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Jewish vote sought in Nov. US election

  • Sarna
“It’s estimated that 85 per cent to 90 per cent of American Jews will vote for (the Democratic Party presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton in November,” said Dr Jonathan Sarna, who spoke in Cape Town recently on “Jews and American Politics: Historical Ideals and Contemporary Realities”. His talk was hosted by the South African Jewish Museum and the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies.
by TALI FEINBERG | Aug 24, 2016

PHOTOGRAPH: TIMES OF ISRAEL

Dr Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R Braun Professor of American Jewish History and chairman of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Programme at Brandeis University.

Such a landslide Jewish vote is almost unprecedented, said Sarna, who delved into the history of Jewish political involvement in the United States. The last time a similar thing happened was when 90 per cent of Jews voted for Franklin D Roosevelt in 1940. “Since when have 90 per cent of Jews done anything?!” he quipped.

“The Jewish vote still matters today, and both parties are working hard for it,” he said.

There a number of reasons for that: “Firstly, Jews turn out to vote - at least 85 per cent in presidential elections. It’s really decided on the day by who goes to the polls. Jews see it as a ‘mitzvah’ to vote, as we didn’t always have that right.”

In contrast, other minorities in the US, such as Hispanics and Muslims don’t usually vote in such high numbers, “which is why (Republican Party nominee) Donald Trump feels he can insult them; and why Hillary is working hard to ensure they do register, and vote for her.

“Secondly, Jews contribute disproportionately to political parties, and are relied upon to do so. Even Donald Trump’s largest donor is Sheldon Adelson.

“Thirdly and crucially, Jews live in states that any successful candidate needs to win. Up to 85 per cent live in four metropolitan areas: California, New York, Florida and New Jersey. These ‘swing states’, particularly Florida, are the states that decide elections.”

Commenting on the upcoming American presidential election, Dr Sarna said it was a particularly unusual one, as one candidate had never held political office before, and the other was a woman.

“It is also unusual concerning the Jewish community; firstly, both candidates have Jewish sons-in-law and Bernie Sanders was the first Jewish politician to try and run for president. All this shows how Jews have become embedded in American life, and how much has changed over a generation.”

In fact, Dr Sarna says that the topic “Jews and American politics” would have horrified community leaders until recently, “who would have insisted that there was no such thing as ‘Jewish politics’ in the United States: it does not exist and should not exist.”

This was because Jews were fearful to be seen as having “dual loyalty” and not being invested in their homeland, endangering precious rights so recently won.

Delving into the history, Dr Sarna showed how this was strictly adhered to and then slowly eroded. For example, in 1819, a Jewish community leader called for “cherem” to be imposed upon any Jew who took sides in a political debate! “But later we see how Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt actively campaigned for the Jewish vote and that the Jewish community began to engage in politics.”

On Israel, Dr Sarna noted that Hillary Clinton has experience and knowledge about the Middle East and that her husband Bill, “knows every inch of the land of Israel”. He was unsure of Trump’s approach, which has not been clarified during his campaign.

While much can change before November, Dr Sarna said that one thing is for certain: “The next president of the United States will have a Jewish son-in-law!”

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