Bill Clinton: Jews should understand danger of Trump better than anyone
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'Disagree the way Israelis do: Fight like the devil ... but in the end have this process by which we come together'

Bill Clinton: Jews should understand danger of Trump better than anyone

Canvassing in Florida, former president warns Jewish audience against ‘threat to fundamental character of the nation, future of our children and grandchildren’

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

In this July 26, 2016 file photo, former president Bill Clinton speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
In this July 26, 2016 file photo, former president Bill Clinton speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON — Former US President Bill Clinton went on the stump Sunday, seeking to mobilize Florida Jews to vote for his wife and recognize the dangers posed by her Republican opponent Donald Trump.

“This is about more than party,” he said. “If there is any group of people in this country that should understand the threat to the fundamental character of the nation and the future of our children and grandchildren posed by the choice in this election, it should be members of the Jewish community. No one should sit it out.”

Addressing a crowd of more than 100 people at the Century Pines Jewish Center in South Florida’s Broward County, Clinton emphasized the need for Jewish Americans to “participate in this election,” arguing that this year’s campaign season has crossed the normal partisan divide.

He described an “us-versus-them” mentality that has manifested across the globe since the financial crisis of 2008, including through the rise of xenophobic political parties in Europe. In that climate, he indicated, an unconventional candidate like Trump had been able to make headway.

Clinton further warned voters against “the consequences of any ideology that says our differences are more important than our common humanity.”

Speaking just a few days after the real estate mogul began sending shockwaves through the US political system by suggesting he may not accept the outcome of the election, Clinton encouraged Americans to handle their political disputes in a manner similar to Israelis.

“Disagree the way Israelis do: Fight like the devil over the things we disagree with, but in the end have this process by which we come together and we get the show on the road and move into the future and go on and remain a beacon of hope and freedom to the rest of the world,” he said. “That’s more important than any specific issue.”

Barbra Streisand, former US president Bill Clinton, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laugh during a celebration event in honor of Peres' 90th birthday, in Jerusalem on June 18, 2013 (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Barbra Streisand, former US president Bill Clinton, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laugh during a celebration event in honor of Peres’ 90th birthday, in Jerusalem on June 18, 2013 (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Clinton invoked his friendship with former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres, who he recently eulogized in Jerusalem, and the latest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, saying Israel’s elder statesmen exemplified the meaning of one of Bob Dylan’s famed songs “Forever Young,” which includes the lyrics, “May you build a ladder to the stars / And climb on every rung.”

“Why am I telling you this?” Clinton then asked those in attendance. “Because America is now the longest-lasting free democracy in human history, and it’s because we were given this mission by the founders to form a more perfect union, which is an eternal mission. Our job is to do better.”

“This is about tikkun olam,” he added, referring to the Jewish concept of acting with kindness and seeking to repair the world. “We have bridges in our country. We have to repair them.”

Hillary Clinton greeting supporters at a caucus day event as her husband, former president Bill Clinton, looks on at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Feb. 20, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/via JTA)
Hillary Clinton greeting supporters at a caucus day event as her husband, former president Bill Clinton, looks on at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Feb. 20, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/via JTA)

Clinton’s visit to Florida was no accident. The battleground state, which is roughly five percent Jewish, is critical to the general election, and could potentially hold the power to shift the balance of electoral college votes.

Two months ago, the National Jewish Democratic Council launched a super PAC, Jews for Progress, to target Jewish voters in swing states — like Colorado, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania — 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%.

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