Love for Israel is not enough. A vote for pro-Israel candidates is needed

Jewish voters' love for Israel in their hearts needs to translate through to the ballot box.

US DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL candidate Joe Biden arrives at a campaign event in Hermantown, Minnesota, September 18, 2020 (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
US DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL candidate Joe Biden arrives at a campaign event in Hermantown, Minnesota, September 18, 2020
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
My upbringing took place in a secular American Jewish home. At some point during my college years, following my turn toward tradition, I questioned my mother about her Jewish identity. Her response was “I am Jewish in my heart.” But my mother’s cardiac Judaism had very little influence on her day to day life.
Similarly, we learn from a recent study of American Jewish voting patterns, authored by Professor Gil Troy under the auspices of the Ruderman Family Foundation and titled “The Jewish Vote 2020: More Empowered than Powerful,” that American Jews support Israel in their hearts. Only 4% define Israel as their first or second most important election concern. Of higher priority to America’s Jews are domestic issues such as racial equality, LGBT rights, healthcare, gun control, Social Security and Medicare.
Nevertheless, their feelings for Israel, they report, abide. The 2013 Pew Research Center study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” referred to in the Ruderman report, indicates that “the overwhelming majority of American Jews are not just pro-Israel, but proud of their connection to the Jewish state.”
But they do not express their proud connection at the ballot box. And just as Jewish identity based on sentiment alone carries consequences for the Jewish future, so too are their ramifications for harboring special feelings toward Israel while being unmindful of its realities.
This is currently manifest in the fast approaching November American presidential election. The overwhelming choice of American Jews for president, Democratic candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden, has made clear his commitment to rejoining the 2015 JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the “Iranian nuclear deal”) and rescinding the punishing economic sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration. The agreement’s supporters argue that its terms, in combination with international monitoring, will ultimately foil Iran’s drive toward creating its own nuclear arsenal.
Critics see it merely as a way of delaying Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as the restrictions on its ability to enrich uranium under the terms of the agreement now expire within five to 10 years. Additionally, as a “signing bonus,” some $30 billion in frozen assets, possibly even more, were released to Iran. This was seen as further enabling the international terrorist activities of the Shia regime.
The loudest critic of the JCPOA, for obvious reasons, is Israel. Iran’s leaders have threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” They employ language reminiscent of Hitler and Goebbels. A day after the agreement was signed, polls taken indicated that between 70%-78% of Israelis opposed it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice brought Israel’s case to the plenum of the United Nations, and in an unprecedented action did the same before a specially called joint session of the US Congress. This was not at the invitation of the president of the United States, but rather the opposition Republican speaker of the house.
WHAT HE SAW as Netanyahu’s disrespect for the office of the president and himself infuriated Barack Obama and discomfited countless Jewish Democrats. The latter were more attentive to the president’s response to this embarrassment than they were to the content of the Israeli leader’s message of existential consequence. In a public dispute between this particular US president and Israel’s prime minister, American Jews could not, would not, challenge a man upon whom they looked with almost messianic fervor, their president.
How different this affair was from the fall of 1981, when the organized American Jewish community confidently stood up to Republican president Ronald Reagan. Reagan had committed the United States, over Israel’s strenuous objections, to providing Saudi Arabia with five state-of-the-art E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, in the largest international armaments sale to that date. The sale threatened Israel’s regional QME, or Qualitative Military Edge. American Jews had no difficulty importuning a Republican president on behalf of the Jewish state. The sale to the Saudis was consummated. There were no domestic political consequences for the Jewish community.
Seeking historical analogies can be misleading but can also offer lessons from the past. Only one other US president was as venerated by America’s Jews as Barack Obama: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the four elections, in which he ran for president and won – 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944 – Roosevelt received 82%, 85%, 90% and 90%, respectively, of the Jewish vote. But as has been revealed over time, most recently in Raphael Medoff’s The Jews Should Keep Quiet, the Jews’ esteem for Roosevelt was not mutual.
Although an unprecedented number of Jews were hired by the Roosevelt administration, his attitude toward Jews as a group was disparaging. Still, American Jews remained in awe of him. So much in awe that from the early 1930s on, even as word of the growing Nazi persecution of Jews was reported in both general American and Jewish circles, including reports of mass extermination, most American Jews refrained from any form of public demonstration.
They never contemplated putting direct pressure on the White House as they were to do four decades later. Was this because they agreed with Roosevelt’s strategy or because they were unwilling to challenge him, even as the slaughter of Europe’s Jews continued apace?
The election of Joe Biden in November virtually guarantees re-instituting the JCPOA, what Netanyahu refers to as “that very bad deal.” The deal depends upon the compliance of Iran’s leaders who, similar to Adolf Hitler, have threatened to annihilate the Jews (of Israel) and for whom international agreements may serve merely as a tactical means to their own dark ends.
Former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz has quipped that liberalism has become the religion of most American Jews, and the Democratic Party their church. It is thus unthinkable for the vast majority of American Jews not to cast their vote for Biden. But by doing so they will, according to Israel’s own estimate and that of others, be aiding Iran in procuring with time the nuclear technology to actualize its threats against the State of Israel.
The majority of American Jews carry special feeling toward Israel, but these cannot compete with their liberalism expressed through a fierce loyalty to the Democratic Party. Does not such cardiac Zionism today contribute to jeopardizing the security of the Jewish state?
The writer is the founder and director of in Efrat.