PHILADELPHIA – The Democratic National Committee rallied Jewish activists attending their party’s nominating convention in Philadelphia, telling them to reach out to Jewish conservatives who may have reservations about voting for Republican contender businessman Donald Trump.
“We have all had our differences with Republican nominees, but here you have one who is so far from the norm of conservatism that we’re used to opposing that he is not even supported by many of them,” Rep. Jared Polis, a Jewish member of the House of Representatives told party activists at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Supporters of both nominee and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders attended the event, which was billed as a roundtable for Jewish Democrats. Polis acknowledged that Trump had harnessed a frustration in American society, but argued that “we have to make sure that this great and very legitimate frustration that the American people feel doesn’t manifest in scapegoating or in blaming their frustration on others.”
While stressing that Trump “should be scary not just to the Jewish community, not just to minorities, but to every person who believes in the constitution, that all people are created equal,” Polis suggested that the Republican nominee represented not just a threat, but an opportunity.
“There is a unique opportunity with our Republican Jewish brothers and sisters who may not support this nominee,” he continued.
Urging Jewish Democrats to talk to their counterparts, he told them to “say I understand you’re a conservative, a Republican, but to say that this nominee is beyond the pale.” Polis characterized Trump as a “statist” who “wants to use the levers of state to his own ends” – an ideology that Polis said should be anathema to a true small-government conservative.
Polis suggested that while a large percentage of the Jewish vote in the United States generally supports Democratic presidential candidates, delegates should attempt to raise that percentage to 90 percent. If they accomplished that, he said, Clinton would carry key swing states like Florida that are expected to shift the balance of electoral college votes on election night.
A number of prominent Jewish Republicans and conservatives, including former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman, columnist Jennifer Rubin, and editor Bill Kristol have all said that they would not vote for Trump.
Brookings Institution fellow and foreign policy adviser to the 2008 McCain presidential campaign Robert Kagan announced very publicly – in the pages of the Washington Post – that “for this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”
Polis said, however, that it would not necessarily be a hole-in-one or an easy sell.
“So many people are tempted by the charlatan reckless Republican candidate and his silver tipped tongue that relies on tearing everything down,” he acknowledged, but emphasized to delegates that “we need to push back with our Jewish brothers and sisters…and help deliver for Hillary Clinton.”
Speaker after speaker emphasized that Clinton was a better match for Jewish values, frequently citing the concept of “tikkun olam” – repairing a damaged world, and arguing that it reflected the Clinton campaign’s sensibilities.
New York Councilman David Greenfield, who represents a number of Brooklyn neighborhoods including Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Gravesend, Kensington, Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, spoke of Clinton’s support for Israel – while disparaging Trump as an unknown.
“If you look at where the candidates stand, Hillary Clinton has been a supporter of Israel throughout her whole career,” he said, citing her work in setting up sanctions against Iran, supporting Israel’s decision to build a security barrier, co-sponsoring the 2006 Palestinian Anti-Terror Act, and speaking out against the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement – “including within her own church,” he added.
Regarding Trump, he argued that “when it comes to Israel issues and Jewish issues, the record is not clear. Because you marched in an Israel Day parade once does not mean you are supporter of Israel,” Greenfield quipped, referring to Trump’s frequent reference to his position as grand marshal of the 2004 Israel Day Parade in New York.
At least one Sanders supporter took the messages of Jewish unity in the face of Trump to heart. Wearing a blue “Sanders 2016” yarmulke, he clapped vigorously when Greenfield told the audience that it was time to treat Trump as he would treat one of his children if they used words like “dumb” or “stupid.”
“Folks,” Greenfield intoned. “In November let’s send Donald Trump to his room and elect Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America.”