Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2019

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Guest Column:

In wooing Jewish voters, GOP is running a fool’s errand

Every election season, Republicans promise that, at long last, this will be the year that Jewish Americans shift allegiance and abandon the Democratic Party.

In particular, they peddle the myth that by being extra-hawkish on Israel, Republican candidates can win over traditionally Democratic Jewish voters.

And every election, those who buy that story end up like Charlie Brown lying flat on his back after Lucy pulls away the football.

This year will be no different.

I’ll be discussing the Jewish vote today in Las Vegas with Matt Brooks, head of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). His job is to get American Jews to vote Republican this year, and I don’t envy his task.

My case is straightforward, based on data and experience from decades of national elections: Jewish voters support candidates who best reflect the values on which they were raised and policy positions that advance those values.

At home, American Jews strongly support social justice for minorities, women, gays, immigrants and the poor as well as economic policies that lift up all of our citizens, not just the top 1 percent. There’s no chance any but a tiny minority of our community would ever support a candidate who traffics in racism and xenophobia.

On foreign policy, Jewish voters of course look for candidates who support Israel’s security, but they’re also looking for leaders who promote hardheaded diplomacy and coalition-building, not bluster and a simplistic reliance on military force alone.

Take Iran: Polls show that Jewish voters supported last year’s nuclear deal by a wider margin than the electorate as a whole. And, now, even as the RJC and other hawkish groups continue to denounce the deal, they have to face the fact that the deal is working.

Here are the facts: Without a single shot being fired, Iran’s plutonium reactor has been decommissioned, 98 percent of its highly enriched uranium has been shipped out of the country, and two-thirds of its centrifuges have been disconnected. Cameras and inspectors are now giving the world 24/7 insight into the entire Iranian nuclear program.

If Republicans campaign on a pledge to rip up the deal, they’ll gain little traction with Jewish voters who supported it and see now that it’s working.

Similarly, when it comes to Israel, the vast majority of Jewish Americans support the two-state solution as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. They know American leadership is vital to make that goal a reality — and they want a president who makes the two-state solution a priority.

Most Jewish voters support policies that make Israel safer not just against rockets but against some of the more fundamental threats to its future as a democratic Jewish homeland.

If Republicans choose to campaign on a platform defending settlements, denying the reality of occupation, demonizing the entire Palestinian people and disparaging diplomacy and peacemaking, they may appeal to their small base, but they stand no chance of winning over voters who’ve historically supported Democrats.

At the end of the day, American Jewish voters know the U.S.-Israel relationship is grounded in the shared values of our two countries: democracy, tolerance, social justice and equality under law.

Moreover, as a people who’ve been a small and often vulnerable minority wherever we have lived throughout history, Jews cannot and will not ever forget our own suffering at the hands of intolerant demagogues.

We are determined to stand up for others who are threatened with hatred and demonization. We understand that when our fellow Americans are persecuted and demonized on the basis of their race or religion, we are threatened, too.

By and large, Jewish Americans want a president who will protect and defend these values at home and abroad.

This is, without a doubt, one of the wildest and most unpredictable election seasons in recent memory. While many surprises remain in store for us all before November, we can take comfort in knowing that at least one political truth won’t change: when American Jews go to the polls, their principles and priorities will not change and they won’t suddenly vote for a party offering vitriol at home and militarism abroad.

Looking at the Republican field and particularly the present front-runner, I don’t envy Mr. Brooks — putting the metaphoric football down to yet again make the case that, yes, Charlie Brown, this is the year Jewish Americans will switch their allegiance to the Republican Party.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president and founder of J Street, the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.

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