Opinion |

Florida's Jewish Vote Could Be America's Defense Against Trump

The Democratic Jewish caucus is campaigning to maximize Florida’s Jewish vote, because a difference between a 60 or 80 percent Jewish turnout for Clinton could decide the national vote.

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U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, United States, September 15, 2016.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, United States, September 15, 2016.Credit: Brian Snyder, Reuters

For Jews everywhere, the High Holy Days confront us with existential choices about our lives personally and about our people of Israel. For American Jews, this is also a moment to consider what kind of country we want and which presidential candidate we believe will lead us toward that future.

Jews voting in fateful Florida

Florida’s Jews in particular have a particularly fateful choice this November. Florida, the single largest and most crucial “battleground” state, has the third largest Jewish population, after New York and California. Among the 8.5 million Floridians who voted in 2012, roughly 600,000 were Jews (7 percent). That year U.S. President Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote, and won Florida by less than 1 percent.

Recent polls indicate that 60-80 percent will vote for Hillary Clinton, 20-25 percent will vote for Trump, 10-15 percent will vote for third party candidates Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

So close does the election appear, especially in Florida, that whether 60 percent or 80 percent of Florida’s Jews vote for Hillary is the difference that may determine Florida’s overall vote, and the Presidency itself.

Maximizing Florida’s Jewish vote

Our Democratic Jewish caucus campaigning has three objectives to maximize Florida’s Jewish vote – in order to work towards that crucial 80 percent goal.

First, we must insure the vote of the masses of Jewish Democrats through “Vote by Mail” and early voting.

Large images of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are seen on a CNN vehicle at Hofstra University, in Hempsted, New York, U.S., September 24, 2014.Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP

Second, we must persuade one-issue Israel voters who are otherwise Democrats on other issues that voting for Clinton is a much more reliable support for Israel’s future than voting for the unpredictable Trump.

Finally, we must persuade the many young Jewish enthusiasts for Bernie Sanders that voting for “third party” candidates Jill Stein or Gary Johnson instead of Hillary Clinton, will accomplish nothing more than increase Donald Trump’s chances of election.

We recognize their wariness of Clinton. We emphasize, among others, one crucial issue: the possible future composition of the Supreme Court. As many as five of the nine Supreme Court seats may be nominated by the next U.S. President. One-vote margins on the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage, political funding, voting rights, women’s reproductive rights, and gun ownership regulations are all in play in the next few years, depending on which president, Clinton or Trump, appoints the new Justices. Few even of those who identified as "Bernie or Bust" would sanguinely contemplate a Supreme Court in Trump or the hardline GOP’s image that could endanger these key foundational values.

Racist? Not me

Still incredible to me is the thought that many Americans, including numerous Jews, both view Trump as a racist and yet plan to vote for him anyway. Many of those who view Trump negatively on experience and temperament express their intent to vote for him.

No one, of course, says that they are voting for Trump because they agree with his bigotry. Among the Jewish voters there may be some who mouth Trump’s own rhetoric: the "Crooked Hillary" allegation, Trump’s alleged business acumen and charisma, which will shake up Washington. Many apparently believe that Israel’s interests will be best defended by any Republican president and his administration.

Trump is targeting West Palm Beach, not just the West Bank

This message is being drummed in in Florida. Despite suggestions in the media that specific Trump and Republican outreach to Jews in Florida is negligible, even that there are more workers pursuing Jewish votes for Trump in the West Bank than in West Palm Beach, that's not really the case.

The Republican Party has been targeting Jewish voters in Florida for years. The Republican Party in Florida today advertises on highway billboards that voting Republican is essential to supporting Israel. Russian Jewish immigrants (who swing much more to the right) are hired by the Florida Republican Party to man Republican booths at early polling places. In 2012 the booth at our local early voting location flew a giant Israeli flag provided by the local GOP and featured a life-size cardboard cutout of Mitt Romney wearing a kipah.

Ending the GOP = support for Israel falsehood

The exclusive equation between any candidate thrown up by the GOP and support for Israel is just false. Trump has already made all kinds of contradictory remarks about America’s role in the Middle East. His latest piece of electionspeak, promising to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, is similarly demagogic and unreliable.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has steadfastly supported Israel and promises to continue strengthening the U.S.-Israel partnership. She is committed to combating BDS and anti-Semitism here and around the world. And she is both experienced and skilled at foreign policy. The Democratic party’s Israel platform is far closer to the positions held by the vast majority of Florida’s Jews.

Iran agreement scars

The same can be said for the Iran agreement. However, here too, the GOP’s simplistic equation of rejection of the deal with support for Israel is not only false, but rejected by Florida Jews, as it was by most American Jews.

Even though it finally took effect over a year ago, the battle over the nuclear deal with Iran has not ended, especially not within the Jewish community. Still now, every day someone sends me a scathing email railing against the Iran agreement, knowing my advocacy for the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

The Republican Party’s opposition, despite its allying with the major American Jewish institutions such as the AJC, AIPAC and local federations, pitted it at every level against the majority of Florida and American Jewry, who, according to polling, were supportive of the agreement. Those Jewish donors and voters who still punish Congressional Representatives who voted in support of the Iran agreement refuse to acknowledge that so far the deal is proving successful in securing its American objectives and greater security for Israel.

Stronger together

Clinton is a complete contrast with Trump. She shares the Jewish community’s deeply ingrained social justice values. Along with most Jews, she supports equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. She advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. She calls for preventing gun violence by expanding background checks and supporting laws that stop domestic abusers and criminals from purchasing guns. Her view that we are “stronger together” when we lift each other up is fundamental to the Jewish value Tikkun Olam “repairing the world.”

In my lifetime, I can never recall such an easy election choice. I support a candidate and party platform that align with both Jewish values and American democratic ideals. Alongside most Florida Jews, I will proudly cast my vote for Hillary Clinton.

Rabbi Mark L. Winer, a synagogue rabbi for 30 years in the U.S. and 13 years in the U.K., is President of the Florida Democratic Party Caucus of American Jews. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology at Yale and has studied Jewish voting for over fifty years. He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2014 by the Queen for building “social cohesion and interfaith dialogue in London and the United Kingdom.”

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