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“Jexodus”: Trump, Jews, and Israel

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President Trump helped kick off the week with a tweet alleging that “Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party” and citing a television appearance by a woman named Elizabeth Pipko from a group called Jexodus.

He followed it up Friday morning with another “Jexodus” tweet that, again, seems to have been inspired by something he saw while watching cable news (which was not, at that moment, covering the anti-Muslim mass shooting in New Zealand during the American nighttime).

There are, of course, millions of Jews in America, and at any given time it seems likely that some of them are switching parties. But the Jexodus trend, in addition to having a silly name, gives every appearance of being fake.

Jews are as loyal to the post-Obama Democratic Party as they were to the pre-Obama version. It’s true that the GOP’s embrace of Christian Zionism, combined with a rightward turn in Israeli domestic politics, has created a strong alignment between the GOP and Israel’s governing Likud Party. Democrats, historically the more consistently pro-Israel party, now have significant internal divisions on the issue.

But Jewish opinion on Israel is diverse, Jewish voting patterns are not necessarily driven by sentiment on Israel, and the implication that Jews should vote primarily based on their allegiance to Israel seems to uncomfortably partake of the larger swirl of anti-Semitic sentiment that’s surrounded Trump from the beginning of his campaign.

Jexodus, a silly name for a fake thing

The term “Jexodus” is a play on Candace Owens’s “Blexit” organization, which putatively aspires to lead African Americans out of the Democratic Party coalition. “Blexit” itself is a play on “Brexit” — something that has no literal relationship to American politics but which is intimately tied to Rupert Murdoch’s global right-wing propaganda broadcasting operation.

While there’s nothing particularly black or British about the idea of exiting, however, the original Exodus was Jewish (Moses leading his people out of bondage, etc.), so the idea of a “Jewish Exodus” is extremely silly.

It’s also fake.

The alignment of American Jews with the Democratic Party is extremely longstanding, dating back at least to Woodrow Wilson’s close political relationship with Louis Brandeis. It survived significant tensions during the 1920s when many Democrats were also closely aligned with the Ku Klux Klan.

According to exit polls, Democrats won 71 percent of the Jewish vote in 2016 and 79 percent in 2018. Polling by SSRS for the American Jewish Committee registers lower levels of Jewish support for Democrats but an identical trend: Democrats won 67 percent of Jews in 2016 and 74 percent in 2018.

What is true is that the long-term trend looks a little different. According to Pew’s “trends in party affiliation” survey, 69 percent of Jews were Democrats or Democratic-leaning in 1994. This fell to 67 percent by 2017, easily within the margin of error.

During the same period, the share of GOP-aligned Jews rose from 25 percent to 31 percent. That’s a pretty small shift over nearly a quarter of a century, but it happened during a time when highly educated people as a whole (about 60 percent of American Jews have college degrees) were showing a strong shift toward the Democrats.

Consequently, it is arguably true that Jewish affiliation has become a weaker predictor of Democratic Party allegiance than it used to be — even though it is definitely not true that Jews are fleeing the Democratic Party.

Republicans are hoping for a political windfall on Israel

The larger story here is that Republicans keep hoping for — and not receiving — a big electoral windfall from the Israel issue.

American Jews were members of the New Deal political coalition before the creation of the state of Israel. In the wake of World War II, they became an important pro-Israel constituency in the Democratic Party. To the extent that there was a constituency on the other side, it was largely in the Republican Party, which — through the intermediating influence of the oil industry — had more ties to the Arab states.

The Eisenhower administration undermined a joint Franco-British-Israeli military operation during the Suez Crisis, and George H.W. Bush used US loan guarantees as leverage against Israel to check settlement construction. During the 2000 campaign and even early in his administration, there was a perception that a George W. Bush’s administration would be a “like father, like son” situation, and in July 2001, Congress bucked the White House to impose stronger sanctions on Iran and Libya, in a vote that pitted pro-Israel groups against oil interests.

Things turned out very differently, however. The post-9/11 ascendancy of neoconservative hawks over so-called realists in the Bush administration, paired with the growing influence of Christian Zionists in GOP politics, plus a burgeoning (albeit quiet) anti-Iranian alliance between Israel and the oil-rich Gulf monarchies created an incredibly strong alignment between the Republican Party and the ascendant Israeli right.

During the same period, American Muslims have been slowly incorporated into the Democratic Party’s diverse coalition, Barack Obama’s administration saw significant tensions with both Israel and the Gulf monarchies over Iran, and the most strident critics of Israel in America are virtually all on the left.

This has not, in practice, generated an electoral windfall for Republicans among American Jews — perhaps in part because many of the high-profile critics of Israel, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, are themselves Jewish — who are not necessarily as single-mindedly focused on this issue as Republicans would like them to be. Many American Jews find Christian Zionism to be an alarming apocalyptic cult that accords poorly with the actual substance of Jewish Zionism.

And more broadly, while American Jews are largely (though by no means unanimously) supportive of Israel, most do not see political support for Israel to be an adequate substitute for supporting a pluralistic vision of the United States of America, which, after all, is where American Jews live. The contention that Jews should vote Republican because Republicans are stronger backers of the Israeli government isn’t identical to the “dual loyalties” issue that got Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in trouble earlier this months, but it’s not entirely unrelated either. The reality is that American Jews are Americans, not Israelis, and while elements of GOP social conservatism appeal strongly to Orthodox Jews, for most Jewish Americans, Jewish values and Jewish identity are tied up with openness and pluralism in a way that makes the GOP a very hard sell.





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