NEW YORK – Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, has support among some American Jews, though insiders say there hasn’t been the same uptick in his popularity among Jews as there was among Americans in general after the first Republican candidates’ debate.
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Trump’s bump is from “people who are pissed off at the status quo,” said one prominent Jewish Republican, who did not want to be named when talking about the brash media personality and real estate developer. “Everybody knows that the Jewish community is a bit better informed, and are ‘high information’ voters,” he said. For them, “Donald Trump is not much more than window dressing. That’s probably why we’re not seeing as much support among American Jews.”
No one can say for sure just how much support he has among Jews. There have not yet been large enough surveys of Republican voters to count Jews in a statistically reliable way, political pollsters say. And the Republican Jewish Coalition declined to discuss with Haaretz any polling it has conducted.
But Trump has an ardent supporter in Larry Spiewak. Spiewak is a successful Brooklyn businessman who has made his fortune manufacturing the little plastic doohickeys that connect garments to their price tags in stores, and the guns used to fasten them.
“I like Trump because he speaks from his heart, from what he believes in, and he doesn’t owe anything to anybody,” Spiewak told Haaretz.
Spiewak was seated with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at a fundraising dinner for Chai Lifeline, an organization which aids children with cancer of which is a co-chairman, and attended their 2009 wedding at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. He also attended one of the celebratory sheva brachot dinners held for the couple, who now have two children, at Manhattan’s Puck Building.
At the wedding Trump “was wearing a yarmulke the whole time,” said Spiewak, who is a chairman of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush. “The whole thing was glatt kosher.”
“He really is a good guy. He really is a mensch if you sit down and talk to him,” Spiewak said. “Is he abrasive sometimes? Yeah, but that’s what people like, that’s what people need. Why is he still ahead in the polls? Because he’s the Howard Stern of politics. He speaks the truth.”
A Republican political consultant said the Trump candidacy falls along typical fault lines within the Jewish vote: “Those who have a huge dislike for Obama will vote for whoever the Republican candidate is, even if it’s Barney the Dinosaur.”
In terms of impact on the election, since neither California nor New York is a swing state, the influence of those who hate Democrats and would vote for Trump is “small bordering on insignificant,” said the political consultant, who wished to remain unnamed.
Though Trump is self-financing his campaign and not soliciting contributions, he likely wouldn’t find them among wealthy Republican Jews even if he were, said the consultant.
“Most of the money, those with long track records of raising in excess of $100,000, the RJC members, those people are solidly in the Jeb Bush camp,” he said.
Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, told Haaretz that “the Jewish community is and always has been very important to Mr. Trump. His daughter is Jewish and he has been honored by many Jewish organizations over the years for his support.”
Hicks was unable to cite specific Jewish groups that have honored the high-profile media personality and real estate executive. The Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee say they have not honored him, and an online search turned up only The Algemeiner Journal, a New York-based Orthodox-leaning newspaper, which celebrated Trump as a guest of honor at its February 2015 gala.
“We honored him because he’s unabashedly pro-Israel and he’s very proud of his Jewish daughter,” said Rabbi Simon Jacobson, The Algemeiner’s publisher, referring to Ivanka Trump. She converted to Judaism under the tutelage of Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein before marrying her husband, Jared Kushner, and has been open, as in this February 2015 Vogue magazine article, about keeping kosher and Sabbath observance.
An American Jewish Committee spokesman said that Trump has donated to that organization through his foundation. An ADL spokesman said that his organization doesn’t disclose its donors.
A look at the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s 2013 tax documents — the most recent available — show that of the relatively modest $918,000 it distributed that year, none went to any obviously Jewish organization.
The largest donation, $60,000, went to the American Cancer Society. The Foundation also gave $50,000 to the American Conservative Union and $25,000 to an anti-abortion group called Justice for All, with smaller donations to cancer research and health care groups, as well as those fighting domestic violence. $325 was donated to the American Civil Liberties Union Florida chapter.
On the religious side, the Trump Foundation donated $5,000 to an Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Florida, $10,000 to an evangelical group in Texas called Deborah George Ministries and $10,000 to a Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Trump has described himself as an occasional church-going Presbyterian.
His foundation made no donations to Jewish or Israel-related groups in 2013.
And even after being celebrated as the guest of honor at its gala, Trump did not donate to The Algemeiner Journal or its related foundation, even. “We hoped that he would but we didn’t demand it,” Jacobson said. But, he said, “We have goodwill with him now.”
Though the Trump presidential campaign has thus far been thin on policy positions — there are none on his campaign website — he has historically been a vocal proponent of Israel, and more recently critical of the Iran nuclear deal.
“Trump has a reputation for being philo-Semitic,” said Dov Zakheim, who served as Under Secretary of Defense from 2001-2004 during the tenure of President George W. Bush.
“He’s also very hard line against the Iran deal and in support of Israel, and that makes him very attractive to some people,” Zakheim said.
Trump provided a video endorsement to Benjamin Netanyahu during his 2013 campaign for prime minister, in which he called the Israeli leader “a terrific guy, a terrific leader and great for Israel.” In 2004 Trump served as Grand Marshal of New York’s Salute to Israel parade.
“Having said that, as the campaign proceeds, if people are serious about electing a Republican who is solidly pro-Israel, they’re not going to vote for Trump, simply because he’s not electable,” Zakheim said. “He’s not serious, it’s as simple as that.”