A Season of Change? Only If We Do Our Part

By Joshua Runyan

For the first time since ceding the reins of a Jewish newspaper, I was called a traitor last week by a member of the Jewish community. I was guilty of betraying Israel, of betraying the United States, of betraying the Torah, because I had voted for Joe Biden. Not only had I voted for the now president-elect, but I had volunteered for his campaign. Not only had I volunteered for the Democrat’s campaign, but I had endorsed the former vice president publicly, including in these pages.

For that, I was deserving of censure and of ridicule.

Hogwash.

In all honesty, I couldn’t care less that a partisan, in the heat of the moment, was so overcome with anger that he lashed out at someone who had taken an opposite political stance. I only mention it here to point out that as much as we’d like to think that ours in a unified Jewish community, to the extent anybody else feels like my misguided friend by the end of this week – almost two weeks removed from Election Day – we’ve got a long, long way to go.

As a matter of fact, as much as it might seem that history was made by the victorious ticket of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and their resounding defeat of soon-to-be former-President Donald Trump (at last count, the Democrats were on track to amass 306 votes in the Electoral College, the same amount that Trump secured in 2016), to quote from the same Book of Ecclesiastes that Biden did in his victory speech: There is nothing new under the sun.

Four years ago, I wrote a column here reacting to Trump’s victory. My message then was similarly one of pleading for understanding and unity. I officially had no dog in the particular fight between Trump and Hillary Clinton – indeed, owing to the fact that I was a journalist for so long, the only other time I had affixed lawn signs and bumper stickers to anything was when I volunteered for Bill Bradley’s failed bid for president in the 2000 primaries – but I certainly wasn’t happy with the outcome.

Still, I saw in the results of Trump’s election that those with whom I disagreed deserved to be heard. The incoming president, despite of what I might have thought of him, deserved to be given a chance. As Americans, we owed it to him and each other. Doing so would require a lot more listening, and a lot less reacting.

“Nuance, that great medium of rational thought, is practically extinct in most political discourse today,” I lamented then. “So much so that an editorial voicing objections to an administration appointee’s past statements, but nevertheless expressing hope that his undeniably pro-Israel stances portend a better era in U.S.-Israel relations can, at the same time, consign the author to the dual charge of being beholden to the fringe of the alt-right and the pro-BDS mob.”

It’s amazing how much the same paragraph could be written four years later and still be true!

In his speech in Wilmington, Del. Saturday night, Biden made an impassioned plea for unity, reminding those celebrating with him – as well as those who voted for his opponent – that among the seasons identified by King Solomon was the “time to heal.” “This is the time to heal in America,” he declared.

Those of us who have disagreed vehemently with the outgoing administration, who have given our time and our money to working to reverse the electoral outcome of 2016, might be forgiven for thinking that the bulk of the responsibility for bridging the divide that is the American electorate lies with Trump and his supporters. That thought, however, is wrong. As Trump eventually rides off into the sunset – and whether or not he continues to flouts tradition and undermines the integrity of America’s political institutions – the responsibility for healing America won’t even rest with Biden.

Especially here in the Jewish community, the responsibility for bridging the divide rests with each and every one of us. That’s the mandate demanded by the Torah: As all divisions not for the sake of Heaven are not destined to endure, we should refrain from breathing them into life. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t disagree, even vehemently, about things. It’s that when the dispute is not for the sake of Heaven – and it’s hard to seriously cast a presidential election, which happens every four years, as a metaphysical contest between good and evil – we must never deny those with whom we disagree their fundamental humanity.

As much as I am ecstatic over Biden’s win, and proud that I helped make it happen, there’s only one thing that I will ever gloat about: It was Philadelphia that turned the tide.

Now that the election is over, we need to start listening to one another, because if you didn’t notice, the almost 50 percent of America that disagreed with you four years ago still does. The only thing that’s changed is that more of them voted.

Rabbi Joshua Runyan, a former editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent, is an attorney at the firm of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads LLP.

Don’t Trust Republicans When it Comes to Fighting Anti-Semitism and Racism

By Joshua Runyan

“Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by.”

As president of the United States, Donald J. Trump had one job to do: Call out racism and anti-Semitism for what it is and to tell the modern incarnation of the Nazi Party in America that the hatred that they spew has no place in what passes for proper discourse in the greatest nation that the world has ever known.

President Trump failed at that task, the latest in a long string of failures that have plagued 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the rest of this great nation since Jan. 20, 2017.

Make no mistake: For all the talk that Republicans give the scourge of racism and anti-Jewish hatred over the past four years, the Grand Old Party, in actuality, cares not about hatred, about ethnic identities, about common decency. The president who gave you “decent people on both sides” when faced with the image of torch-bearing neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., is the same president who cannot, when teed up for the easiest putt the Northern hemisphere has ever known, call out hatred for what it is.

“There is blame on both sides!” he fumed, when challenged years ago. And again, when Fox News journalist Christ Wallace invited Trump Tuesday night to denounce hatred from the podium of the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign, the president prevaricated.

This is nothing new.

Two weeks ago, when the House of Representatives voted on H.R. 2574, the social media world was treated to the headline, “162 Democrats Vote Against Amendment to Protect Jewish Students from Antisemitism at School.” The smear was spread against Democratic politicians from Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA-4) to Rep. Susan Wild (PA-7). In truth, the vast majority of Democratic congressmen and congresswomen voted against a Republican-backed amendment that would have included “anti-Semitism” as among the types of discrimination prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The problem is, the actual story is much more complex, and much more inapposite to the partisan hatchet job that voters, including in the Jewish community in southeastern Pennsylvania, were treated to. With H.R. 2574, the Democratic-led House attempted to create a new private cause of action for discrimination faced in education. Republicans, who by and large, opposed the measure, sought to stick it to Democrats, trying to send up an anti-Semitism amendment via a “motion-to-recommit.”

As legislation, the amendment was poorly drafted, neglecting to contain a definition of “anti-Semitism.” But as a necessity, it was suspect, considering that since at least the Obama and second Bush administrations, the Justice Department – who is tasked with enforcing the Civil Rights Act – has always considered anti-Jewish discrimination to be prohibited under Title VI.

Nevertheless, Republicans saw fit to introduce what they later claimed was groundbreaking legislation under a legislative provision that when fronted by a minority party in the House is always defeated by the majority party in power. And that’s what happened: Democrats, including Dean and Wild,voted against the amendment.

But the amendment passed. And the now-amended legislation passed by overwhelming numbers, with Dean and Wild, and countless other Democrats, supporting it. Republicans? Joined by the sponsor of the anti-Semitism amendment, 187 other GOP representatives voted against the legislation that they later claimed was a strong statement against “anti-Semitism in education.”

An equally truthful headline would have been, “188 Republicans Vote Against Legislation to Protect Jewish Students from Antisemitism at School.”

The fact is, if the Republican Party really cared about anti-Semitism, they wouldn’t have empowered their social media minions to smear Democrats in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The fact is, if the White House really cared about racism and hatred, and about uniting this great country instead of dividing it, the president wouldn’t have been so timid when invited to denounce the Proud Boys.

As a Jewish American, and, more importantly, as an Orthodox rabbi who has experienced his fair share of anti-Semitism, I care more about the party and the candidate who will actually do something about the hatred that has been the hallmark of the last few years of American life. Time and again, President Trump and the Republican Party have ignored the opportunity to denounce anti-Semitism for what it is, and to commit this country upon a path of understanding and peace.

President Trump has failed at his task, and the Republican leadership in Congress has enabled him. It’s time to transfer the reins of power.

Rabbi Joshua Runyan is an Orthodox rabbi and former editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. He is an attorney in Philadelphia.

            Trump vs Biden: a Jewish Primer

By Martin J. Raffel, Board Member, Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania

 (Revised August 15, 2020)

We are approaching what many have described as the most important election of our lifetimes. American Jewish voters can make a difference, especially in some of the “battleground states.” Surveys have consistently shown that Jews choose their parties and candidates based on the same domestic criteria as most other Americans, including healthcare, the economy, the environment, and matters of social and economic justice.

Historically, Jews have shown a strong preference for the Democratic Party and its candidates. This is not surprising given Jewish political sensibilities. According to a 2019 survey by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute, there are more than twice as many Jewish liberals (42%) as Jewish conservatives (20%), with 37% identifying as moderates.

As all Americans, Jews look at how the Trump administration has mishandled the pandemic and the resulting economic dislocation. They look at how the administration has mishandled the protests and civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of a police officer. They look at the administration’s response, or lack thereof, to Russian interference in the 2016 election, interference that continues to this very day. They look at the president’s demeaning of women, immigrants and asylum-seekers, certain minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, military war heroes and red star families.

Because honesty is a Jewish value (e.g., vigorously fighting against Holocaust denial), they look with disdain at the president’s assault on truth and his attacks on the media with his constant charge of “fake news.” Given our history and respect for America’s democratic institutions, Jews look nervously at the president’s authoritarian tendencies. Trump is now acting on those tendencies to try to steal the 2020 election by falsely discrediting reliable mail-in voting, which is especially necessary during a pandemic, undermining the viability of the postal service, limiting the use of ballot drop boxes and otherwise doing everything in his power to suppress voter turnout. Therefore, no doubt, most Jews will vote for the Joe Biden/ Kamala Harris ticket.

However, there may still be some Jews who will vote for Trump because they believe his economic philosophy is more closely aligned with theirs. Yet, other Jews may consider voting for Trump because they believe the false claims that he has been the “best president” Israel has ever had in the White House, and that the Democratic Party has become antagonistic to Israel. This Q/A document is intended to enable Democratic candidates and activists to effectively counter that false narrative when speaking to Jewish audiences, writing op-ed pieces and letters-to-the-editor, and preparing for town hall meetings and debates.     

Is Trump good for American Jews and Israel?

  • Meeting for the first time, President Kennedy asked Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion what he could do for Israel. Ben-Gurion’s response: “Mr. President, be a good president to the United States.” Unequivocally, Trump has been bad for the United States.
  • America has been Israel’s reliable friend in a world that has been less than hospitable to the one and only Jewish state. Therefore, it is in Israel’s fundamental security interest for the U.S. to be strong militarily, economically, and diplomatically. It is important to remember that control of the White House and Congress swings back and forth between the two parties. Therefore, it is vital for American support for Israel to remain bipartisan. Trump’s persistent efforts to make Israel a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats undermines the resilience of this pillar of American support. 

Has Trump maintained American strength?

  • The answer is a resounding “no.” We are suffering through a once in a century pandemic that is far worse than it needed to be because of the abject failure in national leadership. More than six months after the first cases of Covid-19 erupted, we still have no overall strategic plan for dealing with this virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 165,000 of our fellow citizens, crippled our economy with skyrocketing deficits and high unemployment rates, and caused allies in Western Europe and elsewhere to regard us with pity rather than respect. Trump’s ineptitude in dealing with the virus in the economy also has had a devastating impact on the Jewish nonprofit sector, including advocacy organizations such as AIPAC, which had to cancel its 2021 annual policy conference.   
  • The erosion of American influence and leadership long preceded Covid-19. Following issuing his chilling “America First” mantra, with its resonance to U.S. pre-World War II isolationism, Trump demeaned the critical NATO alliance, encouraged Russian readmission to the G-7 against the wishes of our allies, withdrew U.S. support from previously signed international agreements such as the Paris Agreement on climate, and fawned over some of the world’s worst dictators such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Russian interference in our democracy, under the Trump presidency, has not only gone unchallenged. It has been encouraged.    
  • American strength also is dependent on basic societal cohesiveness. The country was experiencing significant polarization and partisanship before Trump took office. But his irresponsible rhetoric and policies have torn America’s social fabric into shreds. Racial divisiveness appears to be integral to Trump’s reelection strategy. A house divided cannot stand for itself, let alone for others such as Israel.

What is Trump’s connection to antisemitism in America?

  • Anti-Semitic hate crimes are rising at an alarming pace, and, according to the Anti-Defamation League 2019 saw the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents since tracking began in 1979.
  • It is impossible to know whether Trump, himself, is an anti-Semite, although he has used stereotypical references occasionally when speaking to Jewish groups. But the noted Emory University scholar Professor Deborah Lipstadt readily characterizes him as an antisemitism enabler. In her book “Anti-Semitism: Here and Now,” she asserts that in his rhetoric Trump has “hit almost every millennial-old anti-Semitic stereotype.” 
  • Extremist groups on the far right have been emboldened by the president’s rhetoric, such as “there are fine people on both sides” following the march of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville shouting “Jews will not replace us.” Once again, David Duke, the notorious racist and former KKK member, has endorsed Trump for president and urged him to replace Mike Pence with Tucker Carlson because he has espoused “white ethnic cleansing in America.”
  • The Jewish community was traumatized by the slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest assault against Jews in this nation’s history. The mass murderer responsible for the assault had listened to the president’s words about an alleged large-scale “invasion” of illegals coming into America from the southern border. He wanted to punish this Jewish congregation, which had hosted a program with the pro-immigration organization HIAS, and, in his twisted mind, was abetting the so-called invasion. 

Wasn’t Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy a great thing?

  • Yes, symbolically, it was positive. But it did nothing to enhance Israel’s security, nor did it move the international community any closer to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It made it difficult even for those Arab countries that otherwise might want rapprochement with Israel to move in that direction. This explains why every U.S. president, Republican and Democrat, campaigns on the issue of moving the embassy, but once elected, resists doing so knowing it only will further complicate chances for negotiations between the parties.
  • Trump’s decision is inconsistent with previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, such as the Oslo Accords, brokered by the U.S. and supported by the international community, which called for the status of Jerusalem to be resolved only through negotiations.
  • At the end of the day, the Jewish people did not need Trump to recognize Jerusalem as their eternal capital. That is a historical fact going back three millennia.

What about Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights?

  • No one was pressing Israel to relinquish control over any part of the Golan Heights, especially since Iran and terrorist groups are operating today in Syria.  Again, this recognition was purely a symbolic gesture that changes nothing on the ground, does not affect the legal status of the Golan (in December 1981, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 497, which declared Israel’s annexation “null and void’), and only engendered international ill will.

How about Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal?

  • The Iran deal was complex and there were many credible arguments both for and against.  While Israeli political leaders generally opposed the deal, there were many Israeli military and security experts who favored it.
  • The organized American Jewish community also was deeply divided on the issue, reflecting the issue’s complexity and an understanding that the sides could not be understood simply from a normal ‘right-left’ perspective.  
  • Trump’s decision to pull out has shattered the international sanctions consensus that the Obama administration had meticulously built over time to confront Iran.
  • Iran, feeling released from its obligations under the deal because of Trump’s unilateral action, has resumed largely unchecked uranium enrichment. Until Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Commission had concluded that Iran was in full compliance. In the wake of Trump’s action, Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups has escalated along with other of its malign activities in the region.
  • Even some groups that had originally opposed the deal, like the American Jewish Committee, disagreed with the decision to pull out because of its negative effect on the U.S.-European alliance on the issue.  

Isn’t Trump’s decision to declare Israeli settlements to be consistent with international law and his ‘Deal of the Century’ peace plan, which sanctions Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank, a win for Israel against the Palestinians?

  • It may be a political win for Israel’s right wing, but it is far from a win for Israeli security. It seriously erodes, if not kills altogether, the potential for separating the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea into two states, a state of Palestine living side by side in peace with Israel. That scenario might look remote now, and Palestinian intransigence over the years must be acknowledged. But we ought to keep pursuing the two-state outcome as it is the only viable way of sustaining the Zionist dream of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.
  • Most Israelis and Palestinians support the two-state outcome, which remains a consensus position of the international community. The Trump peace plan might refer to two states, but it is nothing more than a prescription for an unworkable binational Jewish-Palestinian state.
  • In addition, Israel’s possible unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank would undermine the stability of the Palestinian Authority, whose ongoing security cooperation with Israel has thwarted terrorism, and Jordan, a vital strategic partner to Israel’s east.

Yes, but doesn’t the groundbreaking Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreement to normalize their relations, which was facilitated by the Trump administration, make peace more likely?   

  • The agreement between Israel and the UAE to move toward normalized relations, which the Trump administration deserves credit for encouraging, is a welcome development, and we hope such agreements will be reached with other Arab states in the months and years ahead.
  • That the Israeli government has suspended its intention to annex areas of the West Bank also is a positive development, although it would be preferable for this step to be made permanent. Contrary to the vision of the Trump peace plan, which recognizes a right of Israel to annex part of the West Bank unilaterally, the status of this territory should not be altered outside of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. To do otherwise would violate agreements previously signed by Israel.
  • Trump has irreparably damaged our relationship with the Palestinians through a variety of actions taken these last three years. Therefore, the leverage we might have had to build on the Israel-UAE agreement to advance the peace process is lost. A Biden administration, which has pledged to restore our relationship with the Palestinians, will be in a much better position to achieve a peace agreement based on two states for two peoples.
  • It is important to understand that the driving force behind the Israel-UAE agreement was not U.S. policy. The UAE and other Sunni Gulf states long have viewed Israel as a vital ally in their confrontation with a hegemonic and malign Shiite Iran.  Their security cooperation, mostly carried out under the radar, has been going on for many years. The decision to go public with the Israel-UAE relationship less than three months before the 2020 election — rather than doing so a year ago or a year from now — reasonably could be understood as being politically motivated to help Trump’s re-election bid.
  • At the end of the day, the most important thing for Israel’s long-term security is for the U.S. to be strong and healthy and respected by the international community. On this, Trump has been an abysmal failure. A Biden-Harris administration can and will reverse America’s decline.

Doesn’t the fact that Trump pledged his unshakeable loyalty to Israel’s security count?

  • Tell that to the Kurds, the courageous people who fought and died alongside American forces fighting ISIS in Syria. Trump precipitously pulled our troops out of the Syrian-Turkey border, and Turkish forces promptly invaded the area, killing Kurdish civilians and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.  After three and a half years in office, it should be clear to all that Donald Trump’s loyalty first and foremost is to Donald Trump.
  • When Congress passed bipartisan resolutions in 2019 seeking to reassert its oversight role with respect to an $8.1 billion sale of highly sophisticated military equipment to Saudi Arabia, Trump vetoed the resolutions arguing that American jobs were at stake. He did so without any reference to the potential implications for Israel’s security. 

          BIDEN AND HARRIS ARE GOOD FOR THE JEWISH COMMUNITY AND ISRAEL

What is Biden’s relationship with the Jewish community and his position on Jewish security?

  • First elected to the Senate in 1972, Joe Biden has an almost half century record of unwavering support for the Jewish community and Israel. 
  • The Charlottesville event and Trump’s ignominious response to it led Biden to get into the presidential race as a fight “for the soul of the nation.”  Unlike Trump, he will not hesitate to condemn extremism and hatred whatever the source. Biden is committed to adoption of a domestic terrorism law and to a more robust prosecution of hate crimes through the Department of Justice. And he intends to promote the enactment of sensible gun security laws that will break the nexus between extremism and gun violence.

Isn’t the Democratic Party hostile to Israel?

  • The short answer is an unequivocal ‘no,’ regardless of what Trump and the Republicans argue during the campaign. They will point to a small number of party members who have been less than friendly to Jews and Israel and assert that they are the “face” of the party. This is a calculated attempt to find a wedge issue for the campaign.
  • The “face” of the party is its presidential candidate Joe Biden and it is his record on Israel that really counts. In addition, over the years Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, Representative Steny Hoyer and many other Democratic leaders in Congress have consistently voiced strong support for Israel and do so as perennial speakers at all mainstream Jewish organizations, including AIPAC.

What is Biden’s record on Israel?

  • Biden has been in the forefrontof reinforcing Israel’s long-term security needs. In his role as Vice President, he was instrumental in securing support for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow-3 anti-rocket and missile defense systems that have saved countless Israeli lives. In addition, he helped shape the unprecedented $38 billion ten-year memorandum of understanding for defense assistance to Israel signed in 2016, the largest military aid package in American history. He adamantly opposes conditioning Israel’s military assistance package to changes in Israeli policy.
  • Biden has led efforts to block the delegitimization of Israel both at the international level and here at home where the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) Movement has campaigned against Israel in the community and on the college campuses. Instead of promoting the Israeli government’s annexation of West Bank territory, which can only strengthen BDS, Biden will seek to bring about a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state formula, consistent with U.S. and Israeli security interests.
  • Biden has made it clear that Iran will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon on his watch. He is committed to strengthening the JCPOA and working with our allies to mitigate Iran’s other malign activities in the Middle East, including its support for terrorism.
  • Perhaps most important of all, Biden will strive to restore the bipartisanship that historically characterized American support for Israel and will reject any attempt to turn Israel into a political football. Described even by his political adversaries as a “mensch,” Biden has a proven decades long track record of bringing Democrats and Republicans together.

Didn’t the Obama-Biden administration allow the United Nations to adopt an anti-Israel resolution in 2016 (UNSC 2334)?  

  • The U.S. abstained from UN Security Council Resolution 2334 declaring Israeli settlements to be contrary to international law. This resolution, which contained no sanctions, was intended to convey to Israel how harmful its settlement activity was to the goal of two states. The abstention on 2334 did not change the administration’s fundamental policy that permanent borders and the status of settlements needed to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • There have been many occasions when Israel has not agreed with U.S. decisions, during both Republican and Democratic administrations. Friends can disagree without it affecting the fundamental foundation of their friendship. In this case, the Netanyahu government did not hesitate to strongly criticize the abstention. Given Trump’s sensitivity about being criticized, one wonders whether any Israeli government would feel the same freedom to publicly criticize one of the President’s decisions.
  • The strong reaction to the resolution is somewhat surprising given that many similar resolutions condemning Israeli settlement activity were adopted by the Security Council. After 2334’s adoption, the respected Jewish journalist J.J. Goldberg wrote that since 1981 there had been 29 “blatantly one-sided [Security Council resolutions] criticizing, deploring or condemning Israel and its actions.”  Some of those resolutions also characterized Israeli settlements as illegal. In terms of one-sided resolutions critical of Israel endorsed by the U.S. or allowed to pass without veto, 16 took place during Reagan’s administration, 7 during Bush the father’s administration, 3 during Bush the son’s administration, 2 during Clinton’s administration, and only 1 during Obama’s administration.

What is Kamala Harris’ relationship with the Jewish community and record on Israel?

  • Just as Joe Biden has had a strong and warm relationship with the Jewish community, Kamala Harris has had a similarly strong and warm relationship, especially with the Jewish community of the Bay Area and California. 
  • In Harris’ role as San Francisco District Attorney and then as California Attorney General, she took a strong stand against violent crime, including hate crimes. As DA she created a separate hate crimes unit.
  • Like Biden, Harris is a centrist on domestic issues and Israel-related matters. She has made several trips to Israel, the first in 2004 under the auspices of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council.
  • Harris has consistently expressed support for the U.S.-Israel alliance and for U.S. assistance to help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge.
  • Like Biden, while Harris supports a negotiated two-state outcome and opposes Israel’s annexation of sections of the West Bank, she does not support conditioning of U.S. aid to Israel to influence its policies.
  • Also, like Biden, Harris supports the U.S. rejoining the JCPOA if Iran complies with its requirements and would work with our allies to strengthen and expand the reach of the deal.
  • Harris is married to Jewish lawyer Douglas Emhoff, who, with victory in November, would become the country’s first Jewish second husband.

What does the Democratic Party platform say about Israel?

  • The platform, adopted on July 27, is strongly supportive of Israel, reflecting Joe Biden’s moderate centrist approach. The platform language states Democrats believe in a “strong, secure and democratic Israel,” as “vital” to the interests of the U.S.  In addition, it expresses an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge and to the 2016 memorandum of understanding. There is no conditionality, per Biden’s views, to the maintenance of U.S. military support.
  • On Iran, according to the platform, “Democrats support a comprehensive diplomatic effort to extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression.”
  • Democrats, the platform asserts, “support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.”
  • “We oppose any effort,” the platform asserts, “to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”
  • The platform addresses resumption of aid to the Palestinians consistent with American law. Looking at this issue in zero-sum terms is self-defeating, and contrary to Israel’s interests in pursuing an agreement with the Palestinians that will bring an end to the century-old conflict that has produced bloodshed and tragedy on both sides.

Trump vs Biden: a Jewish Primer

By Martin J. Raffel, Board Member, Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania

We are approaching what many have described as the most important election of our lifetimes. American Jewish voters can make a difference, especially in some of the “battleground states.” Surveys have consistently shown that Jews choose their parties and candidates based on the same domestic criteria as most other Americans, including healthcare, the economy, the environment, and matters of social and economic justice. Historically, Jews have shown a strong preference for the Democratic Party and its candidates. This is not surprising given Jewish political sensibilities. According to a 2019 survey by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute, there are more than twice as many Jewish liberals (42%) as Jewish conservatives (20%), with 37% identifying as moderates.

As all Americans, Jews look at how the Trump administration has mishandled the pandemic and the resulting economic dislocation. They look at how the administration has mishandled the protests and civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of a police officer. They look at the administration’s response, or lack thereof, to Russian interference in the 2016 election, interference that continues to this very day. They look at the president’s demeaning of women, immigrants and asylum-seekers, certain minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, military war heroes, and red star families. Because Jews value honesty (e.g., vigorously fighting against Holocaust denial), they look with disdain at the president’s assault on truth and his attacks on the media with his constant charge of “fake news.” Given our history and respect for America’s democratic institutions, Jews look nervously at the president’s authoritarian tendencies.  Therefore, no doubt, most Jews will vote for Joe Biden.

However, there are some Jews who will vote for Trump because they believe his economic philosophy is more closely aligned with theirs. Yet, other Jews may consider voting for Trump because they believe the false claims that he has been the “best president” Israel has ever had in the White House, and that the Democratic Party has become antagonistic to Israel. This Q/A document is intended to enable Democratic candidates and activists to effectively counter that false analysis when speaking to Jewish audiences, writing op-ed pieces and letters-to-the-editor, and preparing for town hall meetings and debates.     

Is Trump good for American Jews and Israel?

  • If Trump is good for America, then he is good for American Jews and Israel.  Meeting for the first time, President Kennedy asked Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion what he could do for Israel. Ben-Gurion’s response: “Mr. President, be a good president to the United States.”
  • America has been Israel’s reliable friend in a world that has been less than hospitable to the one and only Jewish state. Therefore, it is in Israel’s fundamental security interest for the U.S. to be strong militarily, economically, and diplomatically. It is important to remember that control of the White House and Congress swings back and forth between the two parties. Therefore, it is vital for American support for Israel to remain bipartisan. Trump’s persistent efforts to make Israel a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats undermines the resilience of this pillar of American support. 

Has Trump maintained American strength?

  • The answer is a resounding no. We are suffering through a once in a century pandemic that is far worse than it needed to be because of the abject failure in national leadership. More than six months after the first cases of Covid-19 erupted, we still have no overall strategic plan for dealing with this virus, which has claimed the lives of over 150,000 of our fellow citizens, crippled our economy with skyrocketing deficits and high unemployment rates, and caused allies in Western Europe and elsewhere to regard us with pity rather than respect. Trump’s ineptitude in dealing with the virus in the economy also has had a devastating impact on the Jewish nonprofit sector, including advocacy organizations like AIPAC, which had to cancel its 2021 annual policy conference.   
  • The erosion of American influence and leadership long preceded Covid-19. Following issuing his chilling “America First” mantra, with its resonance to U.S. pre-World War II isolationism, Trump demeaned the critical NATO alliance, encouraged Russian readmission to the G-7 against the wishes of our allies, withdrew U.S. support from previously signed international agreements like the Paris Agreement on climate, and fawned over some of the world’s worst dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Russian interference in our democracy, under the Trump presidency, has not only gone unchallenged. It has been encouraged.    
  • American strength also is dependent on basic societal cohesiveness. The country was experiencing significant polarization and partisanship before Trump took office. But his irresponsible rhetoric and policies have torn America’s social fabric into shreds. Racial divisiveness appears to be integral to Trump’s reelection strategy. A house divided cannot stand for itself, let alone for others like Israel.

What is Trump’s connection to antisemitism in America?

  • Anti-Semitic hate crimes are rising at an alarming pace, and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, 2019 saw the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents since tracking began in 1979.
  • It is impossible to know whether Trump, himself, is an anti-Semite, although he has used stereotypical references occasionally when speaking to Jewish groups. But the noted Emory University scholar Professor Deborah Lipstadt readily characterizes him as an antisemitism enabler. In her book “Anti-Semitism: Here and Now,” she asserts that in his rhetoric Trump has “hit almost every millennial-old anti-Semitic stereotype.” 
  • Extremist groups on the far right have been emboldened by the president’s rhetoric, such as “there are fine people on both sides” following the march of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville shouting “Jews will not replace us.” Once again, David Duke, the notorious racist and former KKK member has endorsed Trump for president and urged him to replace Mike Pence with Tucker Carlson because he has exposed “white ethnic cleansing in America.”
  • The Jewish community was traumatized by the slaughter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest assault against Jews in this nation’s history. The mass murderer responsible for the assault had listened to the president’s words about an alleged large-scale “invasion” of illegals coming into America from the southern border. He wanted to punish this Jewish congregation, which had hosted a program with the pro-immigration organization HIAS, and, in his twisted mind, was abetting the so-called invasion. 

Wasn’t Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy a great thing?

  • Yes, symbolically, it was positive. But it did nothing to enhance Israel’s security, nor did it move the international community any closer to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It made it difficult even for those Arab countries that otherwise might want rapprochement with Israel to move in that direction. This explains why every U.S. president, Republican and Democrat, campaigns on the issue of moving the embassy, but once elected, resists doing so knowing you will only further complicate chances for negotiations between the parties.
  • Trump’s decision is inconsistent with previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, such as the Oslo Accords, brokered by the U.S. and supported by the international community, which called for the status of Jerusalem to be resolved only through negotiations.
  • At the end of the day, the Jewish people did not need Trump to recognize Jerusalem as their eternal capital. That is a historical fact going back three millennia.

What about Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights?

  • No one was pressing Israel to relinquish control over any part of the Golan Heights, especially since Iran and terrorist groups are operating today in Syria.  Again, this recognition was purely a symbolic gesture that changes nothing on the ground, does not affect the legal status of the Golan (in December 1981, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 497, which declared Israel’s annexation “null and void’), and only engendered international ill will.

How about Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the J.C.P.O.A., the Iran nuclear deal?

  • The Iran deal was complex and there were many credible arguments both for and against.  While Israeli political leaders generally opposed the deal, there were many Israeli military and security experts who favored it.
  • The organized American Jewish community was also deeply divided on the issue, reflecting the issue’s complexity and an understanding that the sides could not simply be understood from a normal ‘right-left’ perspective.  
  • Trump’s decision to pull out has shattered the international sanctions regime that the Obama administration had meticulously built over time to confront Iran.
  • Iran, feeling released from its obligations under the deal because of Trump’s unilateral action, has resumed largely unchecked uranium enrichment. Until Trump pulled out of the J.C.P.O.A, the International Atomic Energy Commission had concluded that Iran was in full compliance. In the wake of Trump’s action, Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups has escalated along with other of its malign activities in the region.
  • Even some groups that had originally opposed the deal, like the American Jewish Committee, disagreed with the decision to pull out because of its negative effect on the U.S.-European alliance on the issue.  

Isn’t Trump’s decision to declare Israeli settlements to be consistent with international law and his ‘Deal of the Century’ peace plan, which sanctions Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank, a win for Israel against the Palestinians?

  • It may be a political win for Israel’s right wing, but it is far from a win for Israeli security. It seriously erodes, if not kills altogether, the potential for separating the land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea into two states, a state of Palestine living side by side in peace with Israel. That scenario may look remote now, and Palestinian intransigence over the years must be acknowledged. But we ought to keep pursuing the two-state outcome as it is the only viable way of sustaining the Zionist dream of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.
  • Most Israelis and Palestinians support the two-state outcome, which remains a consensus position of the international community. The Trump peace plan may refer to two states, but it is nothing more than a prescription for an unworkable binational Jewish-Palestinian state.
  • In addition, Israel’s possible unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank would undermine the stability of the Palestinian Authority, whose ongoing security cooperation with Israel has thwarted terrorism, and Jordan, a vital strategic partner to Israel’s east. It also threatens Israel’s relations with potentially new Arab partners for Israel, including Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.  

Doesn’t the fact that Trump pledged his unshakeable loyalty to Israel’s security count?

  • Tell that to the Kurds, the courageous people who fought and died alongside American forces fighting ISIS in Syria. Trump precipitously pulled our troops out of the Syrian-Turkey border, and Turkish forces promptly invaded the area, killing Kurdish civilians and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.  After three and a half years in office, it should be clear to all that Donald Trump’s loyalty first and foremost is to Donald Trump.
  • When Congress passed bipartisan resolutions in 2019 seeking to reassert its oversight role with respect to an $8.1 billion sale of highly sophisticated military equipment to Saudi Arabia, Trump vetoed the resolutions arguing that American jobs were at stake. He did so without any reference to the potential implications for Israel’s security. 

        JOE BIDEN IS GOOD FOR THE JEWISH COMMUNITY AND ISRAEL

What is Biden’s relationship with the Jewish community and his position on Jewish security?

  • First elected to the Senate in 1972, Joe Biden has an almost half century record of unwavering support for the Jewish community and Israel. 
  • The Charlottesville event and Trump’s ignominious response to it led Biden to get into the presidential race as a fight “for the soul of the nation.”  Unlike Trump, he will not hesitate to condemn extremism and hatred whatever the source. Biden is committed to adoption of a domestic terrorism law and to a more robust prosecution of hate crimes through the Department of Justice. And he intends to promote the enactment of sensible gun security laws that will break the nexus between extremism and gun violence.

Isn’t the Democratic Party hostile to Israel?

  • The short answer is an unequivocal ‘no,’ regardless of what Trump and the Republicans may try to argue during the campaign. They will point to a small number of party members who have been less than friendly to Jews and Israel and assert that they are the “face” of the party. This is a calculated attempt to find a wedge issue for the campaign.
  • The “face” of the party is its presidential candidate Joe Biden and it is his record on Israel that really counts. In addition, over the years, Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, Representative Steny Hoyer and many other Democratic leaders in Congress have consistently voiced strong support for Israel and do so as perennial speakers at all mainstream Jewish organizations, including AIPAC.

What is Biden’s record on Israel?

  • Biden has been in the forefrontof reinforcing Israel’s long-term security needs. In his role as Vice President, he was instrumental in securing support for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow-3 anti-rocket and missile defense systems that have saved countless Israeli lives. In addition, he helped shape the unprecedented $38 billion ten-year memorandum of understanding for defense assistance to Israel signed in 2016, the largest military aid package in American history. He adamantly opposes conditioning Israel’s military assistance package to changes in Israeli policy.
  • Biden has led efforts to block the delegitimization of Israel both at the international level and here at home where the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) Movement has campaigned against Israel in the community and on the college campuses. Instead of promoting the Israeli government’s annexation of West Bank territory, which can only strengthen BDS, Biden will seek to bring about a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state formula, consistent with U.S. and Israeli security interests.
  • Biden has made it crystal clear that Iran will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon on his watch. He is committed to strengthening the J.C.P.O.A. and working with our allies to mitigate Iran’s other malign activities in the Middle East, including its support for terrorism.
  • Perhaps most important of all, Biden will strive to restore the bipartisanship that historically characterized American support for Israel and will reject any attempt to turn Israel into a political football. Described even by his political adversaries as a “mensch,” Biden has a proven decades long track record of bringing Democrats and Republicans together.

Didn’t the Obama-Biden administration allow the United Nations to adopt an anti-Israel resolution in 2016 (UNSC 2334)?  

  • The U.S. abstained from UN Security Council Resolution 2334 declaring Israeli settlements to be contrary to international law. This resolution, which contained no sanctions, was intended to convey to Israel how harmful its settlement activity was to the goal of two states. The abstention on 2334 did not change the administration’s fundamental policy that permanent borders and the status of settlements needed to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • There have been many occasions when Israel has not agreed with U.S. decisions, during both Republican and Democratic administrations. Friends can disagree without it affecting the fundamental foundation of their friendship. In this case, the Netanyahu government did not hesitate to strongly criticize the abstention. Given Trump’s sensitivity about being criticized, one wonders whether any Israeli government would feel the same freedom to publicly criticize one of the President’s decisions.
  • The strong reaction to the resolution is somewhat surprising given that many similar resolutions condemning Israeli settlement activity were adopted by the Security Council. After 2334’s adoption, the respected Jewish journalist J.J. Goldberg wrote that since 1981 there had been 29 “blatantly one-sided [Security Council resolutions] criticizing, deploring or condemning Israel and its actions.”  Some of those resolutions also characterized Israeli settlements as illegal. In terms of one-sided resolutions critical of Israel endorsed by the U.S. or allowed to pass without veto, 16 took place during Reagan’s administration, 7 during Bush the father’s administration, 3 during Bush the son’s administration, 2 during Clinton’s administration, and only 1 during Obama’s administration.

What does the Democratic Party platform say about Israel?

  • The platform, adopted on July 27, is strongly supportive of Israel, reflecting Joe Biden’s moderate centrist approach. The platform language states Democrats believe in a “strong, secure and democratic Israel,” as “vital” to the interests of the U.S.  In addition, it expresses an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge and to the 2016 memorandum of understanding. There is no conditionality, per Biden’s views, to the maintenance of U.S. military support.
  • On Iran, according to the platform, “Democrats support a comprehensive diplomatic effort to extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression.”
  • Democrats, the platform asserts, “support a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.”
  • “We oppose any effort,” the platform asserts, “to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”
  • The platform addresses resumption of aid to the Palestinians consistent with American law. Looking at this issue in zero-sum terms is self-defeating, and contrary to Israel’s interests in pursuing an agreement with the Palestinians that will bring an end to the century-old conflict that has produced bloodshed and tragedy on both sides.
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