This article was originally published on Jewish Insider.
Bernie Sanders wants to score an upset in New York. But his recent comments on Israel may have just done the opposite – drive up Orthodox Jews' support for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday.
On Thursday, during the debate aired on CNN and NY1, Sanders doubled down on his comments regarding Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza. “I do believe that Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, and has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area, some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed. Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was,” Sanders said.
The remarks came a week after his catastrophic Daily News interview and hiring of Simone Zimmerman, a former J Street student activist and an avowed critic of Israeli policy, as his Jewish outreach coordinator. Sanders suspended Zimmerman on Thursday after revelations that she had used vulgarities in Facebook posts about Netanyahu and Clinton.
Following the debate, Councilman David Greenfield told Jewish Insider, “[Clinton] was outstanding and proved why every Jewish Democrat who cares about Israel should vote for her.”
Greenfield represents one of the largest Orthodox Jewish districts in the United States. On Wednesday, John Podesta, the Chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, met with two dozen Orthodox Jewish community leaders at an event hosted by Greenfield.
While Clinton is not well-liked in the Orthodox Jewish community, an electorate that voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney by almost 80 percent, the comments made by Sanders has motivated the bulk who are registered as Democrats to cast their first-ever vote for Hillary Clinton, according to a dozen Jewish voters interviewed for this story.
“Many Orthodox Jewish Democrats who engaged me, were previously indifferent or even negative towards Hillary Clinton,” Chaskel Bennett, a local community leader and board member of Agudath Israel of America, told Jewish Insider on Saturday. “People I spoke with now feel it imperative to go out and vote against Bernie Sanders.”
“Several callers on my radio show told me they were abandoning Bernie for Hillary because of his negative comments towards Israel,” Greenfield tweeted on Saturday.
“The last week has brought an enormous outpouring of support for Hillary. Democrats in our community are literally petrified of Bernie Sanders,” Kalman Yeger, a Midwood resident and a Kings County Democratic County Committee (AD45) member, told Jewish Insider. ”Bernie expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments, and he surrounds himself with anti-Israel radicals.”
Jewish voters make up 16-19 percent of the New York primary electorate.
Clinton maintains a big lead over Sanders among Jewish voters, according to two surveys published this week. It’s not clear whether his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have any influence on the actual outcome of the vote. Nevertheless, there are three congressional districts in New York City that could be in play on Tuesday, and all three of them have a strong Jewish presence. If Sanders thought he could have a chance to beat Clinton by driving up the vote in Park Slope, in Flatbush and Lower Manhattan, among others, Jewish voters in those districts now have a chance to make a difference by preventing him from picking up more delegates.
“If the Sanders campaign was on a mission to alienate undecided NY Jewish Democrats, my message to them would be, ‘mission accomplished,’” said Bennett.
Daniel Sieradski, an organizer of the group “Jews for Bernie” which has 8,000 supporters on Facebook and 2,700 followers on Twitter, pushed back against the critics, painting them as right-wing extremists. “Before Bernie said anything about Israel on campaign trail, Orthodox Democrat machine declared for Hillary and said he was a self-hating Jew,” he tweeted. Sieradski told AFP, “I don’t think it’s political suicide, but it definitely didn’t help him among people who have hard-line views on Israel.”
Professor Alan Abbey, director of internet and media at Shalom Hartman Institute, who covered Sanders in the 1980s at the for the Burlington Free Press, believes that sweeping statements as to how well Bernie will do among Jews in the Democratic primary are impossible since the New York Jewish population is so diverse. “Orthodox Jews, some of whom are coming out as openly Republican even in Democratic New York, will oppose him not only for his Israel stance, but for many of his liberal social ideas,” Abbey told Jewish Insider. “He will presumably do well on the UWS, while mainstream, suburban Jews will likely split their votes between the two candidates, because of a welter of issues, with Israel not being in the forefront.”
Laura Rosenberger, a foreign policy advisor for Hillary Clinton, appeared on “Community Matters” with Leon Goldenberg, a Saturday night radio show focused on issues that matter to the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, to discuss Clinton’s stance on Israel among others. “When we think about the challenges that the next president is going to walk into the Oval Office and face, I think that there’s a very clear choice that New York voters will face on Tuesday,” Rosenberger said. “And Hillary Clinton not only has the record and experience getting things done, but she has the plan to actually keep our country safe, to protect Israel, and to take that relationship to the next level.”
Yeger predicts Clinton will receive “stronger support in Brooklyn’s Jewish neighborhoods than she’s received in any previous election.”
The Republican presidential candidates have also courted the Jewish vote in the week leading up to the New York primary. Ted Cruz visited a matzah bakery in Brooklyn last week, and reminded New Yorkers about the Obama administration boycotting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last year during a speech at the New York State GOP dinner on Thursday. John Kasich also visited Jewish communities in Borough Park and on Long Island. And Donald Trump met on Thursday with some 30 representatives of Jewish news media outlets, in which he promised to be such a good friend of Israel that “you will all be proud of me.”
But the Jewish vote in the Republican primaries is almost non-existent. Given Trump’s enormous lead in the polls, and the fact that most Orthodox Jews are registered as Democrats, the aggressive outreach on the part of the Republican candidates will likely not translate into votes on Tuesday.
Trump may benefit just from being the front-runner. In Borough Park, a district that voted overwhelmingly for McCain and Romney, a GOTV effort was launched by Republican district leader (0f Assembly District 48) Nachman Caller. “If we all go out and vote for Donald Trump on April 19, he should clinch the nomination, and Donald Trump will recognize our communities for their contribution to his win,” read posters hung on all street corners in the neighborhood over the weekend.
“As the Republican district leader, I am in the unique position to galvanize Republican voters to do the right thing for the country and for our community so we can be instrumental in making Donald Trump the Republican candidate,” Caller told Jewish Insider.
Caller said that he’s planning to get out the vote on Tuesday with a phone bank and posters all over the district, as well as ”sound cars with music.”
Sol Rieger, a Borough Park resident, says he is voting for Ted Cruz on Tuesday. “I think the candidate that shares my values the most is Texas Senator Ted Cruz, not just because of his strong support for the state of Israel, but even on many other issues which are close to Orthodox Jews, such as school choice and religious freedom,” Rieger, 25, told Jewish Insider.
David Shor, a volunteer for the Cruz campaign, said, ”We have been complaining for the last seven years over Obama’s change, and I will not squander the opportunity for positive conservative change with a Trump nomination.”
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