Washington Watch: Republican Jews brand Biden anti-Israel

Under Trump’s leadership, Republicans have gone from trumpeting their support for Israel to calling Democrats of all stripes “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish.”

Then-US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look at each other as they deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem March 9, 2016 (photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
Then-US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look at each other as they deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem March 9, 2016
(photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
The Republican Jewish Coalition has consistently predicted a Jewish exodus from the Democratic Party, and just as consistently they’ve been wrong. This year will be no exception but with the extra virulence the group has taken on in the Trumpist GOP.
Under Trump’s leadership, Republicans have gone from trumpeting their support for Israel to calling Democrats of all stripes “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish.” This president has fostered Islamophobia, winked at antisemitism and questioned the loyalty of American Jews.
This is something new in modern America: a president enthusiastically courting the nation’s outright haters, and he has the support of a party of lemmings frightened to demur. Those who do (Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Justin Amash), are quickly drummed out of the party.
“Oh, that’s just Trump being Trump. He’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.” his followers will shrug.  And they’re right. The trouble is what’s really on his mind.
In a time of national crisis, he holds daily campaign rallies in the guise of briefings; bashes his critics in terms more suitable to primary school playgrounds than the Oval Office; wages an unprecedented war on the media, attacks Democratic governors; and parades corporate execs and contributors across his little stage with ad hoc infomercials, plugs and praise.
Lately he has urged his followers to take to the streets to “liberate” their states from Democratic governors, following White House social distancing directives, resulting in disturbing images of armed-to-the-teeth protesters on state capitol steps. There have even been barely disguised calls for violence as he exhorted Virginians to “save your great Second Amendment,” as if that somehow would defeat COVID-19.
Now that Joe Biden has locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, Trump has stepped up his vitriol, and his RJC lapdogs are trying to brand the former vice president as “anti-Israel” and dominated by antisemites.
In a fundraising letter headed “Anti-Israel Joe Biden,” RJC executive director Matt Brooks warned that Biden will ignore his own nearly 50-year pro-Israel record to follow “Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren… proving that this is no longer the old Democrat Party of bipartisan support for Israel.”
Calling Biden anti-Israel is like calling Trump honest and modest.
Biden has a long and well-documented record of support for Israel.  In my years at AIPAC, I got to know and work with him, and I can attest to his bona fides. He hasn’t been a sycophant or a Likudnik, and he’s not been afraid to criticize Israeli policies that he felt were not in the interests of Israeli-American friendship. 
He’s a longtime critic of Israel’s aggressive settlements policy, saying it serves neither the cause of Israeli security or peace. He clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when plans to build 1,600 new settler homes were unveiled just as the vice president arrived in an effort to revive peace negotiations. Biden condemned the announcement as “undermin[ing]” peace efforts.
Yet none of that puts him outside the realm of American Jewish opinion, despite the far-right ravings of the RJC.  
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who worked with Biden in the Senate as well as in the Obama administration, said the former veep “has wide and deep support and affection in the Jewish community,” not only for his support for the US-Israel alliance but on the broad domestic agenda of issues like healthcare, the economy, climate change, immigration, gun safety, women’s rights, LGBQT rights and other issues where Trump consistently is on the other side.
THERE LIES the RJC’s Jewish problem. Brooks, who makes north of $630,000 a year, according to The Forward, has spent three decades at the RJC trying and failing to convince Jews, who consistently vote 3:1 Democratic, to switch to Republican. No matter how many gifts Trump tosses to Netanyahu and to Israel, Jews will continue voting Democratic - even more so as a raging president rachets up his appeals to a white-supremacist, xenophobic minority.
Israel is not the determinant issue when most Jews go to the polls.  In fact, it is low and shrinking on their agenda, in large part because Israel has been moving away from them and farther to the Right under the influence of extreme religious, nationalist and settler forces.
With the pandemic dominating our daily lives and the coming election, issues like healthcare, economic revival, unemployment and public welfare will overshadow foreign policy, barring something unforeseen.
Trump can try to grab headlines with his usual diversions like another immigration ban, an appeal to gun enthusiasts, calls for “liberation,” and with claims that he is leading the fight against the pandemic when he is actually trailing far behind governors. But none of that will impel Jewish voters to turn away from the centrist Biden; quite the contrary.
The RJC appeal to Jewish contributors suggests the former vice president can’t be a friend of Israel and the Jews because of “antisemites like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib Support Joe Biden.” The RJC embraces Trump’s portrayal of the freshman members of Congress as the antisemitic face of the Democratic Party and, by extension, a possible Biden presidency.
If that’s too subtle, the appeal is headed “Anti-Israel Joe Biden.”
Omar and Tlaib, from Minnesota and Michigan respectively, are the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress; both are outspoken critics of Israel with a bent for antisemitic tropes (not unlike Trump himself). They’re hardly typical of any of their colleagues in either party, but a convenient target for Trump and the RJC.
Halie Soifer, executive director of Jewish Democratic Council, the RJC’s counterpart, tweeted that Trump “will continue to use Israel to justify and shield his use of negative stereotypes targeting Muslims. Jewish voters see this for what it is: hateful & racist.”
Brooks seems untroubled by Trump’s enthusiastic support from neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists and like-minded “fine people.”
Also damning, in the RJC’s view, the former veep was endorsed by “the viciously anti-Israel group, J Street.” Biden thanked J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, for its endorsement, praising the group’s “unyielding dedication to the survival and security of Israel.”
He has enjoyed a close relationship with J Street as well as with AIPAC, which does not openly endorse candidates.
Democratic activist Aaron Keyak said, “Republicans were going to call the Democratic nominee anti-Israel regardless of who it was.” However, with Biden heading the ticket the charge is prima facie absurd.
But that won’t deter the RJC, whose real targets are the deep pockets of big Jewish contributors like Sheldon Adelson, or Trump, who has repeatedly accused American Jews who vote for Democrats as “being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
“His insistence that Jews must be loyal to Israel is widely considered to be an antisemitic stereotype,” NBC pointed out. Can a politician “love” Israel and work to foment a radical, antisemitic fringe? That’s something Jewish voters are certain to reject in November.