CLEVELAND — As the GOP prepares to formally nominate Donald Trump for the presidency, the streets outside Quicken Loans Arena here are packed with Jews who aren’t shy about their opinions on the man soon to be vested as the party’s standard-bearer.
From those who flat-out detest Trump, to those who support him but take issue with certain aspects of his candidacy, to those willing to scratch Trump’s back if he scratches theirs, the Republican National Convention features a Jewish presence seemingly diverse in its political makeup.
Marching on Lakeside Street near the Huntington Convention Center, where the media holding center is located, Naomi Zikmund-Fisher was holding a sign high in the air that read, “Jews Reject Trump,” accompanied by the hashtag #WeveSeenThisBefore.
“We’re here to say that the racism and hatred that Trump represents is not what we’re about as Jews or as Americans,” she told The Times of Israel. “The notion that you can talk about people and say, ‘We’re not going to let you into our country, we’re going to deport you because of your religion’ — this has happened to us, more than once, and we need to pay attention.”
For the 46-year-old native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, those policy proposals include Trump’s calls for temporarily banning Muslim entry into the United States, deporting more than 11 million undocumented Mexican immigrants and building a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Zikmund-Fisher is affiliated with Bend the Arc-Jewish Action, a liberal Jewish alliance formed in 2011 between two groups: Jewish Funds for Justice and Progressive Jewish Alliance. The organization bills itself as an “advocate for the nation’s most vulnerable.”
Her repugnance with Trump’s stances and eagerness to speak out against them, she stated, was informed by her Jewish heritage. “It’s our obligation as Jews to stand with the oppressed, because we’ve been there,” she said.
Other Jews in Cleveland, however, are willing to support Trump’s presidential bid, but want to know what he will do for them once he enters the White House.
“I will support the candidate who takes me up on my offer for a Central Park ‘Weed Out Hate Fest,’ with 100,000 Muslims, Christians and Jews, coming together to pull weeds of hatred, the weeds that fuel global terror,” said Marc Daniels of Springfield, Illinois, who spoke with The Times of Israel while selling $10 yarmulkes on E 4th Street adjacent to the basketball arena.
Daniels, 62, a registered independent, has made a business out of this presidential season selling yarmulkes inscribed with the names of candidates in Hebrew. The idea came from a meeting he had with The Donald himself.
“Ever since September, when I pitched Donald Trump, I came into a town hall in Burlington, Iowa, and I was the lone Jew,” he said. “And I asked him to sign my kippah, and he did.”
Since then, business has been booming. But he remains firm, he said, in his conviction that he will vote for the candidate who agrees to put on the festival with him first — be it Trump or Clinton.
Asked how he felt about Trump’s proposed Muslim ban — being as Daniels is promoting a gathering of members of all three major Abrahamic religions — he said he felt the idea was more political theater than policy scheme.
“I think he is a gamesman, ” he said. “I don’t think he believes any of that. He knows that in order to win the primary and election, he’s trying to tap into the anger and the hatred, whether it’s justified or not, against the current administration.”
In fact, Daniels said, he believes Trump presents an opportunity for the Jewish people to combat the vitriolic forces pervading global affairs.
“Donald Trump is very good at bringing out the hatred, but we Jews are experts at inspiring the nations of the world, including those like Donald Trump, to weed out the hate, and compost the hate into a kind of spiritual energy that can translate into Martin Luther King’s ‘Promised Land’ vision,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with Donald Trump’s DNA, it just needs to be resequenced for boring out the hatred he’s encompassed by.”
As for Trump’s rival, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Daniels expressed a different view from the one repeatedly voiced Monday night during the convention’s first evening session: “I think she’s more righteous than she is crooked,” he said.
But for many other Jewish Trump supporters, like Elana Rzepka, 57, discomfort with the controversial candidate is superseded by disdain for the former secretary of state.
“I don’t like that Trump’s not thinking before he’s talking. I think he does have a big mouth,” the Northeast Ohio native told The Times of Israel. “But we know what to already expect from Hillary. We know exactly who she is. We know that she’s not truthful. We know she’s a big liar. It’s a fact.
“With Donald, we don’t know really what to expect,” she added. “But there some the things I like about what Donald has to say.”
Rzepka cited the challenge the next president will likely face managing the US-Israel alliance, saying she was concerned a Clinton presidency would be an extension of Barack Obama’s, albeit not quite as tumultuous.
“I just feel that the relationship Obama has had with Israel has not been effective. I don’t feel like he supports Israel like other presidents have, and that’s why I feel like we need a change,” she said. “But I do actually think that Hillary would make a better president for Israel than Obama. That I do believe.”
One of the strategies on display throughout the convention has been to depict Clinton as being interchangeable with the sitting president. Indeed, Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, told reporters Sunday that the convention would underscore “the failed policies of the Obama/Clinton administration” and present Trump as the antidote.