American Jews, themselves an immigrant community, have historically used domestic issues such as immigration policy as an impetus for overwhelmingly supporting Democratic candidates for president. The 2016 election was no exception, with 71 percent of Jewish voters choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
A minority continues to support the president. While they are comfortable among same-thinking conservatives in Orthodox enclaves, they nonetheless say they often feel a communal stigma that’s associated with their political choice.
The group Jews Choose Trump aims to counter that by creating a “safe space for people to come together” and express their views without shame, embarrassment or others pointing fingers at them, says one of its founders, New York-based activist Richard Allen.
“The shutdown of discussion is sometimes so great that there was essentially nobody in the Jewish world who would state publicly that they support Trump,” he says.
The new entity is trying to change that, collecting names and emails of Jewish Trump supporters who affirm their position publicly. Its Facebook page has more than 18,000 followers.
“A lot of Jews feel extremely isolated in their support for Trump,” says another founder, Carol Greenwald, based in Maryland. “We thought that by having people list their names, it would create a feeling of, ‘I’m not alone; there are some Jews who think like I do.’ There’s comfort in that.”
Lee Green, who organizes monthly Jews Choose Trump meetings in The Villages near Orlando, Fla., says the gatherings fill “a need for social groups for Jewish Republicans so that we can socialize and mobilize and give each other ideas.”
Trump remains a lightning rod on immigration — from issues at the southern U.S. border to the public feud stemming from his tweets about four minority congresswomen known as “the Squad.” Jewish organizations have largely condemned the president over that dispute.
Yet even Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, has called out anti-Jewish sentiment within his own party. Hickenlooper’s acknowledgment in an interview with JNS that “sometimes that line [between free speech and anti-Semitism] can be blurred” lends insight into the increasingly fertile environment for groups like Jews Choose Trump and Jexodus, the latter formed to encourage Jewish millennials to leave the Democratic Party.
“We’re certainly grateful for the old Democrat Party, which was more moderate. But that’s not the party anymore,” states Green.
Launched before the 2016 election, Jews Choose Trump then cited two reasons for its support of the Republican nominee: Iran and Israel. Today, the website states that the president has “come through” on those issues, listing pro-Israel policies such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, defending Israel at the United Nations and cutting funds for anti-Israel U.N. programs.
Trump also pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — nine of 10 candidates in June’s first Democratic primary debate pledged to re-enter it — and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Green also notes that Trump’s Education Department last year adopted the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which affirms the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Although Trump’s Jewish critics often blame him for anti-Semitism that’s driven by white nationalism, Green expresses hope that American Jews “will examine where anti-Semitism is actually coming from.”
The former director of the activist arm of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Green argues that the majority of anti-Semitism on college campuses stems from well-organized groups on the left, while most anti-Semitism from the right is comprised of “isolated incidents from unstable individuals.”
As members of the fledgling group look towards 2020, Green points out that in 2016, it was “a few thousand votes that often made a difference” in swing states like her home state of Florida.
Allen emphasizes that Jews Choose Trump is completely volunteer-run and solicits no funds.
“We see how the opposition is embracing our enemies — those who want to destroy us and those forces who want to demonize our people,” he says. “And now we have a true friend in the White House.”