Should Jews worry about Trump?

While many Jewish Americans recoil at the prospect of seeing him in the White House, the billionaire can count on the backing of the anybody-but-Hillary crowd.

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) general session in Washington, March 21. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) general session in Washington, March 21.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
DONALD TRUMP, the Republican Party front-runner in the US presidential race, is a populist nationalist businessman whose positions reflect the sentiments of his white working-class constituency. More than any one particular stance, Trump’s opponents are repelled by his crude demeanor, narcissism, and rancor – characteristics one would think are well outside the Jewish American comfort zone.
Indeed, many Jewish Republicans are uneasy.
The ideologically driven neocons are breaking away.
William Kristol of The Weekly Standard is fervently against Trump; Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution has labeled the candidate a “Republican Frankenstein” and New York financier Paul Singer, a big time GOP contributor, is reportedly leading a campaign to stop Trump. It is unlikely that the neocon monthly Commentary will embrace Trump, though that would mean, astonishingly, having no one to cheer on in a presidential election. All this suggests that Republicans will have to work extra hard to retain their roughly 29 percent of the Jewish vote.
Still, apparatchiks at the Republican Jewish Coalition ‒ which declined to comment for this article ‒ can be expected to remain in the fold even with Trump as the nominee.
So, too, are big donors hedging their bets.
Sheldon Adelson, for instance, has purportedly been making noises about favoring Trump over Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton. Trump reportedly also enjoys backing among some ultra-Orthodox social conservatives and non-college educated working class Jews. Jackie Mason, the 84 year-old stand-up comedian, has come to Trump’s defense against Jewish critics. And Breitbart, the Jewish-owned populist conservative website, is blatantly pro-Trump.
On social media, Jews 4 Trump’s Facebook page has 9,000 likes (albeit predicated on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz being on Trump’s ticket for vice-president). A Jews for Trump Twitter feed has 1,500 followers.
Moreover, there is one bloc of Jews ‒ a wide tent of Republicans and Democrats, Orthodox and non-denominational ‒ who will vote for Trump because they want anyone-but-Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee.
A member of a modern Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey, an engineer by profession, who, tellingly, like most Trump-leaning Jews interviewed by The Jerusalem Report, asked that his name not be used, says he plans to vote for the cantankerous billionaire. According to him Trump may well not embody integrity and honor, but he’s better than Clinton. “I know exactly what we will get with Hillary. We will get at least four more years of Barack Obama. Trump will be no worse than Hillary and could turn out to be better.”
Likely Jewish Trump voters are unfazed by the candidate’s controversial pronouncements, which include telling CNN that if he heads into the Cleveland convention with more delegates than anyone else, even if he’s short of the 1,237 needed to clinch the nomination, his followers will riot if his ambitions are thwarted. Likewise, he has implied that his supporters should punch disruptive protesters in the face.
Trump seldom entirely retracts any statement no matter how mendacious – such as his assertion that New Jersey Muslims celebrated on 9/11 as the Twin Towers collapsed. His demagoguery ‒ he’s still a “birther” questioning whether President Barack Obama is a natural born citizen ‒ has paid off.
Trump directs his appeal at disenfranchised working-class Americans by telling them that he’ll “make America great again,” intimating that he’ll reverse the demographic decline of whites by “humanely” deporting 11 million mostly Hispanic, illegal aliens; will protect the homeland by banning Muslims from entering, and will build an impenetrable barrier on the Mexican border.
He promises to fight the Islamist threat no holds barred, ramp up US attacks on the Islamic State, and “take back” the Internet that ISIS uses to “brainwash” potential supporters.
The paradoxical outlines of Trump’s foreign policy are emerging.
He wants an America that is noninterventionist but hard-nosed. He’ll parlay with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and leave the Ukraine for Europeans to handle. He’s agnostic about NATO’s value; would renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, but wouldn’t scrap it. On Syria, he prefers to let ISIS and the Assad regime fight it out. He claims to have opposed the ruinous 2003 US invasion of Iraq and asserts he would have blocked North Korea from obtaining the atom bomb, but now he’d leave it to China to manage Pyongyang.
He told The Washington Post that he’s taking foreign-policy advice from Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions (an unyielding opponent of illegal immigration), former Army lieutenant-general Keith Kellogg, Russia expert Carter Page, former Ben Carson adviser George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares, a Lebanese-born Maronite Christian and Joseph Schmitz, a former executive at military contractor Blackwater.
On economics, he promises to confront Beijing over dumping goods and currency manipulation and also take on Mexico for stealing American jobs. In Trump’s America, Obamacare would be replaced by a health-savings account scheme. He opposes raising the $7.25 national minimum wage, but argues, not unconvincingly, that free-trade agreements too often leave semiskilled American workers in the lurch. He’d renegotiate the NAFTA free trade arrangement; block the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and punish US corporations that take their jobs overseas. Like many of his supporters, he is a climate-change skeptic.
As for money in politics, the No. 324 on the Forbes list of world billionaires (he’s No. 113 on the US roster) has declared, “I’m not accepting any money from anybody.”
Most of the money Trump’s plowed into the campaign is in loans that will likely be recouped from federal campaign matching funds. He’s taken in a further $8 million in contributions via the donate buttons on his website. Moreover, he’s spent little on advertising simply because he doesn’t need to.
On social policy, Trump, who’d been pro-choice until 2011, is now against abortion.
He’d leave affirmative action in place.
Since 2012, he has opposed the sale of assault weapons and favors longer waiting periods for gun buyers. But as a gun owner himself, he says Americans have a constitutional right to own weapons.
Trump is not just a GOP phenomenon. His supporters can also be found among registered Democrats, although in most states (in the US, states set their own primary election rules) they have not been able to vote for him during the primary season.
Clearly, his brew of populism and nationalism appeals to less affluent, non-college-educated Americans whiplashed by cultural changes that have left them feeling marginalized.
They are distrustful of government.
This cohort is also embittered as they witness America’s transformation into a nation where the numbers of people of color are growing. Today’s US is 64 percent white non-Hispanic, but most children under the age of five are non-white. By 2044, whites are projected to become the minority.
Trump claims to be drawing support from thousands of Americans who hadn’t previously gone to the polls. Some may be attracted by his forceful persona. About 37 percent of Republicans, 39 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats who are Trump supporters show signs of being allured by the prospect of a strong leader, according to pollster Matthew MacWilliams writing in Politico. Trump has even re-tweeted a quote attributed to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Howard B. Weber, a Manhattan attorney long active in pro-Israel activism, tells The Report that what matters is that “the majority of Trump voters are strong supporters of Israel. They may not endorse liberal Jewish policies, but they respect our only democratic ally in the Middle East.”
America’s Jews are indeed mostly liberal, comparatively well-off, and ‒ in contrast to Trump’s core voters ‒ disproportionately well educated. Still, the anyone-but-Hillary dissenters in the community are not dissuaded by Trump’s populism.
A Boston-based corporate executive active in GOP affairs tells The Report that the claims that Trump supporters are drawn by his authoritarian appeal are baseless. If anything, it’s the far left that cherishes thought conformity, he says. “Trump’s base is the people who fight our wars and pay the taxes.
I don’t share their views and I doubt his judgment, but I have come to appreciate his perceptive ability to identify the intensity of the need to speak about things the government does that have been frustrating people for many years.”
The executive says that Trump is surely no worse than Clinton, whom he describes as “a pathological liar,” “one of the most detestable human beings in public life,” and an “incompetent” responsible for US foreign policy failures from Libya and Syria to Russia and Iran. “Trump’s challenges with the truth are small potatoes compared to her lies. And still, most American Jews will vote for her.”
Nor are the Republican-leaning pro- Trump Jews overly perturbed that the old right has lined up behind Trump with Pat Buchanan cautioning that disloyal neo-cons are working to sabotage Trump’s nomination.
White supremacist David Duke says the Zionist-controlled media has been misleading Americans by claiming that he supports the billionaire candidate. Duke says he has merely acknowledged that Trump is the “best of the lot.”
Likewise, African-American supremacist Louis Farrakhan says he is not backing Trump though, “I like what I’m looking at,” namely a candidate “who has stood in front of the Jewish community and said I don’t want your money.” The Nation of Islam minister sees Trump as not reliant on “those who control the politics of America.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), it seems that there is something about Trump’s demeanor that appeals to racist individuals and extremist groups.
Trump told a CNN interviewer that he hasn’t a clue about white supremacy and knows “nothing about David Duke.” On reflection, he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that “David Duke is a bad person who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years.” Trump explained that he had not immediately condemned Duke because, “I don’t like to disavow groups if I don’t know who they are. I mean, you could have Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in groups.”
In response to Trump’s behavior, the ADL has announced it will redirect the $56,000 he has donated to the group over the years “specifically into anti-bias education programs that address exactly the kind of stereotyping and scapegoating he has injected into this political season.” It urged other Jewish groups who have benefited from Trump’s largesse to follow suit.
The New Jersey engineer who plans to vote “against Hillary” says, “My biggest concern is that Trump appeals to the worst in people. I don’t believe he is good for the Jews, but I’m not sure we have seen many presidents who have been good for the Jews.” He feels it’s unlikely Trump will exploit his appeal to attack Jews, threaten their security, or interfere with their religious freedoms. But he is troubled by the “culture of hate and scapegoating” Trump is stoking.
Trump’s populism is the antithesis of ideological politics, which tries to lay out a consistent set of policies. That has rankled the billionaire Koch brothers (who are not Jewish) and have for the past decade bankrolled the ostensibly grass roots Tea Party movement. Trump has co-opted Tea Party activists from this stridently conservative and libertarian elite, who had themselves fought to capture the soul of the GOP. Some Tea Party leaders like editor Erick Erickson have by no means reconciled themselves to Trump.
Historically, populism in America has found adherents during periods of economic dislocation.
“You can’t make a revolutionary out of a guy with two cars and an electric lawn mower and a fur toilet seat,” said white supremacist George Lincoln Rockwell (1918- 1967). And, during the 1880s and 1890s, for instance, a populist agrarian protest developed that backed William Jennings Bryant.
Later, Huey Long (1893-1935) built a left-leaning movement advocating wealth redistribution. In 1968, Alabama’s governor George Wallace captured 14 percent of the American vote on a segregationist platform. In 1992, third-party insurgent billionaire Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the popular vote. Now, Trump has exploited the populism unleashed by the Tea Party in recent US election campaigns and made it his own.
Liberal Jews aren’t the only ones left confused by Trump’s ascendency. One veteran pro-Israel evangelical Christian pastor tells The Report that he doubts the candidate or his self-described evangelical supporters are genuine Christians. “When asked if he ever asks forgiveness, he responded that he never did, because, in his opinion, he’d never done anything wrong. No Christian, evangelical or otherwise, would tag themselves as ‘sinless.’” The presumptive Republican nominee is a Presbyterian rarely seen in church. He does not touch liquor, having seen his brother Freddy succumb to alcoholism at age 43.
Trump does not smoke and avoids coffee.
Though educated at New York Military Academy, Fordham University, and the Wharton Business School, Trump steers clear of highfalutin oratory. He talks with simplicity, takes care to repeat his message in just about every answer, and has a knack for sizing up an audience – when to reason and when to play to their emotions.
He can also be uncouth. The twice-divorced, reality-show personality has not-so-obliquely bragged about the size of his penis. He presents as someone who is volatile and unpredictable. Yet Weber, while unenthusiastic about a Trump presidency, says he can live with the mogul’s bad manners.
“American Jews like me are tired of being sold out and lied to by liberal politicians who pander for the Jewish vote and financial backing and then either ignore us or try to sell Israel down the river,” he asserts.
A religiously observant East Coast copyright lawyer, who for business reasons prefers not to be identified, tells The Report that Trump’s unpredictability can turn out to be a plus “I believe that Iran will act differently with Trump in office, rather than Hillary.
Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan were not intellectuals but they were great leaders.
The world is getting ever tougher and more difficult, whether American Jews realize it or not. In this environment, volatility and unpredictability are not only OK, they’re desirable traits,” he contends.
Trump can also be patronizing. He basically told well-heeled Jewish GOP donors that he plans to be good for the Jews even though they’ll never be able to control him – the remark that drew Farrakhan’s approbation.
On December 3, 2015, Trump said, “You’re not gonna support me even though you know I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel. And I’ll be that. And I know why you’re not going to support me.
You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy?” Not one to hold back, he added, “You want to control your own politician.”
Channeling the fictional “lovable bigot” Archie Bunker, Trump told the Jewish donors that on situations like Iran, “I’m a negotiator like you folks were negotiators,” after all, “Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”
Trump says ‒ and the-anyone-but-Hillary Jews agree ‒ that he can’t possibly be prejudiced, pointing to the fact that his daughter Ivanka and his two grandchildren are Jewish.
Ivanka converted in an Orthodox ceremony before marrying New York Observer publisher Jared Kushner, whose father Charles Kushner is a major real-estate developer.
Moreover, Trump’s top corporate aide, Michael Cohen, is Jewish, according to the JTA.
As further proof that Jews have nothing to fear, Trump repeatedly cites his 2004 role as a grand marshal at New York’s annual Salute to Israel Parade. More recently, he was feted at a fund-raising dinner in support of the Algemeiner, a hawkish Orthodox-leaning website. Having labeled Obama “the worst enemy of Israel,” Trump expressed incredulity that the president nonetheless had garnered Jewish backers for his reelection campaign.
Curiously, though, on the Arab-Israel conflict, Trump appears solidly aligned with the liberal Jewish mainstream. He pledges to be a neutral broker of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Trump had intended to visit Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last December. But after the hullabaloo set off by Trump’s advocacy of banning Muslims from entering America, Netanyahu was cornered into issuing a statement about how Israel strictly guarantees the rights of its Muslim citizens. Trump postponed the visit, saying he didn’t want to complicate Netanyahu’s life.
Trump has made noises that would warm the hearts of any Jewish dove. “First thing you have to ask, do they both want to make [peace]?” he said in a December 2015 interview with the Associated Press. “I have a real question as to whether both sides want to make it. I have a real question as to whether one side in particular, whether or not they want to make it. I think one side actually would like a deal and I think the other one maybe doesn’t want a deal, to be honest.”
Later he reportedly clarified, “In my opinion, if Israel wants a deal I think a deal can be made.”
Weber tells the Report that Trump is merely setting the stage to appear as an honest broker. “It’s part of his ‘art of the deal.’ He has an Orthodox son-in-law and has received awards from pro-Israel groups.
Plus, he hates the enemies of Israel more than many Israelis.”
New York City school teacher Gail Gorman agrees. “Despite his comment about being ‘neutral’ ‒ which I believe is merely a negotiating tactic ‒ Hillary’s duplicity when it comes to Israel makes almost any alternative look better.”
The Trump-supporting Boston executive acknowledges that Trump is not his first choice. But he says Clinton’s record on Israel is dodgy, pointing to the influence of her top aide Huma Abedin, whose brother Hassan reportedly had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and to Clinton’s 1999 kiss to Suha Arafat just after she had accused Israel of using poison gas that she claimed resulted in an increase in cancer cases in the West Bank. Clinton later said that in the Middle East “a kiss is like a handshake” and, because Arafat was speaking in Arabic, she didn’t immediately pick up on her “inflammatory” claims about poisoning.
The New Jersey engineer argues that while Trump may not be definitively pro- Israel, he is strong on national security, which is a positive.
“My hope is that he will surround himself with advisers who will bring some perspective to his decisions on Israel. My biggest concern is that he will pressure Israel to make concessions to prove that he is the ‘consummate deal maker.’” But whatever happens, he says, “I don’t believe he would be worse than Hillary.”
Meanwhile, Israelis seem serene about the possibility of a Trump presidency.
The campaign is well-covered on Israeli television and in the Hebrew press. A recent Israel Democracy Institute survey revealed that 61 percent of Jewish Israelis see Trump as “very” or “moderately” pro-Israel. Just 14 percent see him as hostile. Nonetheless, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was recently in Washington trying to nail down details of a US military aid package before Obama leaves office. That appears to be a reversal of the Netanyahu government’s decision to wait out Obama in hopes that the next president will be more generous.
Indeed, Trump says there are countries that can reimburse the US for military aid, among them Israel and South Korea.
When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) invited Trump – along with all the other viable candidates ‒ to address its Washington policy conference on March 21, the Reform Movement, a key AIPAC constituency, issued a statement emphasizing that the invitation should not be construed as an endorsement.
“His campaign has been replete with naked appeals to bigotry, especially against Hispanics and Muslims,” the statement said. Some Reform rabbis attending the conference went further and demonstrably walked out on Trump – a tactic advocated by Jane Eisner, editor of the left-leaning Forward newspaper. Tablet, a liberal Jewish ideas website has created a “Trump Watch” column and made sardonic comparisons between Trump and Hitler.
After telling the AIPAC audience that he hadn’t come to “pander to you about Israel,” he said he would “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran”; use the US veto in the UN Security Council to protect Israel against an imposed solution; that he held the Palestinians responsible for the deadlock in resolving the conflict; and would insist they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also pledged to “move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Trump was cordially, at times warmly, applauded even before he threw in that “My daughter Ivanka is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby!” The address may assuage concerns about Trump foremost among the nearly 30 percent of Jewish voters who have previously broken with the Democrats. Weber believes that, no matter who their candidate is, the Republicans may actually garner more Jewish support this election because Clinton is so unappealing.
“There is just no way that I am going to vote for Clinton,” says Allen Einhorn, of Brooklyn who works for a company that markets greeting cards. “No way. No matter what.”
These sentiments are echoed by Weber. “I have no idea whether Trump is actually intelligent enough to be president. But Hillary is a non-starter for me.”
He concludes, “Of course, it’s hard to trust a man with an orange complexion and bad hair, but I really believe he will stand by Israel.”
Follow Elliot Jager on Twitter @JAGERFILE