WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), the highest-ranking Jewish House member who went to Florida this week to stump for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, said the Florida Jews he’s spoken with seem more concerned with her Republican challenger Donald Trump than Iran.
Israel, who represents New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Long Island’s North Shore, opposed the Iran nuclear deal forged in July 2015.
But on the campaign circuit in a critical battleground state that is roughly five percent Jewish, Israel said he found himself not needing to assuage voters who are apprehensive about the contentious accord, voters with whom he has credibility.
“I have not heard any concerns for it,” he told The Times of Israel in a phone interview. “I think that Trump’s statements and conduct over the past few months has actually eclipsed the concern that some may have had with respect to Iran.”
The New York Democrat also insisted that Trump has issued only “empty rhetoric” and inconsistencies on Israel and the Iranian threat, whereas Clinton has a record of supporting Israel she can cite, including her brokering of a 2012 Israel-Hamas ceasefire during a violent eruption in the Gaza Strip.
“You couldn’t have a more vivid contrast when it comes to US-Israel relations,” he said of the two presidential rivals. “When it comes to Donald Trump, he’s been double-talking his way through the issue and Hillary Clinton has a demonstrated record of achievements in supporting Israel.”
The former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said he’d heard from a number of Jewish voters at stops throughout the Sunshine State — in Hollywood, Boca and Ft. Lauderdale — and reported that most expressed consternation about the Republican nominee and recent controversies that have dominated the news cycle.
Florida’s Jewish voters, said Israel, repeatedly brought up audio and video from 2005 in which Trump can be heard boasting about making unwanted sexual advances on women; allegations from 11 women who claim he groped or touched them without their consent; and his refusal to say he will accept the November 8 outcome, which he indicated had a dark resonance for the Jewish community.
“There’s an enormous anxiety about Donald Trump in several areas. Two that have come up over and over again in my visits are his treatment of women and his suggestion that he will not accept the results of a democratic election,” he said.
“The latter is particularly alarming to many American Jews because it’s a dog-whistle to foment the most dangerous resentments — and that doesn’t work out well for Jews throughout our history,” he added.
Israel, who is retiring after 16 years in Congress, said that while the Jewish state is an expressed priority within the Jewish communities he has visited, there is a “broad range of issues that animate Jewish voters.”
Early voting in Florida began on Monday, and Israel said he’s talked to many voters who have already cast their ballots for his party’s standard bearer. A concerted effort to target Jewish voters in Florida, which could potentially hold the power to shift the balance of electoral college votes, has been underway since the summer.
Two months ago, the National Jewish Democratic Council launched a super PAC, Jews for Progress, to target Jewish voters in Florida and other swing states where “a shift in the Jewish vote could turn the tide in the presidential election.”
Most polls show Clinton ahead overall in the Sunshine State, but not by much. The latest Real Clear Politics Average has her leading by 4 points there. An August poll showed her with 66% of Jewish support in Florida, whereas her Republican counterpart had 23%.
Israel predicted Clinton would “receive one of the highest percentages of Jewish votes in recent memory.” While a September survey, conducted by the American Jewish Committee, found Clinton trouncing Trump, 61% to 19% with Jewish voters, she’s currently behind past Democratic nominees.
President Obama accrued 69% of the Jewish vote in 2012 and 74-78% in 2008; John Kerry received 76% support 2004; and Al Gore had 79% in 2000.
Israel insisted Jewish voters will turn out significantly for Clinton this year, however, because “of the broad range of issues that are at stake.”