Opinion // Donald Trump and the Diaspora
By Daniel Ross Goodman
If Orthodox Jews vote Republican, their choice will hurt America—as well as Israel.
With less than a week until Election Day, political analysts are looking closely at the voter constituencies that could be instrumental in deciding the race. Will it be middle-aged women in the suburbs of Philadelphia who decide this election? Mexican-Americans in Arizona? Cuban-Americans in Miami? Mormons in Colorado and Nevada? With all the talk of key “swing constituencies” in this election, one such key constituency should not be forgotten: Orthodox Jews in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These voters tend to vote for whichever candidate they believe will be “better for Israel,” a misguided, potentially disastrous voting criteria. But if they can find it within themselves to vote for the better candidate overall—instead of the candidate who is better, in their minds, on a single issue—this election will swing decisively to Hillary Clinton, permitting those anxious American souls, plotting moves north of the border in the event of a Trump victory, to rest a bit easier on the night of November 8.
The Jewish vote matters because, quite simply, Jews vote: While 74 percent of all registered voters vote, evidence shows that 90 percent of all registered Jewish voters vote. In the 2012 presidential election, when overall voter turnout was only 54 percent, Jewish American voter turnout was 85 percent. It is well known that most Jewish Americans are Democrats, but most of these Jews live in non-swing states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and Illinois. There are key Jewish voter blocks, however, in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri and Pennsylvania—and of these one million-plus Jews, at least 100,000 are Orthodox.
Unlike most other Jews, Orthodox Jews tend to lean Republican. Many of these Jews became even more Republican in their convictions over the past eight years as a result of the Obama administration’s perceived coldness to Israel (the Iranian nuclear deal has been a particular sore spot). They were prepared to vote for the Republican candidate, no matter who emerged with the nomination after the Cleveland convention in July. The fact that the candidate who emerged with the nomination has been revealed to be a fear-baiting xenophobe who targets minorities based on their religion and ethnicity—something Jews should be particularly sensitive to, one would think—has unfortunately not deterred Orthodox Jews from their willingness to cast votes for Donald Trump. I know many Orthodox Jews who are looking the other way at Trump’s hate-mongering, serial lying, history of sexual predation, and general crudeness simply because they believe that Trump will be “better for Israel.” But this is a terribly ill-advised, potentially calamitous criteria for voting—and if Orthodox Jews are not swayed from this position, the results on the night of November 8 could be catastrophic.
One should never be a one-issue voter, no matter what the issue is, and no matter how important the voter believes that issue to be. Domestic and foreign policy are endlessly complicated, and judicious decision-making on many issues is necessary for the functioning of a sound state. Single-issue voting shows a startling contempt for the legislative and executive processes that support our government—a government that has preserved religious freedom for the past 240 years, and that has supported Israel for the past 60.
Jews who are one-issue voters hurt Israel, as well as America. If they are concerned about Israel’s security, they should vote for the candidate whose overall positions would lead to a more stable country. Trump routinely insults others and belittles women, and his fundamental disrespect for other human beings violates the basic Jewish precept of “love thy neighbor as thy self.” The best way to ensure the continuation of a strong, Israel-supporting America is to ensure that America herself continues to remain strong. And the best way to ensure that America remains strong—and strong enough to support Israel’s security—is to ensure that America’s next leader will be a “her.” Domestic and foreign policy analysts alike agree that Clinton will be a competent, eminently capable president, while a Donald Trump presidency could be disastrous: A recent Wall Street Journal story showed that Trump’s economic plan would add $5.3 trillion to the national debt (26 times more than Clinton’s plan would). Fifty prominent Republican national security experts have denounced Mr. Trump’s candidacy, stating that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history,” according to The New York Times. Would a candidate who “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being”—as the Republican national security officials warned—be capable of even defending his own country, let alone Israel?
Jews who openly profess that the only American political issue they care about is U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel risk having Jews tarred with the insidious “dual-loyalty” charge and feed into the canard that Jews exert undue influence over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Additionally, a country or voter constituency should not always get what it wants any more so than any person should always get what he or she wants, because often—as has been the case in U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel—what one wants may be detrimental if one gets it. The Ronald Reagan administration, for instance, sold AWACs planes to Saudi Arabia despite the strident opposition of many one-issue Jewish American voters; if these one-issue Jews had gotten their way then, Israel would have significantly impaired a Sunni Arab neighbor-state whose military and diplomatic power is now a crucial counterweight to Shia Iran in today’s Middle East, and which now cooperates with Israel on important security and intelligence matters.
Israel, a staunch American ally and a nearly 70-year-old democracy, deserves America’s support, but it does not deserve the exclusive attention of the American voter. All voters—Orthodox Jewish voters included, such as myself—should make their ballot box decisions based on a variety of issues, acknowledging the breadth and complexity of factors that go into the successful functioning of an effective government. The world’s oldest democracy deserves no less.
Daniel Ross Goodman, a writer, rabbi and Ph.D. candidate at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, is studying English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.