NEW YORK (JTA) – While the coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate the news cycle, 2020 is still an election year – and Jews have a lot to say about the remaining presidential contenders. We know from public opinion polling that Jewish Americans vote on a wide variety of issues, and take much more than a candidate’s views on Israel and policies to combat antisemitism into consideration.
The following opinion pieces present two unique perspectives on what matters in 2020 and which candidate stands a cut above the rest.
As the Ledger went to press on Monday, March 23, Sen. Bernie Sanders had yet to withdraw from the race to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. However, political pundits agreed that his chances of winning the nomination were slim to none – leaning heavily towards none. And so, we offer here opinion pieces presenting the viewpoints of only two candidates: President Donald Trump and Sen. Joe Biden.)
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
The Jewish case for President Donald Trump
By Josh Hammer
WASHINGTON (JTA) – I know that many American Jews are not the biggest fans of President Donald Trump. But I also know that when it comes to Jewish issues, no candidate is better.
President Donald Trump is the most emphatically pro-Israel U.S. president since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948. He is the most instinctively philo-Semitic president at least since Abraham Lincoln spoke of America as an “almost chosen people” – and perhaps since George Washington himself assured the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island that each child of the “Stock of Abraham” would forever “sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree.”
In addition to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy there, he successfully withdrew from President Barack Obama’s capitulatory Iranian nuclear deal, a huge boon for the Jewish state, and has crippled the Islamic leadership with debilitating sanctions.
Recent Gallup polling suggests that a whopping 95% of American Jews hold favorable views of Israel. For all the hand-wringing about the role of Zionism in the future of American Jewry, these statistics speak for themselves: American Jews overwhelmingly support the world’s sole Jewish state. And there has been no greater presidential defender of that Jewish state than President Trump.
Trump has restored “peace through strength” deterrence throughout the Middle East and the confidence of our allies in the region – most recently by killing the ruthless Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
Palestinian-Arab nationalism has been a violent threat towards Israel since the state’s early days, and today’s Palestinian Authority continues that shameful legacy. The Trump administration has responded accordingly, closing the PLO mission in Washington, D.C. and defunding the PA due to its vile “pay-to-slay” jihad subsidization.
At the infamously anti-Israel United Nations, the Trump administration has consistently defended the Jewish state against the dictatorships that dominate that body. The administration has defunded UNRWA, the UN agency that perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by promulgating a definition for Palestinian-Arab “refugees” different than that for every other refugee group in the world. And the administration withdrew the U.S. from UNESCO, which has passed disgraceful resolutions denying all historical Jewish claims to Jerusalem.
The Trump administration has always protected Israel’s right to defend itself from incitement from Gaza and the West Bank, and has recently recognized the legality of Jewish “settlements” in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. His administration also formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic Golan Heights and has unveiled a plan for peace with the Palestinian-Arabs that is the most pro-Israel one ever offered by a U.S. president. After this “Deal of the Century” was unveiled, the administration successfully elicited hitherto unprecedented statements in support of recognition of Israel from leading Arab states.
This alone would comprise a compelling Jewish case to re-elect President Trump. But equally impressive has been the Trump administration’s profound commitment to a pro-Jewish, pro-religious liberty domestic agenda.
In December 2019, Trump signed a groundbreaking executive order to protect Jewish students across America under the statutory ambit of Title VI. “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to enforce Title VI against prohibited forms of discrimination rooted in antisemitism as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination prohibited by Title VI,” the executive order states. This is perhaps the single most symbolically and substantively philo-Semitic executive order that a U.S. president has ever issued.
The Trump administration’s commitment to religious liberty for all has been laudable. He has fought the Obama administration’s contraception mandate tooth and nail. President Trump has also updated federal guidance to bolster protection for school prayer and has recently proposed a rule under which the government “will not discriminate based on an organization’s religious character” when it comes to grant money for social service providers. Recently, he has also proposed a rule that would undo an Obama-era regulation limiting taxpayer funding for faith-based adoption agencies that support traditional family structures.
Finally, the president has appointed roughly a quarter of all federal circuit judges – nearly all of whom are committed to a robust conception of religious liberty under the law. The salutary effects of this judicial transformation will last for decades. Jews, who have often been the proverbial canary in the coal mine when it comes to government’s treatment of religion, stand to disproportionately benefit from a systemic governmental rededication to protecting religious liberty for all.
Yet the most obvious Jewish reason for supporting Trump may well be the nature of his remaining 2020 adversary. It was Joe Biden’s threat to halt U.S. aid to Israel nearly four decades ago that led then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin to issue his most famous words: “I am not a Jew with trembling knees.” It would be a shande to replace the rock-ribbed pro-Jewish, pro-Israel Trump with either of these contenders.
Josh Hammer is a syndicated columnist, of counsel at First Liberty Institute, and assists with the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty.
The Jewish case for a President Joe Biden
By Stuart E. Eizenstat
WASHINGTON (JTA) – Now that the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination in America is narrowing to a two-person race, the case for Joe Biden is even more compelling and urgent. I have known and worked with him since he entered the U.S. Senate more than 40 years ago, and then as vice president. From the start of this tortuous political contest, I never had any doubt that he deserves the overwhelming support of the American Jewish community.
Joe Biden has worked tirelessly with American Jewish organizations for tikkun olam, making our country and the world a better place and to combat growing anti-Semitism on the left and the right. As a senator, he was a champion for women’s rights, leading the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and for the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. He has been a strong supporter of civil rights for minorities, from the Voting Rights Act to marriage equality for LGBTQ individuals. He has been a leader against gun violence, twice successfully taking on the National Rifle Association.
As vice president, he was a key figure in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which extended health care benefits to millions of need Americans, now seeking to expand it with a Medicare option, and in defending it against the far right and Donald Trump and from the far left led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, now his principal opponent for the nomination.
From the beginning of his public career, Biden has understood the unique threats facing Israel. His first foreign trip as senator was to Israel in 1973 shortly before the Yom Kippur War, where he met with Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. He was a fervent advocate for resupplying Israel with arms after the first devastating Arab attacks against Israel seriously weakened its defenses.
That early experience speaks volumes about why he told the recent AIPAC Policy Conference that he knows “Israelis wake up every morning facing an existential threat from their neighbors – a rain of rockets from Gaza just this past week, threats and missiles from Iran and Hezbollah – Israelis live each day with tremendous courage.” As vice president, he was a key supporter for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile and a key architect of the landmark $38 billion 10-year defense program for Israel, the highest ever reached.
The next president must be trusted by both the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which Biden emphasized to AIPAC “is the best way to assure a secure and peaceful future for a Jewish and democratic State of Israel.” In negotiating with Israel during the Carter and Clinton Administrations, I learned it must have confidence that the president of the United States supports its interests. That is Joe Biden who told AIPAC, “Palestinians need to eradicate incitement in the West Bank and end the rocket attacks from Gaza. And they need to accept, once and for all, the reality and the right of a secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel in the Middle East.”
Even though Bernie Sanders worked briefly on a kibbutz as a young man, he can hardly be a trusted negotiator after boycotting the AIPAC conference (which he has never attended) and accusing it of giving a platform for “bigotry.” In last December’s Democratic debate he called the elected prime minister of Israel a “racist.” I have differences with Benjamin Netanyahu on his settlement policy, but such an epithet makes it impossible for Sanders to have any effective role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. These outbursts reflect his past positions. He has said he would use U.S. military assistance as leverage to block new settlements, and would even shift some of this military aid to Hamas-controlled Gaza.
In 2001, Sanders was in the distinct minority of members of Congress to oppose a resolution blaming the Second Intifada on Palestinian terrorism. I know from my own negotiations with Yasir Arafat that this was wrong. When I met Arafat in Ramallah in July of 2000 to report on our progress reducing Palestinian unemployment, he asked me to tell President Bill Clinton not to invite him to a summit with then Prime Minister Ehud Barak because he was not prepared to make compromises envisioned by Clinton that would have given the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as their capital. Arafat then incited the Intifada.
During the Gaza conflict in 2014, when Israel retaliated only after constant rocket attacks on southern Israel, Sanders declared that Israel had killed “over 10,000 innocent people.” This amounted to so many more casualties than even Hamas alleged that Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Sanders for his gross exaggeration.
Finally, and critically important at a time when the U.S. is deeply polarized, Joe Biden is a healer and a uniter. He stands for the best values of Judaism and our country, and he can reach out to independents and moderate Republicans. With Bernie Sanders we risk not only more division in our country through his appeal for a revolution on the left but also weaken the Democratic Party’s move toward cohesive strength to keep control of the House of Representatives, win back control of the Senate, and defeat President Donald Trump.
Stuart Eizenstat was Chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser to President Jimmy Carter; U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; Under Secretary of Commerce; Under Secretary of State; Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; and Special Representative of the President on Holocaust-Era Issues in the Clinton Administration; and Special Adviser to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry on Holocaust-Era Issues in the Obama-Biden administration.