American Jewry and the Trump impeachment

Polls show most Israelis appreciate Trump even as the majority of American Jews cannot stomach him

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, U.S., October 17, 2019 (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, U.S., October 17, 2019
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
Within hours of the impeachment of US President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, the Jewish Democratic Council of America loudly applaud the move.
Halie Soifer, the organization’s executive director, issued a statement saying, “As Jewish Americans committed to government that represents our values, such as defending our democracy and the pursuit of justice, we support the impeachment of Donald Trump and call on the Senate to do the same.”
 
Reading that communique, I thought back to a recent conversation with an American-Jewish friend who said he was worried that so many Jews were prominently involved in Trump’s impeachment – from Adam Schiff, the head of the House intelligence Committee, to Jerrold Nadler, the head of the House Judiciary Committee.
 
And that is only the beginning. The two lead counsels for both those committees, as a recent column in the Jewish News Service pointed out, are Jews: Daniel Goldman and Norman Eisen.
 
The most harmful testimony to Trump in the Intelligence Committee, came from two Jews – Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman of the White House’s National Security Council. And fully three of the four law professors who argued before the Judiciary committee that Trump had indeed committed high crimes and misdemeanors were also Jews.
Don’t worry, I assured my friend, only the Jews themselves are paying attention, and connecting those dots.
 
Not true, he replied – so are the antisemites.
 
And, indeed, the antisemites have pounced on this, with Richard Wiles – a Florida pastor and founder of TruNews – railing about a “Jew coup” against Trump in a virulent and frightening antisemitic segment on a show he hosts.
No, not only the Jews are paying attention.
 
But non-Jews – if they did notice the Jewish names involved in the impeachment process – must also be confounded by the fact that this same Trump was greeted with cheers of “four more years, four more years,” when he addressed the Israeli American Council in Hollywood, Florida earlier this month.

Moreover, Trump – in a six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting the impeachment process – listed among his achievements the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem, and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

For outside observers who may paint the Jewish people with one brush, those contradictions must be glaring and difficult to explain. Throw in the fact that Trump has a Jewish daughter and son-in-law who serves as his chief advisor, as well as Jewish grandchildren – and the picture becomes even muddier.

Much has been written in recent years about the growing rift between Israeli and American Jewry. Many place the responsibility for this rift on the shoulders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his decision to go to battle with US President Barack Obama over the Iranian nuclear deal and the settlements, as well as the government’s overall right-wing policies, have alienated significant segments of the overwhelmingly-liberal US Jewish community.

Others say that Trump – whom polls show most Israelis appreciate what he has done for Israel, but whom the majority of American Jews apparently cannot stomach – also brings those differences into stark relief.

But it is not only American and Israeli Jews who are split over Trump; there is also a division within American Jewry itself.

Soifer, in her communique, was not speaking for all of American Jews when she applauded the impeachment. She was speaking for the Jewish Democratic Council. But not all Jews are Democrats, and not all Jews hate Trump. Most do not have a favorable opinion of him, but not all.

Take the Orthodox community, for example.

A poll last week in the ultra-Orthodox publication Ami found 91% of American Orthodox Jews do not back Trump’s impeachment. The poll, which the magazine said was taken among 723 Orthodox Jews in 15 different US states, also found that 89% of Orthodox Jews have a favorable view of the US president.

True, only 10% of American Jews identified themselves as Orthodox in the 2013 landmark Pew study on American Jewry. But that was 2% more than the number that characterized themselves as such in a similar poll a decade earlier.

And something else that emerged from that poll is that this is the youngest demographic among US Jews, and also the fastest-growing one. So no, American Jewry, like Israeli Jewry, is by no means monolithic.

For example, in the 2016 elections, 24% – or about a quarter of America’s Jews – voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton. That is far less than a majority, but it is also not completely insignificant. In recent years, George H. W. Bush, Robert Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain all garnered a lower percentage of the Jewish vote than Trump.

Many were the Jews in America who certainly applauded the decision to impeach Trump on Wednesday. Many, as well, are the Jews concerned – as Jews have been throughout history in times of crisis and change – about how this will impact on antisemitism and on the Jewish community.

And, as the Ami poll showed, there are also Jews in the US – an integral part of the fabric of the American Jewish community – who think differently. American and Israeli Jews are not the only ones divided on Trump. There is a split – though by no means an equal one – on the matter within the US Jewish community as well.