For many American Jews, the 2020 presidential election marks the end of two pillars of their political identity. The first is the very idea of a Jewish community. There is not one; there are several, and they are growing ever more in conflict with one another.
The second is the death of the two-state solution and, with it, the dream that one can marry one’s Zionism to one’s liberalism.
First things first: Jews largely remain very liberal. J Street, a nonprofit advocacy group that describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” commissioned exit polling of Jewish voters and found a 77-21 percent preference for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. But Florida and the odd urban congressional district aside, Jewish votes rarely matter much. Jews constitute about 2 percent of the US population—not much more than Muslims. They vote the way most college- and graduate-school-educated urban-ish dwellers do: Democratic. Also, just 5 percent of Jews chose “Israel” as their first or second most important issue—and, being Jews, they disagree on that topic, too.
Given the role money plays in our politics, however, votes are not the real story. Jewish campaign cash carries far more weight. While conservatives never tire of blaming the liberal financier and philanthropist George Soros for the world’s ills, the right-wing Sheldon Adelson actually lives up to virtually every anti-Semitic stereotype ever invented. A gambling magnate with a Trump-like record for business shenanigans, this self-proclaimed “richest Jew in the world” devotes hundreds of millions of dollars to buying up politicians and the press and demanding that both adhere to his Likud party line.
It’s no wonder that Republican politicians travel to Las Vegas to kiss Adelson’s ring. According to preliminary Federal Election Commission data, compiled by OpenSecrets, he and his Israeli American wife, Miriam Adelson, ponied up over $183 million in the 2020 cycle. No other contributor comes close—and that includes the $100 million Michael Bloomberg committed to Biden’s failed campaigns in Florida, Ohio, and Texas. Moreover, the figure is just part of Sheldon Adelson’s political giving. These contributions should be viewed partly as a thank-you and partly as an investment in the politics that, under Trump, has delivered the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the unashamed encouragement of Israel’s massive settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and a cutoff of US aid to the Palestinians. (Trump threw in a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Miriam Adelson as well.)
These policies no doubt appeal to many of the increasingly conservative 10 percent of American Jews who identify as Orthodox, but the real political payoff is with evangelical Christians. Saying the quiet part out loud once again, Trump complained at an August campaign rally, “You know, it’s amazing with that—the evangelicals are more excited by [moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem] than Jewish people.” This is consistent with Trump’s and his party’s embrace of anti-Semitism as an electoral and governing tactic. And Republican Jewish groups seem totally cool with this. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote, “Following President Trump’s now infamous ‘stand back and stand by’ comment, directed at the far right and anti-Semitic Proud Boys militia, even the Republican side of the aisle offered mild words of rebuke.” But the Republican Jewish Coalition, the rabbi pointed out, “had only words of praise for Trump.”
In 2016, Norm Coleman, now the national chair of the RJC, wrote in an op-ed for Minnesota’s Star-Tribune, “I won’t vote for Donald Trump…because of who he is. A bigot. A misogynist. A fraud. A bully.” Coleman then added, “Any man who declines to renounce the affections of the KKK and David Duke should not be trusted to lead America. Ever.” Today, however, it’s fine for Trump to embrace the Proud Boys, a group the Anti-Defamation League describes as “violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic.” One of the group’s leaders, Kyle Chapman, recently said, “We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization” and announced his desire to change the group’s name to Proud Goys. Then there are the Trump advertisements that evoke age-old anti-Semitic tropes. How else to interpret the figure of the Jewish Bernie Sanders dangling a Biden puppet? Or the warm welcome the GOP has given the anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracist and soon-to-be Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who tweeted, regarding that state’s upcoming runoff elections, “Our Senate seats are not up for sale to Soros, Bloomberg, Hollywood, and Stacey Abrams.”
Another group that appears OK with the anti-Semitism-for-pro-Israelism trade-off, alas, is Israeli Jews, among whom Trump’s 70-13 percent polling matches his support among evangelicals. One can confidently predict that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Republicans will resort to demagoguery every time the Biden administration does not defer to the Likud party’s racist and reactionary priorities. Theatrics aside, right-wing Israelis have nothing to worry about. The only weapon in the US arsenal that could conceivably persuade Israel to reconsider its democratic death march toward permanent apartheid would be the conditioning of US aid on a 180-degree reversal of its current political path. But Biden rejects this notion out of hand.
In addition, much of the Arab world is focused on the threat from Iran and is now willing to entertain peace with Israel. This has left the Palestinians with little leverage to achieve any independent political rights, whether via statehood or some other institutional arrangement. After longtime Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat died recently, his family received condolences from former diplomats and Jewish peace groups. They might as well have been mourning the prospect of peace itself.