1. Going after Bernie
It’s not every day that America has a Jewish presidential candidate with a real chance of winning a nomination (or, in fact, two Jewish candidates). And it’s not every day that a pro-Israel Jewish PAC opens its checkbook and airs ads attacking a Jewish presidential candidate, arguing he’s too old to fill the highest position in the land.
But as Bernie Sanders began to surge in Iowa and lead in the polls of the first and second states to vote, it was party over community, at least for some Democratic Jews.
The campaign ad, aired by the Democratic Majority for Israel in Iowa days before tonight’s caucuses, was definitely a first. The PAC, funded by pro-Israel Democrats who fear their party is pulling too far to the left on issues relating to Israel, seeks to fund centrist pro-Israel candidates instead of progressives critical of the Jewish state’s conduct, and it views Sanders as a growing problem. The candidate, who has made no secret of his views on Israel and who has threatened to condition U.S. aid to Israel on its treatment of the Palestinians, has the potential, they fear, of deterring pro-Israel centrist Democrats if he wins the nomination.
And while the electorate potentially affected by Bernie’s views on Israel is minuscule, it carries special importance. Think of Southern Florida. If there’s one thing that unites many of the Jewish retirees in this swing state, it’s their hawkishness on Israel. Bernie’s views could be a non-starter for his fellow Jewish septuagenarians. And the Democrats can’t afford to lose the state to Donald Trump again.
But the ad that was aired in Iowa doesn’t take issue with Sanders’ views on Israel, the harsh words he used to describe Benjamin Netanyahu or his strong opposition to Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. Instead, the video highlights voters questioning Sanders’ electability. “I doubt if Bernie Sanders can beat Trump,” says one. And another claims that while he likes Bernie, “Michigan, Pennsylvanian, Iowa–they’re just not gonna to vote for a socialist.” And then there’s a woman named Darby Holroyd who states: “I do have some concerns about Bernie Sanders’ health, considering the fact that he had a heart attack.”
Sanders responded with his own quick video message complaining of the “big money” running attack ads against him and stating that the “billionaire class is getting nervous.”
It’s no secret that we’re taking on the political establishment and the big money interests, who are now running attack ads against us in Iowa. But we have the people, and our grassroots movement will prevail. pic.twitter.com/77Zxpvn8RB
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 29, 2020
So just to sum up the state of the Democratic race in the first week of primaries: Jewish donors are attacking a Jewish candidate for being too old to run, and a Jewish candidate is calling out Jewish donors for being part of a “big money” billionaire class.
It can only go downhill from here.
2. Bernie embraces his Jewishness
It could be a sign of confidence, or simply a lesson learned from his 2016 campaign. Either way, Sanders is clearly more comfortable speaking about his Jewishness this time around.
He is one of only two candidates in the race to appoint a liaison to the Jewish community (the other, interestingly, is Mike Bloomberg, who is also Jewish) and has spoken out more about his Jewish roots and heritage in interviews and campaign events.
Last week, Sanders tweeted a video clip featuring his Jewish outreach director Joel Rubin, adding: “I’m very proud to be Jewish and I look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.”
I’m very proud to be Jewish and I look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country. pic.twitter.com/P4ARCyMZJG
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 24, 2020
3. Biden talks anti-Semitism
Joe Biden has yet to appoint a liaison to the Jewish community, but he does mention the issue of anti-Semitism in his stump speech. Speaking in Iowa Sunday, in his last campaign event before the caucuses began, Biden once again reminded the crowd of Charlottesville, of Trump’s reaction to it and of the need to fight the rising tide of anti-Semitism. He is the only candidate to regularly raise the issue.
4. Funding Holocaust education
On January 27, the day marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the U.S. House passed a bill known as the Never Again Education Act, which will provide federal grants for resources to help schools teach about the Holocaust.
It’s not a huge program, but it does go a long way in showing that some issues can still have real bipartisan support. 393 representatives from both parties voted in favor of approving the bill, only 5 (4 Republicans, 1 Independent) opposed.
The Republican Jewish Coalition immediately announced, according to Jewish Insider, that it is withdrawing support from the GOP members who voted No on the bill.
5. Friedman goes biblical
There are many ways to look at the recently launched Trump plan for Middle East peace. Supporters of Trump and Netanyahu in the U.S. and Israel (but no Palestinians) view it as a realistic plan for resolving the decades-old conflict; critics of the two leaders see it as a political gift to Netanyahu aimed at helping him push through the finish line in the upcoming elections; most Middle East experts look at the plan and see an amateurish one-sided paper that will never take off.
But for David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and one of the key architects of the plan, the Trump deal represents something deeper–an opportunity of biblical proportions.
In a fascinating interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network a day after the White House rollout ceremony, Friedman made the point that by allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, the Trump deal saved the biblical heartland. “If they do [extend Israeli sovereignty over the settlements,] and our plan contemplates that Israel will, you’re talking about opening up the Bible, bringing it back to life in ways that I think your listeners couldn’t have even imagined,” Friedman said. “I mean, imagine the ease of travel under Israeli civilian autonomy…it’s an opportunity for biblical tourism that I think will grow and flourish in profound ways.”