With the presidential election just two months away, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump are pulling out all the stops to win over as many key demographic groups as they can.
Though relatively small compared to other groups, the American Jewish community, due to its outsized influence in politics and American culture, is seen as a significant factor by both campaigns.
Outside the official channels, some Trump supporters are seeking to make their own impact on the election and promise not to remain silent when it comes to Israel’s security and future.
The grass roots group Jews Choose Trump was formed in late July by financial adviser Carol Greenwald along with several partners, including Jewish activist and founder of JCCWatch.org Richard Allen.
Greenwald has a long history of Jewish community activism and says she lives by the biblical verse Isaiah 62:1, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent.” She said she was motivated to start the website JewsChooseTrump.org after becoming fed up with accusations by liberals that Trump was anti-Semitic.
“Trump is someone who’s worked with the Jewish community his entire life and…his daughter and son-in-law…are both observant Jews,” Greenwald said. “The smearing of Trump as anti-Semitic is just outrageous.”
Greenwald said JewsChooseTrump.org has steadily grown, with Jewish supporters of Trump from across the country signing up to express their solidarity and looking for ways to get involved.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the velocity of social media in getting out our message of Jewish support for Trump,” said Allen, who’s been handling social media for the group. “We have over 40 states with activists who stand for Trump in their communities. Our Jews Choose Trump Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and website are on fire with activity. The use of this alternate unbiased network of social media sites has changed the dynamic in reaching Jewish Trump supporters.”
The support the group has gained comes despite some early negative issues for Trump.
During the Republican primary season, many prominent politically conservative Jews were hesitant about supporting Trump. In particular, some were concerned over statements Trump had made such as saying to a group of Jewish donors in December 2015 that he’s “a negotiator like you folks,” a remark some said played into Jewish stereotypes, and that he would be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But after securing the nomination, the Trump campaign has focused on raising its level of support in the Jewish community with promises to overturn the Iran nuclear deal, recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and oppose any measures to impose or dictate borders on Israel.
“The Republican platform has [more] pro-Israel statements in it than any platform in American history and a lot of those changes were pushed by the Trump campaign,” Greenwald said.
Most troubling to Greenwald is Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iran nuclear deal, which was a key foreign policy goal of President Obama’s and in which Clinton played an early role when she was secretary of state.
“Most Jews love Israel and they worry about the security of their children and grandchildren. The Iran deal endangers this security,” she said.
The Iran deal apparently is a deal breaker for many, though not all, Jewish supporters of Israel who may not be crazy about Trump but who refuse to support Clinton.
Republican fundraiser Kenneth S. Abramowitz, a major Israel supporter, is backing Trump. “Anyone who supported the Iran deal [should be] automatically disqualified from political office in this country,” Abramowitz told JNS. “Negotiating with terrorists and providing them money during our state of war was providing material support for terrorism.”
On the other hand, Jewish billionaire hedge fund manager Seth Klarman, a major giver to pro-Israel causes who backed Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio during the primary season, has announced his support for Clinton.
While historically the American Jewish community has been heavily Democratic, presidential election trends in recent years indicate a small shift in support toward the Republican Party. In 2008, Barack Obama garnered 78 percent of Jewish voters, according to exit polls. Four years later, that number fell to 69 percent.
However, the decline of Jewish voter support for Obama may have been largely due to his personal clashes with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and may not directly translate into success for Trump.
Tevi Troy, a presidential historian and White House aide in the George W. Bush administration, said that while there has been a gradual increase of Jewish support for Republican presidential candidates, he’s “not sure what the Trump effect will be.”
A survey conducted by polling firm GBA Strategies among 500 Jewish voters in Florida from Aug. 4-8 found 67 percent support for Clinton versus only 23 percent for Trump. According to GBA Strategies, these voters prioritized “the economy, the environment, immigration policy, and the Supreme Court by large numbers over the issues of Israel or Iran.”
Despite the uphill battle in gaining more Jewish support for Trump, in a close election even a small number of voters in important states could swing the election to either candidate.
Of the more than 1,000 names registered on JewsChooseTrump.org, roughly 15 percent are from the area around Boca Raton, Florida, Greenwald said.
Home to one of the country’s largest Jewish communities, Florida is likely to play a key role in determining who wins in November. Greenwald says her group plans to contact people on the list in important battleground states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and encourage them to speak out in favor of Trump by writing op-ed articles, handing out literature, and speaking at Jewish events in their community.