Shocked by the election of Donald Trump, and what they see as the hateful rhetoric of his supporters and the retrograde agenda of his White House, many liberal and progressive American Jews are shifting their priorities.
Those who embraced domestic issues — like civil and women's rights, racial and economic justice, and the environment — were on the back burner during the Obama years, but now find themselves on the front lines of what is being called the "resistance" against Trump.
Since Trump’s election, these American Jews have looked at the new political landscape and, in some cases, reevaluated their priorities.
There are clear winners and losers in this dynamic, with Jewish groups that focus on the domestic crisis seeing a “Trump bump” in donations and interest, while others that are dedicated to Israel or other overseas causes, are beginning to experience — or fear — a “Trump slump” as their donors direct their resources to burning issues like immigration, voting rights, the environment, support for public education, and abortion rights.
Between Election Day and the end of the 2016 calendar year Planned Parenthood reported receiving more than 300,000 donations, which is 40 times higher than usual, the Guardian reported. Giving to the American Civil Liberties Union surged — more than $23 million in the same period, $7 million of that sum in the five days after the election alone, at one point, crashing its website from increased traffic.
Leading the list of organizations benefitting from a “Trump bump” is the Anti-Defamation League, which has seen donations and interest surge following an increase in shows of racism and anti-Semitism since the start of the campaign.
The day after the November 8 elections, online donations to ADL shot up fifty-fold, reports Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO. Giving remained strong through the end of the year, with online donations five times higher in November and December than in the same two months in the previous year, he noted.
Much of that support came from individuals and foundations who had never given to the organizations in the past. “We had upwards of 25,000 new donors in 2016, compared to an average of less than 10,000 per year over the prior years. Foundations that never gave to ADL previously made gifts of six figures and higher,” said Greenblatt. Many earmarked donations to the group’s Center for Extremism, as well as ADL police training programs on hate crimes, criminal extremism and terrorism; as well as school programs to fight bias and cyber bullying. Meanwhile, the New Israel Fund, which supports a wide spectrum of progressive causes in Israel, also experienced an initial surge of online support in November, raising 88 percent more than they did in November 2015.
In December, however, the number dipped and online giving was 9 percent lower than the year before.
Daniel Sokatch, the organization’s CEO, believes that these numbers reflect the fact that his group took a more prominent and vocal position on U.S. domestic politics than it usually does in the wake of the election, actively decrying the appointments of chief strategist Steve Bannon and ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
“We opposed aspects of the Trump agenda and I co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post, calling on Jews to reject and resist the dog whistles of xenophobia, misogyny, racism, autocracy, etc. coming from the President’s camp. We think this visibility helped drive the spike in online giving — which tends to be newer, smaller donors — in November. “
But by December, he said, “things began to revert to the norm.” This meant that “year-end donations by American progressives, including NIF supporters, focused on U.S.-based domestic organizations opposing the Trump agenda like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood” and less to the Israel-focused causes like NIF.
This trend is worrying many professionals at progressive Israel-focused groups as they look ahead, though they were reluctant to share their concerns — or their bad news — publicly. It is too early for hard data, but there is mounting anecdotal evidence to suggest a decline in donations. “We’ve heard from several foundations so far that they are either in the process of rethinking or have adopted new guidelines for 2017 focusing on domestic progressive causes,” said one staffer.
One Israel-based foundation that supports American and Israeli progressive causes said they have already been told the Israel budget would be only 70 percent of what it was the previous year.
Another woman, who works for a progressive Jewish organization herself, admitted that instead of giving her 2016 year-end donations to the New Israel Fund or Americans for Peace Now, as she often does, she chose Planned Parenthood this time.
On the record, the message is more upbeat.
Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans of Peace Now, said there is concern within his organization but it is too soon to panic. “There are two sentiments that drive donations: Hope and anger,” he said “So, while dwindling hope due to the unpromising prospects for progress towards peace under Trump and Netanyahu might stifle giving — anger may very well have the opposite impact. Obviously, we prefer to see reason for hope, not anger — but we’ll just have to see how things unfold.”
Though he admits he is “worried” about new increased competition for donations, Sokatch of the NIF said he remains optimistic. A lot depends on how the way that Israel-focused groups deliver their message, he said.
Israeli and U.S. progressives are now in the same boat. “A week after the election I was at a parlor meeting in Boston and people were pretty devastated I pointed out to them that the last seven plus years of my tenure at the New Israel Fund have coincided with Netanyahu’s Trumpian, neoconservative vision... and all that time, Israeli civil society has been holding the line against attempts to radically change democracy in Israel.”
The struggle today, said Sokatch, is international and universal. “Neo-authoritarianism is sweeping Israel, [is] behind the Brexit, and across Europe. Liberal democratic pushback has to be united Our brothers and sisters in Israel have been holding the line. They need us more than ever. We can learn from them. They need us — and now we need them.”
One woman in the Boston audience he recalls, said "it would indeed be a tragic irony, if in this time of a rise of xenophobia and misogyny, people like us decide to hunker down and only pay attention to what was happening in our own backyard.”
Those at progressive Jewish groups active in both countries say they have no plans to shift their priorities because of the election of Trump. “Sure, I know there are people in the Jewish progressive world who are absolutely consumed by the threats that President Trump embodies,” said Gideon Aranoff of Ameinu, the Labor Zionist Alliance in the United States, but he says this will not lessen his group’s involvement in Israel.
Ameinu saw a “modest positive Trump effect” in its year-end fundraising. “We had donors who are new to us who are responding to Ameinu’s activities, addressing the threats" of President Trump "giving a blank check to the settlement project.”
The Reform movement’s political arm, the Religious Action Center in Washington, also sees Trump's domestic threats to the U.S. and to Israelas “conflated,” notes RAC director Jonah Pesner. “This administration is already creating significant challenges when it comes to pursuing a two-state solution.”
On the domestic front, he said, there seems to be a deep desire among many American Jews to fuse their religious engagement through their synagogue community. He pointed to the “amazing” Reform movement Shabbat morning prayer service at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Saturday morning before the Washington Women’s March that drew over 1,200 worshippers. Accompanying that, he said, has been a “significant uptick” in financial support for the RAC. “It’s been remarkable and broad, with many new individuals and foundations coming to us.”
The fact that domestic, not Israel—related issues may be a higher priority among those giving to RAC doesn’t mean the organization will abandon its cause or shift priorities. “We are a Zionist organization; we aren’t pivoting away from that, and we never will.”
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