What does the US 2020 election day mean for Israel?

Only 4% of Jewish voters identify Israel as their top or second-most important issue.

Elections poster showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US President Donald Trump (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Elections poster showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US President Donald Trump
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As the US entered the 100-day stretch before its November 3 Election Day, the Ruderman Family Foundation published a position paper on August 25 on what it called a watershed campaign for US Jewry’s deep engagement in the American political process.
Perhaps the most significant finding of “The Jewish Vote 2020: More Empowered Than Powerful,” authored by the foundation and Prof. Gil Troy – distinguished scholar in North American History at McGill University – is that while the overwhelming majority of US Jews support Israel, they do not feel the need to express this in the voting booth.
This is why, it says, only 4% of Jewish voters identify Israel as their top or second-most important issue. Instead, in this coronavirus era, 43% prioritize health care, 28% gun violence, and 21% Social Security and Medicare.
“While the Jewish community’s participation in and attitudes toward the American political process have historically and routinely shaped American Jews’ identity, this year’s presidential campaign has carried unprecedented implications for that identity,” said Jay Ruderman, president of foundation, a private US-based philanthropic foundation established in 2002.
“Accordingly, our position paper is rooted in the understanding that it is crucial for American Jewry to study the lessons of the 2020 election and allow those lessons to inform the community’s identity-building journey in the decades to come.”
There are 6 million Jews in the US, second only to the 6.7 million Jews in Israel. Together, they comprise more than 80% of the world’s Jewish population. Because Israel and the US are such close allies, it is especially important at this time for Jerusalem – and Israelis – to keep out of the American election campaign and not take sides.
President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, are strong supporters of Israel, and there is every reason to believe that this will continue under whoever wins the 2020 presidential race.
In the same vein, Israel must remain a non-partisan issue and not become a wedge in the election battle between the Republicans and the Democrats.
That is why the speech Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave to the Republican National Convention - even though there is no questioning his friendship to Israel - was problematic since it gave the impression that Israel was complicit in a political move. Already, the Netanyahu government is suspected by Democrats of cozying up too much to Trump. This reinforces that claim.
The Ruderman position paper examines the unique attributes of this year’s presidential campaign, including its status as a “watershed seemingly dividing pro-Trump Israeli Jews from anti-Trump American Jews.”
“Talk of this split emphasizes the growing perception that most American Jews are becoming more distant from Israel – whereas, in fact, they remain pro-Israel,” the paper states. “It illuminates the ongoing and outsized role Jews play in the American political process – more empowered than all-powerful – as well as the ongoing and outsized role American politics plays in many American Jews’ identity, with many rooting their liberal politics in their Jewish heritage.”
Interestingly, this year’s presidential race features candidates – Trump and Biden – with children married to Jews, and both are grandfathers to Jewish grandchildren. In addition, Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, is married to a Jewish attorney, Douglass Emhoff.
Trump and Biden are doing all they can to court the Jewish vote. Harris said last week that Biden would offer unwavering support for Israel. “Joe has made it clear he will not tie security assistance to any political decisions that Israel makes and I couldn’t agree more,” Harris said.
Trump has clearly expressed his support for Israel by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, endorsing sovereignty on the Golan Heights, unveiling his peace plan, which does not require uprooting settlements, as well as brokering a peace accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates credited to his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
For Israel, then, the vote is a win-win – which is all the more reason it should stay out of the election fray.