WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaing is focusing on increasing support within the Jewish community, and on Friday welcomed an endorsement by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, an organization representing Jewish activists, politicians and donors in the Democratic Party.
The endorsement by JDCA came a week after Biden was endorsed by J Street, a leading left-wing Jewish group that promotes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In both cases, Biden released written statements welcoming the endorsements by the Jewish organizations and highlighting the values that he shares with them.
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Biden has emerged as the de-facto Democratic presidential nominee in recent weeks, after all of his main rivals withdrew from the race, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who expressed his support for Biden earlier this month. With his sights set on the November general election, Biden is now working to unite the Democratic Party behind him, and maintain high levels of support among key Democratic constituencies.
The U.S. Jewish community, which votes Democrat by a wide margin, and whose major organizations have vocally opposed the policies of President Donald Trump, is one of those key constituencies. Approximately 70 percent of American Jewish voters cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and close to 80 percent voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm election. Biden is aiming to get a level of support that falls anywhere between these two numbers.
Jewish voters have a wider impact in a small group of swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and to some degree Nevada and Michigan. Jews make up only two percent of Americans according to most estimates, but in a close swing state like Florida, the 600,000 local Jewish residents could make a big difference in determining who will win the states’ 29 Electoral College votes.
In endorsing Biden, the JDCA explained that during his five decades in politics, Biden has “fought for the issues that matter to Jewish Americans – ensuring access to affordable health care and education, promoting equality and social justice, protecting democratic institutions and the right to vote, mitigating the impact of climate change, and furthering the rights of women and minorities.”
The group also stated that Biden “shares the Jewish community’s commitment to the principle of tikkun olam (Hebrew for healing the world) in addition to our commitment to combating the rise of anti-Semitism and supporting a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
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The organization also noted that Biden launched his presidential campaign with a video focusing on the far-right violence committed at the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s reference to some of the neo-Nazis who instigated it as “very fine people.” Biden often mentions Charlottesville in his speeches and appearances, and uses Trump’s reply to those events as proof that the upcoming election is “a fight for the soul of the nation.”
The endorsement letter was signed by the organization’s board of directors. They also mentioned the “startling rise of anti- Semitism” in America, that “has left more than two-thirds of Jewish voters feeling less secure today than they did two years ago.” Biden has also mentioned this issue several times in speeches and appearances.
Last week, after Biden welcomed the endorsement of J Street, he was attacked by right-wing Jewish activists and supporters of Trump, who portrayed J Street as “anti-Israel”, while attempting to cause harm to Biden by highlighting his positive reaction to the group’s endorsement. Biden, it should be noted, has had good working relationships with both J Street and AIPAC for years.
The Trump campaign’s approach to the Jewish vote is to highlight Trump’s policies regarding Israel. While public opinion polls in the United States clearly show that Israel is not a top priority for most Jewish voters, the Trump campaign hopes that by persuading enough Jewish voters to cast a ballot for him based on his Middle East policy, they can steal important votes from a key constituency of the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party tried a similar strategy in the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney, that year’s Republican nominee, attacked President Obama over his Israel policy, with his campaign believing that it would win the support of the Jewish community. Eventually, however, Obama still won almost 70 percent of the Jewish vote.
During that period, then-Vice President Biden was often sent to the front lines of the battle for keeping the Jewish community’s support. He represented Obama several times in visits to Israel, and often spoke at gatherings of Jewish groups, including both AIPAC and J Street. In the 2012 vice presidential televised debate, Biden called the Republican attacks on Obama regarding Israel “a bunch of stuff” and “malarkey.”