Taking on centrist DemsAttitudes changed when Trump won the presidency in 2016

Jewish Democrat group targets US Jews to elect far-left progressive candidates

The Jewish Vote is backing staunchly liberal candidates in New York’s primaries, before targeting Republicans in November’s elections

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), the sister organization of The Jewish Vote, march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016. (Courtesy Gili Getz)
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), the sister organization of The Jewish Vote, march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016. (Courtesy Gili Getz)

NEW YORK — They may be in politics and not the food industry, but one Jewish organization has labeled US President Donald Trump’s policies as “not kosher.”

As Democrats mull how they will unseat governing Republicans in November’s upcoming midterm elections, there is an additional, internal struggle between establishment Democrats advocating for moderate nominees, and a leftist insurgency backing staunch progressives.

Launched in mid-July, The Jewish Vote belongs to the latter group. The new organization says it is “harnessing the power of the #JewishResistance to build grassroots power and elect true progressives willing to stand up to Trump’s treif agenda.”

But before they take a stab at the Republicans, The Jewish Vote is looking to sink its teeth into centrist Democratic incumbents.

Founded by members of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), a progressive organization based in New York City, the organization aims to unseat moderate Democrats in New York and replace them with unabashed progressives.

While JFREJ has done grassroots work for nearly 30 years to advance causes like affordable housing, prison reform and police accountability, until now, they haven’t gotten involved in elections.

That changed when Trump won the US presidency in 2016.

“Jews are part of progressive movements and have been for a very long time, but we haven’t had an electoral vehicle to help us express that in elections,” said Audrey Sasson, the executive director of The Jewish Vote. “That can’t continue.”

Audrey Sasson, executive director of The Jewish Vote. (Courtesy JFREJ)

Sasson also serves as executive director of JFREJ, The Jewish Vote’s sister organization.

With 25 percent of all US Jews residing in New York, The Jewish Vote seeks to mobilize the approximately 70% of Jews that typically vote Democrat to shift left when the Empire State’s Democratic primaries are held on September 13.

“People are hungry for a bolder vision, and centrist Democrats will not take us to where we need to go,” said Sasson.

Among its policy positions, The Jewish Vote seeks to abolish ICE, protect Muslims and immigrants, fight rampant corruption and advance legislation for single-payer health care, affordable housing and criminal justice reform.

The organization believes the most effective way to do so is through local politics. So far, The Jewish Vote has endorsed four progressive candidates who are challenging more moderate Democratic incumbents in New York: Cynthia Nixon for New York governor, Jumaane Williams for New York lieutenant governor, Julia Salazar for New York State Senate District 18 and Alessandra Biaggi for New York State Senate District 34. All of these races are considered “safe” for Democrats in the general election.

Through these candidates, The Jewish Vote hopes to advance the policies its sister organization has fought for years to enshrine into law — only to be stymied by elected officials.

In District 18, which covers large sections of northern Brooklyn that has undergone tremendous gentrification in recent years — forcing out many lower-income residents — Salazar is seeking to unseat State Sen. Martin Dilan.

Salazar, a Jewish Latina and member of the Democratic Socialists of America who worked for JFREJ, has attacked Dilan for accepting corporate donation dollars and failing to sufficiently stem the housing crisis.

In parts of the northern Bronx and Westchester, Biaggi is taking on incumbent Jeffrey Klein in District 34 by advocating for single-payer health care and increased home care for the district’s many elderly residents.

Biaggi and The Jewish Vote are also taking aim at Klein for having led the now-dissolved Independent Democrat Conference (IDC), a group of Democrats that until April of this year caucused with Republicans to hand them State Senate control for several years despite being outnumbered at times by Democrats. Klein and the rest of the former IDC have reverted to caucusing with fellow Democrats again.

Julia Salazar, a Jewish Democratic candidate for New York’s 18th district. (YouTube)

The Jewish Vote has no qualms with pushing “#BubbesforBiaggi” over a Jewish incumbent like Klein, but not all Jewish Democrats are happy about this — nor the focus on replacing centrist Democrats in office.

“The greatest irony is that the #JewishVote seeks to unseat people like [New York Democratic Senator] Chuck Schumer. Our Jewish values are about building unity, not dismantling the progress we’ve made,” read one critical tweet recently.

Responding to such criticism, Sasson said, “The goal is not necessarily to elect Jewish members to office, but to harness the power of the Jewish resistance in electing progressives to office.”

While The Jewish Vote does not take a stance on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it opposes efforts by politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to punish organizations or people that support it.

“We have to do everything we can to stand up for free speech and oppose criminalization of political dissent,” said Sasson. “We’ve seen BDS applied in ways that could be anti-Semitic, and we’ve seen it applied in ways that are not. What worries us is actual anti-Semitism, not nonviolent tactics that are sometimes the vehicle for it. Anti-Semitism to us is right there in the White House.”

Emphasizing New York’s Jewish progressive history

Along with canvassing for endorsed candidates and putting on events to educate and get out the progressive Jewish vote, the organization has been very active on social media. Much of their online efforts hearken to the deep history of Jewish leftism in New York City with a slick, branded feel. Their stylized posts feature historical photos of feminist labor activists in the ’20s and ’30s, resistance to Nazi-era fascism, as well as the Israeli Black Panthers who fought for Middle Eastern Jewish rights in Israel during the ’70s and ’80s.

“We are proudly out there saying that the Jewish Vote for us is about drawing from our history and voting with our Jewish values,” said Sasson.

The grassroots campaign is inspired by the socialist Bundist philosophy of “doikayt,” Yiddish for “here-ness,” which seeks to “find your struggle wherever you are and find your home wherever you are.”

Through this Bundist tradition, The Jewish Vote embraces its Diaspora identity without hesitation.

“One of the central tenets of doikayt is we will not be assimilated. We will not forego our identity and desire to be free and Jewish,” said Sasson. “And we will not speak of our own liberation at the expense or isolation of the liberation of someone else. Our vision is of a genuinely multiracial, pluralistic society.”

With this doikayt ethos in mind, The Jewish Vote battles opposing voices from the Democratic party’s center and right by opting to speak louder. As they said in one recent tweet: “We’re not going to stop.”

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