What Jewish voters need to know before Election Day
By Sean Savage
With only a few weeks remaining before the presidential election, and the start of early voting in most states, Jewish voters may still be weighing their decisions.
Over the last year, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump have actively courted the Jewish and pro-Israel vote, especially as they seek to firm up support in key battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania—all home to large Jewish communities.
How each candidate would support and strengthen the special U.S.-Israel relationship has been discussed in numerous speeches and debates by Trump and Clinton, as well as played a large part in crafting the platforms of both political parties.
Both candidates have also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and addressed the premiere pro-Israel gathering, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference earlier this year.
JNS.org looks at the candidates’ positions and what they’ve said over the past year on major issues that may be important to Jewish and pro-Israel voters.
She wrote in a September 2015 op-ed published by The Forward, that she is “deeply committed” to Israel “as a democratic Jewish state... and just as convinced that the only way to guarantee that outcome is through diplomacy. And while no solution can be imposed from outside, I believe the United States has a responsibility to help bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table and to encourage the difficult but necessary decisions that will lead to peace.”
He has drawn criticism from some within the pro-Israel community for saying he would remain “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” Trump said in an MSNBC town hall in February. “I have friends of mine that are tremendous businesspeople, that are really great negotiators, [and] they say it’s not doable.”
After a meeting between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September in New York, the Trump campaign said “that peace will only come when the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”
In a speech at the AIPAC conference in March, Trump said he will work to prioritize the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on Day One,” Trump said, in reference to strained relations between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. “We will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel,” he added.
In her address to AIPAC, Clinton said the U.S. will reaffirm that, “we have a strong and enduring national interest in Israel’s security...We will never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us.”
In a statement following the landmark $38 billion defense deal between the U.S. and Israel in September, Clinton said the deal “reaffirms the depth and strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship—which is based on common security interests, shared values, and deep historical ties—and sends a clear message to the region and the world that we will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.”
Palestinian statehood and the disputed territories
David Friedman, one of Trump’s main advisers on Israel, said in June the Republican candidate would not support the recognition of a Palestinian state without “the approval of the Israelis.”
Trump has also said Israel should not cease construction in Judea and Samaria. “No, I don’t think there should be a pause...because I think Israel should have—they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward,” Trump told theDailymail in May.
Clinton has called Israeli settlement expansion “not helpful” in the efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. “Administrations—both Democrat and Republican—have all adopted the same position that settlement expansion is not helpful,” Clinton said in an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board in April. “In the context of the continuing American interest in helping to bring the parties together to try to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict, I am in-line with prior Republicans and Democrats.”
Following a resolution by the U.N.’s cultural body, UNESCO, last week ignoring the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and its holy site, in a statement to JNS.org, Trump said he “will recognize Jerusalem as the one true capital of Israel. Jerusalem is the enduring capital of the Jewish people, and the overwhelming majority of Congress has voted to recognize Jerusalem as just that.”
On the matter, the Clinton campaign pointed to the 2016 Democratic Party Platform’s language on Jerusalem that states, “While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
Earlier this year, Clinton came out strongly against the BDS movement during an argument within the Methodist Church, which Clinton has been a lifelong member, over whether or not to join the movement. “I believe that BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace,” Clinton wrote in a May letter to the heads of the Jewish Federations of North America. The Methodist Church ultimately rejected a resolution to divest from Israel.
While Trump hasn’t made any direct statements on the BDS movement, his top Israel adviser, Jason Greenblatt, has strongly condemned it as the “modern manifestation of anti-Semitism, plain and simple. BDS hurts Israelis, Palestinians and the hope for peace. The BDS movement is not interested in promoting peace and coexistence. It is not interested in forging a better future for Israelis and Palestinians,” Greenblatt wrote in a Fox News op-ed in June.
Opponents have criticized the Republican nominee for alluding to anti-Semitism in social media posts and in speeches as well as among his supporters. In early July, Trump tweeted a graphic critical of Clinton featuring a six-pointed star, a pile of cash and the words “most corrupt candidate ever.” Critics contended the graphic invoked anti-Semitic imagery due to its similarly to the Jewish Star of David. The six-pointed star graphic was eventually replaced with a new image by the campaign.
More recently, critics condemned an Oct. 13 speech by the candidate in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he criticized alleged Clinton’s secret ties with international banks. “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors,” Trump said.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), condemned Trump’s remarks for its similarity to classic anti-Semitic tropes. “@TeamTrump should avoid rhetoric and tropes that historically have been used against Jews and still spur #antisemitism,” Greenblatt said in a tweet. “Let’s keep hate out of campaign.”
Similarly, the Trump campaign has been criticized for not distancing itself enough from neo-Nazis and white supremacists such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who expressed support for Trump during Duke’s campaign for senator in Louisiana. However, the Trump campaign has disavowed and condemned any anti-Semitism being promoted by supporters on social media.
“We have no knowledge of this activity and strongly condemn any commentary that is anti-Semitic,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement to The New York Times regarding an October report by the ADL detailing anti-Semitism among Trump supporters on Twitter. “We totally disavow hateful rhetoric online or otherwise.” Clinton:
In an op-ed first published by JNS.org in April, Clinton said that we must confront anti-Semitism and protect religious liberty. “Today, there are new threats to religious liberty and an alarming rise in anti-Semitism. In many parts of Europe, we’ve seen synagogues vandalized and gravesites desecrated,” Clinton wrote. “We must confront these forces of intolerance. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, I would ensure that America continues to call out and stand up to anti-Semitism.”
Last summer, she was forced to distance itself from comments made by pro-Palestinian Jewish journalist Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal, regarding the late Elie Wiesel. Blumenthal said of Wiesel that he “spent his last years inciting hatred, defense apartheid and palling around with fascists.” Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy adviser, told The Jerusalem Post, “Sec. Clinton emphatically rejects these offensive, hateful, and patently absurd statements about Elie Wiesel.”
Iran nuclear deal
When the nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany) world powers was announced in July 2015, Trump called the deal “very dangerous.” He said at the time, “Iran developing a nuclear weapon, either through uranium or nuclear fuel, and defying the world is still a very real possibility. The inspections will not be followed, and Iran will no longer have any sanctions. Iran gets everything and loses nothing.”
During his AIPAC speech, Trump vowed to dismantle the nuclear deal as president. “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” he said. “I have been in business a long time...this deal is catastrophic for Israel, for America, for the whole of the Middle East... We have rewarded the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with $ 150 billion, and we received absolutely nothing in return.”
In September 2015, Clinton endorsed the nuclear agreement in a speech at the Brookings Institution, saying that, “diplomacy is not the pursuit of perfection; it is the balancing of risk.” However, Clinton went on to say the deal would work only “as part of a larger strategy toward Iran” and that “distrust and verify” would be her approach to handling Iran. She added, “I will not hesitate to take military action” if Iran still sought to develop a nuclear weapon despite the commitments.
In July, during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, she touted her early role as secretary of state in the nuclear agreement with Iran. “I’m proud that we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot,” she said. “Now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel’s security.”