As U.S. Election Nears, Both Parties Use Fears of anti-Semitism to Woo Jewish Voters

Ads released by the Democratic Jewish groups play on the threats of white nationalism to draw in Jewish votes while Republicans focus on breaking ties with Israel

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Members of the New York Jewish Community listen as France's chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, discusses anti-Semitism and terrorism at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan February 19, 2015
Members of the New York Jewish Community listen as France's chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, discusses anti-Semitism and terrorism at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan February 19, 2015 Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images / A

WASHINGTON – With less than a year before the United States' 2020 presidential election, both parties are already investing in campaign advertisements targeting the American Jewish community. On Tuesday, the Jewish Democratic Council of America released its first ad for the presidential campaign, two weeks after the Republican Jewish Coalition debuted its own.

The Democratic group's ad focuses explicitly on President Donald Trump and far-right violence in the United States during his presidency. It shows the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which far-right demonstrators cried, "Jews will not replace us."

It then cuts to footage of Trump saying that there were "very fine people" among those who participated in the white supremacist demonstration. It ties his rhetoric to white nationalists, one of whom carried out the Pittsburgh shooting on the Tree of Life synagogue last year.  

The minute-long advertisement also shows a clip of Trump from August 2019, in which he said that Jews who vote for the Democratic Party are showing "great disloyalty." That quote was strongly denounced by almost all mainstream organizations within the American Jewish community.

Trump, according to the JDCA ad, is "the biggest threat" American Jews are currently facing. The group's ad will target Jewish voters in key swing states, such as Florida and Pennsylvania. The organization stated that "We will do everything we can to elect someone who shares our values in 2020."

In the Republican group's first ad, Trump is conspicuously absent; instead, it focuses on Democratic politicians, mostly from the left wing of the party, and their strong criticism of Israel. The ad describes the approach of politicians such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren toward Israel as a "shanda," the Yiddish word for shame.

Jewish voters only make up an approximate two percent of the total U.S. voting population, and most of them are concentrated in states that usually are not competitive in national elections, such as New York and California. However, several states that will be competitive in 2020 do have significant Jewish populations, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

In the 2016 election, 70 percent of American Jews supported Hillary Clinton, and less than 30 percent supported Trump. These numbers were in line with historical voting trends among American Jews. In the 2018 midterm elections, 78 percent of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates.

Democrats have pointed to this number as proof that Trump's attempts to use Israel in order to drive Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party have been unsuccessful. Polling over the years has shown that Israel is not a top priority for American Jews in elections; most prioritize domestic policy in determining how they vote.

The two advertisements released so far by the JDCA and the RJC appeal specifically to Jewish voters, but both seem to also have potential to influence non-Jewish voters as well. The RJC focus on Israel could energize Christian evangelical voters, many of whom consider Israel a top priority; the JDCA focus on racism and far-right violence could also appeal to a broader segment of the electorate.