Although one in four US Jews voted for President-elect Donald Trump, it was difficult to find Trump-supporting Jewish college students who would go on the record about their experience since the former reality TV star’s surprise victory last month.
At least a dozen Jewish students who voted for Trump declined The Times of Israel’s request for interviews. In general, students cited “professional reasons” and fear of push-back from their peers for not wanting to be “outed” as Trump voters.
“I am actually worried about being seen differently, being ‘unfriended’ [on Facebook], and being verbally attacked by people,” according to one Northeastern University student. “People are extreme and absolutely unreasonable about the whole thing,” added the anonymous female student.
Only after putting out feelers across the country and on social media, The Times of Israel found several students willing to buck the trend and appear in an article about “Trump-shaming” — the hostility directed toward Trump voters for supporting the president-elect. Although their reasons for voting are varied, all have received pushback from friends and family.
“I voted for Trump because I like his tax plan, his healthcare plan, his commitment to Israel, his position on guns, and his promise of securing the southern border,” said JS, a student at the University of Southern California who transferred from Boston University.
JS said he received “serious push-back” for his support of the president-elect, including one friend who called him “complicit in the forces pulling society toward regression,” JS said.
“It seems liberals are tolerant of all kinds of diversity except intellectual diversity,” said JS, noting that his Sephardic family and friends were generally pro-Trump, while his Ashkenazi family and friends were split between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
‘It seems liberals are tolerant of all kinds of diversity except intellectual diversity’
When it comes to the Jewish state, JS was looking for a candidate who “would not tolerate terrorism against Israel,” he said. JS also noted Trump’s criticism of the Iran Nuclear Deal and his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as key motivators for his vote.
While admitting that Trump used “offensive rhetoric and was endorsed by the KKK and other fringe white supremacist groups,” JS said it is time for anti-Trump Jews to “reconsider the legitimacy of their fears,” he said.
“An influx of Syrian migrants over the next couple of years from a war-torn part of the world who may or may not have seen a Jew before, something that would have happened under a Clinton administration, should be far more troubling to Jewish Americans than the KKK,” said JS.
Another Trump-voting Jewish student who faced fall-out from family and friends is Sophia Witt, a political communications major at Kent State University.
Having initially believed Trump’s candidacy was “a joke,” Witt became an adherent after her governor, John Kasich, withdrew from the Republican primaries. Her decision to go with Trump opened floodgates that have yet to be closed, Witt said.
‘Lifelong friendships have ended due to this election’
“To say that I’ve lost friends is an extreme understatement,” said Witt, who aligns herself with the conservative Tea Party. “I’ve lost a large number of friends not only on Facebook, but friends whom I’ve easily had heated debates with, and whom I respect. Lifelong friendships have ended due to this election,” she said.
At ultra-progressive Kent State, according to Witt, to announce you voted for Trump “is to openly call yourself a racist bigot who hates gays and women,” said the pro-Israel activist.
“As a Jewish student who voted for Trump, I am not against minorities,” said Witt. “The fact that minorities are finding their voices in democracy is the entire intent of the political system we strive for.”
For Witt, Israel was a deciding factor in her choice of Trump over Clinton, whose “Leftist mentality benefited the anti-Israel alliance more than the strong democratic bond Israel and America should have,” she said. Witt also took issue with Clinton’s “track record of disapproval of the indigenous rights of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], which proves she is not a friend to Israel,” said Witt, who has visited the Jewish state three times.
‘Openly coming out as a Trump voter is like a death sentence of complete isolation’
At Kent State’s Hillel, there was almost wall-to-wall support for Clinton, said Witt. There was, at least, the impression that only Clinton supporters were respected for their views. Witt felt she would be derided for her personal opposition to government-sanctioned abortion.
“[At Hillel] I haven’t disclosed who I voted for in fear that I may lose friends,” said Witt. “People have actually said they don’t want to associate with anyone who voted for Trump. Openly coming out as a Trump voter is like a death sentence of complete isolation. I am very afraid to disclose who I voted for at Kent State, and I’m sure I’ll continue to lose friends as I support Trump is his newly appointed title.”
Within her family, Witt’s political trajectory has alienated her from several loved ones, she said.
“My mother and I lost contact for an extended period of time due to political differences,” said Witt, who has since reconciled with family members.
The post-election descent into fear has been generally attributed to Clinton supporters, since their candidate was closely associated with minority rights and non-white Americans. Little ink has been spilled about the fears of Trump supporters on campus, where many of them are still skittish about admitting who they voted for weeks after the election.
According to the Open Hillel movement, the ascent of Donald Trump to the White House should be of deep concern to Jewish students who care about “the freedoms of speech and press and the right to dissent.”
Created in 2012, Open Hillel promotes pluralism and open discourse in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a post-election statement, the group said it “stands in solidarity with all those who fear for their security and well-being. We hope that, now more than ever, Jewish communities and institutions will commit to welcoming and supporting people of all backgrounds and experiences, especially those who have been targeted by the Trump campaign.”
Pro-Trump and proud and loud
A Trump-voting Jewish student who had no problem “coming out” after the election is Binyamin Grega, a history major at the University of Central Florida. According to Grega, it is important for people all over the US to understand that “Trump voters are everywhere,” as he put it.
“I decided it is not worth hiding,” said Grega. “It creates an echo chamber within the Left where they have the impression that everyone thinks and votes like them,” he said.
A convert to Judaism, Grega is active in his school’s Chabad and Hillel. Calling his campus “very apathetic politically,” Grega said he has taken the student newspaper to task for “misleading coverage” of Israel-related events.
“Media bias and manipulation are prevalent everywhere,” said Grega. Although the New York-native admitted that Trump’s candidacy seemed “repugnant” to him at first, Grega was ultimately swayed by the opportunity to take on “the emerging culture of left-wing intolerance,” he said.
The months ahead on campus will be filled with “safe spaces,” co-existence Shabbat dinners, and attempts to bridge divides exacerbated by what some called the most contentious presidential election in US history. Whether or not these “safe spaces” will be open to all Jewish students — including those who voted for Trump — remains to be seen.
This article was updated on December 1, 2019.
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