1. The politics of replacing RBG
Just as the remarkable life she lived, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, sparked a mix of awe, appreciation and political controversy. And the coming days will provide much of the same: a celebration of the life of a trailblazing legal giant who served for many as the nation’s moral compass, and at the same time, a fierce partisan battle over the appropriate timing of choosing Bader Ginsburg’s successor.
Filling the Supreme Court vacancy is likely to shape the upcoming elections and could be the single issue these elections turn on. And this is not great news for the Jews.
The divide between conservatives and liberals regarding the face of the Supreme Court centers on competing legal principles of interpreting the constitution–one side views it as a set of eternal rules that should be taken literally, while the other sees the constitution as a living document meant to be adapted and adjusted to fit changing times and circumstances. But for most voters, the divide centers on a more basic question: how justices rule on social issues, sometimes referred to as “values issues.”
And within this divide, Jewish Americans fall squarely on the liberal side. Jewish Democrats may have a variety of opinions on issues of national security, taxation, the economy or dealing with environmental challenges. But there’s hardly any dissent within the Jewish Democratic camp when it comes to abortions, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality and separation of church and state. Furthermore, even among the minority of Jews who vote Republican and identify as conservative, there is no consensus on the conservative social agenda.
The numbers are clear:
Jewish support for abortion rights is off the charts. Eighty-three percent of Jews support keeping abortions legal, behind only Unitarian Universalists, atheists and agnostics and way higher than the American average of 57 percent of U.S. adults who support abortion rights. According to a 2014 Pew Research poll, support among Jews for women’s right to have abortions has not changed throughout the years and is not influenced by age, gender or marital status. The only groups of Jewish voters less supportive are those who attend synagogue more frequently, have lower income and less formal education, such as the subgroup of Orthodox Jews which is the least supportive of abortion rights.
This is the case with another social value hot button issue: same-sex marriage. Seventy-seven percent of Jewish Americans support the right of LGBTQ couples to marry (second only to Buddhists—84 percent). Here too, support in the community varies based on religious adherence and belief in God.
A Jewish Electoral Institute poll from February asked Jewish voters to rate the issues that will determine their vote. Preserving reproductive rights made it to the top 7 issues, as did other topics that are likely to be determined by the Supreme Court, including the future of healthcare, and gun control measures.
And it’s not only about numbers.
Jewish Republicans have consistently chosen to avoid dealing with these issues.
When pitching Trump to Jewish voters, they talk about his record on Israel, national security and tax policies, but they never make an issue of GOP views on social issues or family values.
Even the alliance between the Jewish right-wing and white evangelical Christians is based on their similar views on Israel—not a shared perspective on social issues.
(One important caveat: Among Orthodox Jews, which make up about 10 percent of the Jewish community, there is greater openness to conservative views on abortions and LGBTQ equality, and there’s a shared interest with socially conservative Republicans in lowering barriers separating church and state.)
The bottom line is that Jewish Americans stand pretty much unanimously on one side of the chasm dividing conservative and liberal views of the Supreme Court.
The other side is populated by many white Christian Americans who are motivated by their religious beliefs on these issues.
It is as much of a religious divide as it is a political one, and having a heated election debate centered on religious divides is never a good idea. Especially for religious minorities.
2. Comparing Trump and Biden’s High Holiday calls
Donald Trump and Joe Biden took a few minutes this week to address their Jewish supporters and deliver greetings for the Jewish new year and the High Holidays.
Trump did so with an off-the-record conference call attended by hundreds of rabbis and Jewish leaders, a day after he presided over the signing ceremony of peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
That was also the core of Trump’s pitch to his Jewish supporters. “I did so many things for Israel,” he told his listeners, going through the recently signed peace deals, relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. “If we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble.”
In Trump’s mind, American Jews only care about Israel. He, once again, fell into every possible pitfall this touchy issue has to offer, including when he ended his call by promising the audience of American Jewish citizens that “we love yourcountry also,” referring to Israel. He also said that the United States is “in the Middle East because of Israel,” a statement that must have sent shivers through the spines of every pro-Israel advocate in Washington, since it implies that Israel is the reason for America spending its blood and fortune in the region.
The next day, it was Biden’s turn to deliver his High Holiday address, and the tone was quite different.
Biden made only one passing reference to Israel focusing instead on fighting anti-Semitism and racism and on healing the nation’s divides.
These brief events perfectly demonstrate the differences in Trump and Biden’s appeals to Jewish voters. Biden is speaking to Jewish Democrats who care more about domestic issues and who widely despise Trump, while Trump tailors his message to Republican-leaning Jewish voters who care deeply about Israel (and his vision of Israel) and are willing to forgive him for most everything else.
3. New Middle East? Jewish organizations are already there
The festive White House signing ceremony on Tuesday brought into the open years of otherwise secretive relations between Israel and the Gulf states. But for many of the Jewish leaders invited to the signing event, the idea of forging ties with moderate Sunni states is nothing new. Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents and AIPAC have maintained ties with Bahraini and Emirati officials and diplomats for years, not to mention the recent visit of Conference of Presidents members to Saudi Arabia.
Now that ties are official, Jewish American groups intend to expand their engagement with Gulf states, including sending kosher inspectors, opening office branches, and providing religious services to the tiny Jewish communities in these countries.
4. Isn’t it time to do away with the dollar bill campaign ads?
The target this time around was David Richter, a Jewish Republican running for Congress in New Jersey. Mailers sent out by the House Majority PAC depicted Richter in various scenarios, all with $100 bills. In one ad, he is shown wearing a jacket lined with bills; in another, he’s on a parachute made of a $100 bill, and in another, Richter is depicted waving a fan of bills, while the Benjamins seem to fly over his head.
This is no different from Ilhan Omar’s campaign mailer listing her rival’s Jewish donors, or from Donald Trump 2016 tweet showing Hillary Clinton with a Star of David and a pile of dollars.
It can’t be that difficult to remember how insensitive and disturbing it is to purposely associate Jews with money used to control politics and power. There’s a painful history behind it, and for those who aren’t aware of it, just remember it should be avoided. It’s pretty easy.
5. The latest in Jewish campaign ads
Abe Foxman, the former ADL head known for decades as the “Jewish pope,” recently came out with a rare partisan statement. “Trump is bad for America and bad for the Jews,” he wrote in a Times of Israel op-ed.
Former senator Norm Coleman, who chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition, responded with “Why Jews should vote for Trump: Answering Abe Foxman.”
Are you an undecided Jewish voter? These opinion pieces could help you decide.