How antisemitism will play in the US, Israel elections – analysis

This issue might be on the minds of the US Jews watching those early races, but it will likely not be one of the main issues.

A person answers the door at the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 29, 2019 in Monsey, New York. Five people were injured in a knife attack during a Hanukkah party and a suspect was later arrested in Harlem. (photo credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/ GETTY IMAGES)
A person answers the door at the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 29, 2019 in Monsey, New York. Five people were injured in a knife attack during a Hanukkah party and a suspect was later arrested in Harlem.
(photo credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/ GETTY IMAGES)
A shooting attack on a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, numerous physical attacks on arbitrary Jews in the streets of New York City, a stabbing attack at the house of a rabbi in Monsey.
These December incidents, and the sudden uptick of antisemitism in the United States, is something that is very much on the mind of US Jews today, and it is a safe bet this will be the case for months to come as the US enters the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign.
The issue may very well be raised in one of the upcoming debates for Democratic primary contenders, during which each candidate will dutifully decry it. The issue will certainly be raised by candidates on the stump, including US President Donald Trump, especially when they are addressing Jewish audiences.
But antisemitism, as well as combating antisemitism, will not be one of the key issues in the minds of the voters in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries in February.
This issue might be on the minds of the US Jews watching those early races, but it will likely not be one of the main issues that voters in those states will tell pollsters they are most concerned about. Considering the short shrift these attacks have gotten in the press across the country, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Jews are paying attention to the constant drip of attacks on Jews, and everybody else – a little bit.
Which does not mean that the issue will not be an issue at all in the upcoming US presidential campaign. It will be, but indirectly. Those opposed to Trump will surely try to drop the antisemitism squarely at his feet. They will focus on the Jew hatred coming from the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis, the far Right, and say that Trump – with his divisive rhetoric, his use of what they say are antisemitic tropes, and his anti-immigrant policies and actions – has given them a back wind.
They will ignore all Trumps’ statements against antisemitism, all he has done for Israel, his recent signing of an executive order to combat antisemitism on campus, and the fact that he has a Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. They will ignore all of that and say the antisemitism is his fault.
The Right, on the other hand, will point to the antisemitism of Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, as well as to the antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism on college campuses that is making Jews there feel uncomfortable about even identifying with the Jewish state. They will clear Trump of any responsibility and say he doesn’t mean anything when he uses Jewish stereotypes.
So when people go to the ballot box, they won’t be voting on the issue of antisemitism per se, but it will be in the mix. If in the past, the headline-grabbing violence against Jews – such as the shootings at synagogues near San Diego and in Pittsburgh – have been carried out by the far Right, the profile of those behind the recent attacks in Jersey City and Monsey have been different.
And, that will make it more difficult to accuse Trump of the spike in antisemitism, and strengthen those saying he cannot be blamed for the uptick in American Jew hatred. And, this may matter politically in swing states with significant Jewish populations, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and – to some degree – even Ohio and Michigan.
If the presidential race is close in those states – as it will likely be – the subjective feelings of the Jews there and their determinations about where the antisemitism is coming from and who is ultimately to blame, could make a difference as to how they vote, which in turn could impact who wins those states.
In Israel, meanwhile, the country’s leading politicians all quickly condemned Saturday night’s Monsey attack – from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, to Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman – who went the extra mile and said that the answer to antisemitism is immigration to Israel.
Here, too, the issue will not be a prominent part of the election campaign. In a campaign that will be dominated by one issue – should Netanyahu lead – issues such as antisemitism abroad will get little air time and be on a far back burner.
If even the Palestinian issue is unlikely to gain much traction in this campaign, issues affecting Diaspora Jews will get even less attention. Don’t be expecting anybody to run on a campaign of putting forth some kind of agenda regarding Israel’s relationship to Diaspora, and what mutual responsibilities the members of the two communities have one to the other. Don’t be expecting the candidates to thrash out what Israel realistically could or should do to enhance the sense of security of Jews abroad.
Following the rash of antisemitic attacks, both US and Israeli politicians will fully condemn antisemitism. What they won’t do, however, is present a concrete plan as to how to stop it.


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