Amid fractures in the American right and left wings over Israel and the cares and concerns of Jewish voters, particularly the dramatic rise in anti-Semitism, Jewish-American voters cannot afford to make a decision in the 2020 Presidential elections lightly.
By Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress
That’s why I’m asking all of the contenders for President to address the following three topics head-on:
- What tangible steps will you take against anti-Semitic violence and hate crime?
White supremacist violence against Jews has taken our sense of safety even in our safest places. For the first time in decades, Jewish Americans are afraid for themselves and for their children. Rates of hate crimes against Jews, which have been rising for years, have spiked even from a year ago.
Of course, it is the acts of great violence against our community that have left the deepest scars — the synagogue shooting in Poway was timed for the six-month anniversary of the massacre in Pittsburgh — but for every violent attack, the police seem to apprehend three more plots.
Swastika graffiti is nothing new, yet as larger acts of violence happen more often, we are reminded that every swastika is the seed for bloodshed. Aside from emotional and carefully-phrased condemnations, though, we have not heard much in the way of concrete solutions. We deserve to see these threats against Jews and non Jews answered.
I ask each candidate, what do you propose we do to combat white supremacist hate and domestic terrorism on a national scale? What will you do, if elected, to help Jewish people rest easier?
- How do we stop the politicization of anti-Semitism and Israel? What will you do to rise above it?
Considering how immediate issues about anti-Semitism and Israel feel to many Jewish Americans, it is endlessly frustrating to see these matters treated more as political/partisan checkboxes instead of things that affect Americans’ lives and futures.
The Jewish community wants leaders who will approach these issues based on merit and impact, not political salience. The same applies to the anti-Semitic rhetoric we have seen from our elected representatives — in interviews, in campaign ads, and on the House floor. While the other party will always leap to condemn harmful anti-Semitic words, many politicians excuse or justify them, or at least fail to condemn them, when it’s from their own party.
This tiresome pattern of double standards has left many of us feeling disenfranchised and overlooked by both parties. Israel matters to America for many reasons that shouldn’t be partisan. But Israel also matters personally to many Jewish Americans and affects our own families.
Unfortunately, the 2020 candidates are no exception to the trend of politicizing Israel; just last week, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg used assistance to Israel, one of the most long-standing bipartisan issues, as a political instrument in his fight for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
I call upon the candidates to tell the Jewish community: Can we count on you to approach issues related to anti-Semitism and Israel with your best judgment as a leader? How will you help to stop this trend of commodifying Jews and the Jewish vote? We want to know where you stand — and whether you will keep that stance in spite of new political winds.
How will you handle our Middle East policy in the context of what the Trump administration has already done?
The Trump administration’s actions in the Middle East have been controversial, and his ambitions to create a true Israeli-Palestinian peace plan have been met with a great deal of skepticism.
Objectively, Trump has accomplished a lot in the Middle East. Trump pulled out of UNRWA and the Iran Deal. He moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, fulfilling a decades-long promise of the U.S. Congress. He has withdrawn most of our presence in Syria — which was controversial with Israel and several other countries in the region. The upcoming Bahrain conference is bringing the U.S. to the table with the Middle East’s most powerful Arab states to discuss the region’s economic future, a big step.
By and large, any Democrat who is elected President will be expected to overturn what Trump has done in regard to Iran. I would argue that the new President should wait and see the outcomes of Trump’s policies before suggesting a complete overhaul.
However, the questions remain: How much are the candidates planning to change? If we were to reenter the Iran deal, as some candidates have proposed, how will the new deal be negotiated to assuage the concerns and existential fears of last time?
It is unavoidable that party politics will affect how we approach the Middle East. But these are some of the most complicated political situations in the world; sweeping yes/no answers will not suffice. I encourage you to get technical and to propose solid, nuanced policies. As prospective candidates for the presidency, your beliefs and positions matter to Jewish voters; as contenders for the Democratic nomination, this responsibility is only amplified.
The overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans vote Democrat, but they are also a subgroup of Democrats that don’t always align with the party norm. By answering difficult questions like these along the path to nomination, you can give Jews — as engaged and as attentive a bloc as any — more clarity into their options and greater confidence that their voices will be heard by their next President.
Jack Rosen is President of the American Jewish Congress (AJC)
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