NEW YORK — Jewish-American voters historically vote overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic Party, usually in the 70 to 80 percent range. Elizabeth Pipko is looking to change that.
The self-styled model and figure skater is now the face of the Exodus Movement, a group that started as “Jexodus” in March to spread a right-wing message in an attempt to sway Jewish voters towards voting red in the 2020 election.
In conversation with The Times of Israel, Pipko says that people are often stymied by her, asking if she’s been brainwashed and why she would support US President Donald Trump so staunchly. At a time when Jewish voters are disappointed in the Republican response to increasing reports of anti-Semitism, the Exodus Movement is not an easy sell.
A recent poll claims that an unprecedented number of Jewish voters feel less secure with Trump at the helm, with 59% of Jews saying they blame the Commander-in-Chief for the country’s reported rise in anti-Semitism. Further complicating things for conservatives looking to capture the Jewish vote, the survey also found that issues concerning Israel were the lowest priority among Jewish voters in 2020.
It’s questionable whether Pipko’s movement will be able to change established voting patterns: Trump received less than 30% of the Jewish vote in the 2016 presidential election, while his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton received 71%.
The political arena is not always a pleasant one, and Pipko already faces a backlash. Some people even question her Judaism. Likewise, Pipko, who keeps kosher and observes Shabbat, said she is constantly asked how she could be an observant Jew while pursuing a modeling career.
“They think that because I’m modeling in a swimsuit, I don’t believe in Hashem,” she said, using the Hebrew term for God.
But that doesn’t dampen her determination. Pipko is often vocal when politicians on either side of the aisle make anti-Semitic comments. Of late, she’s made national headlines by weighing in on accusations that Rep. Ilhan Omar is anti-Semitic, along with other controversial topics about Israel and Judaism as a whole.
It’s a family affair: The 24-year-old Pipko met her husband, Darren Centinello, while working on Trump’s 2016 campaign in New York City. Soon after, the two were married at the president’s famous Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Centinello is currently the director of social media strategy for Trump’s 2020 run, while Pipko travels across the nation, speaking to different Jewish groups to raise support.
The Times of Israel spoke with Pipko from the road via telephone earlier this month, discussing life for her before and after the Exodus Movement took off. The soft-spoken Pipko seldom raised her voice, even when describing anti-Semitic incidents against her. Choosing each word carefully, she broke down the various parts of her multifaceted life as the face of a new movement, a model, and former figure skater.
Despite her gentle demeanor, however, Pipko is clearly on a mission she believes in — and is not afraid to talk about it. The following interview has been edited for length.
It’s been a few months since you started this movement. What’s the experience been like?
It’s been awesome. I just turned 24, so to be in your early 20s and do something like this is overwhelming. But obviously, Donald Trump has changed a lot in our country and there’s a need for this since people are responding so well.
I’ve always been a proud Jew, very involved in American politics and I’m really excited that people are responding so well to what I’m trying to do. I have the platform to do it.
Do you feel the movement has started to make an impact?
100%. We launched our chapter program with chapters in several states. A few states have multiple counties. It’s a nationwide chapter program, but we’re going to continue to expand even more. The fact that we’re able to form these groups, which started as a few Twitter posts and an accidental appearance on TV, and ended up with an actual organization that has chapters in swing states and liberal states, shows I’ve been proven correct. There are a lot of people extremely involved in what we’re doing and passionately involved in getting the ball rolling to make a change.
The Jewish vote is historically 75% Democrat, and some polls say that might increase in 2020. If it does, what would that mean for this movement?
Based on the messages I’ve received and the conversations I’ve had, there’s a need for this movement. Whether this changes the number in 2020 or not, I think there’s a need based on what’s going on. Apart from my movement and apart from Donald Trump, the Conservative Jews and Reform Jews are shrinking in number, versus the Orthodox Jews, who are the ones multiplying and vote overwhelmingly Republican.
I think we’re going to see change in the coming years, whether it’s 10 or 20. We’re going to see some kind of political change for sure. Donald Trump has made it very easy to support him, as a Jew.
What happens if you notice during the Democratic debates that a candidate arises who is pro-Israel and has a history of standing against anti-Semitism? What would the Exodus Movement say or do?
Above all, I want my movement to be successful and I want to succeed. I want to see change. I want the best for American Jews and Israel. I think it would be a great thing for the country and that’s my goal.
I’m just not sure it’s going to happen [on the Democrats’ side]. There are so many candidates and they don’t know what direction they’re going. It’ll be a lot easier for us to have an impact once they narrow it down. It won’t be Donald Trump versus 25 people. It’ll be Trump versus A, B and C, and this is their stance on Israel. We can then talk to people, see what they care about and compare it.
For you personally, what’s it like to be featured in national and international headlines?
I get a lot of death threats, rape threats and other things I never thought I’d receive. I’m doing this for my people
It’s pretty scary. A lot of days, it’s really positive. I have the president’s tweet about me framed on my desk, which helps a lot. A lot of days, it’s negative. I get a lot of death threats, rape threats and other things I never thought I’d receive. I’m doing this for my people — not to sound cliché — for my parents and grandparents, who escaped to come to America so they wouldn’t have to worry about their children being faced with anti-Semitism. If that’s a worry in the United States, I’ll do anything I can to stop it.
Is it surreal to know you’ve made it to this point?
Some days, if I’m having a bad day or even a really good day, I’ll go through messages I’ve received and I want to cry. People pour their hearts out to me. They say that because of me they feel comfortable showing their support for Donald Trump or they have stronger faith in being a Jew. Some even say they decide to become kosher because I always post that I’m kosher.
To stand up against anti-Semitism and — I don’t talk for all Jews — but being Jewish is my favorite thing about me. People have told me they weren’t even openly Jewish. I don’t even know what that means. Now, they wear a Magen David [Star of David] on their neck or say the Shema [prayer] before bed because I mentioned it in a speech.
Do you feel people treat you differently because you’re a woman or because of your modeling career?
People treat me [differently] because I came out as a conservative and a model. They think because I’m from New York and a Jew, I had to be a liberal. That made people be negative.
People like to criticize in general when someone starts a new movement, especially if it’s a younger person. To come from modeling and say I’m going to make an impact on politics, I don’t blame them for treating me a certain way. I wish it was different. However, I’m totally fine proving myself to people.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?
A lot of things. One is that I don’t care about Judaism. A lot of people don’t think I keep kosher or go to synagogue. It’s not true at all. I pray every single day. I have a kosher house. I go to synagogue every Shabbat. All of these things matter to me.
I’m totally fine proving myself to people
People think you’re either ultra-Orthodox or Reform, and that there’s no in between. People have never seen anyone like me, going out there and talking about my modeling career as a proud Jew. At the same time, I’m covered up in synagogue the next day. People have never seen that, at least in the public eye.
People get really confused and ask questions about why I do it, or how and why I think it’s OK. I think that’s the most confusing thing for people.