semitic autocrats; the United States was supposed to be their refuge.

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Moreover, given the values that are near and dear to the experiences of the Jewish community, Trump’s conduct sparks outrage, leaving him “with only 23 percent voter support, 29 percent job approval, and 26 percent favorability among Jewish voters.” Specifically, American Jews disapprove most strongly of Trump’s handling of “family separations at the Mexican border (78 percent), handling of DACA recipients (74 percent), guns (74 percent), handling of the Mueller Report (73 percent), anti-Semitism (71 percent), building of the border wall (71 percent), taxes (70 percent), Supreme Court nominations (69 percent), health care (69 percent), and banning immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries (66 percent).”

We should keep in mind several points.

First, what Trump is doing for Israel for domestic consumption is not aimed at nor impressing American Jews. It is aimed, as is everything, at securing his right-wing base, which is disproportionately white and evangelical.

Second, Israel’s long-standing strategy to maintain bipartisan support is endangered by hitching its wagon so securely to a hugely unpopular American president. To the extent that the current Israeli government is seen as paying homage (naming a town after him!) personally to Trump, it will only provoke rancor among the 65 percent of Americans (including the vast number of American Jews) who don’t approve of the president. Groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) should tread carefully, steering away from Trump adulation and maintaining their support for the United States as an “honest broker” in the Middle East.

Third, the far left’s dual loyalty and other anti-Semitic tropes (e.g. controlling the U.S. government by political money) are morally disgraceful and ludicrously misdirected at Jewish Americans. For better or worse, American Jews aren’t motivated by Israel. They are, however, greatly offended by anti-Semitism, whether it comes from the right or left, and will expect both political parties to drum out anti-Semites.

Fourth, on the topic of right-wing nationalism and its resulting violence against Jews, African Americans and Muslims, it strikes me that we should apply the same rules to evangelical leaders that they apply to Muslim leaders: Why aren’t they more forcefully rooting out violent extremists? Why don’t they police their own, set up programs to prevent radicalization and condemn language that echoes the rhetoric of violent extremists? (One can understand why Vice President Pence’s fanning of white Christian victimhood — they are mocked, he insists — is so infuriating to actual victims who are the target of hate crimes and even mass murder.)

Finally, Trump’s effort to win over Jewish voters by demonizing Democrats (who oppose his policies that most American Jews find abhorrent) is a ridiculous failure, as are the efforts of groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition to convince American Jews that Republicans have their interests at heart. They might as well be arguing that Muslims are better served by Trump’s party.

In short, as a religious minority, perpetual immigrants in history due to widespread persecution, who deeply value civil liberties and the rule of law, American Jews could barely imagine a worse president than Trump. He offends their core values and cultivates an atmosphere that endangers them. Unfortunately for Trump and his hypnotized Republican Party, they also turn out to vote in large numbers.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: How to talk about Israel, and how not to

Dana Milbank: Trump’s America is not a safe place for Jews

Eugene Robinson: Trump’s rhetoric stokes hate. He never thinks of the consequences.