Supporting Donald Trump in the Jewish community can come at a steep price, admits Elise Freedman. During the presidential campaign ahead of last November’s election, the marketing professional from Charleston, South Carolina, campaigned enthusiastically for Trump, hanging signs on doorknobs in her city and posting pro-Trump memes on her Facebook page.
After Trump stunned the nation by winning the election, none of her siblings spoke to her for four months.
“I became the black sheep of my family,” she says. They are talking again now, but all sides are careful not to talk politics at any family gathering.
Even after the events in Charlottesville following the August 12 march by white supremacists, Freedman – like many other Jewish Trump supporters – still remains solidly behind the president.
It’s a position of unwavering support that polls show the vast majority of Trump backers of all ethnicities and religions share.
The president “is a good man who has America’s best interests in mind,” Freedman declares with conviction. She believes Trump has been unfairly vilified in the press, saying she doesn’t think “there is an anti-Semitic bone in his body. The media just hates him.”
She sees the post-Charlottesville controversy as a further attempt by Trump’s enemies on the left and in the media to bring him down, because “the waste of our tax dollars on this ridiculous Russian conspiracy” has failed to do so. Conversations with a number of American-Jewish Trump supporters shows that, like Freedman, they are convinced a hostile media is deliberately misleading the public into believing that Trump is, at worst, a racist himself or, at best, offering a wink and a nod to white supremacists and anti-Semites.
The real anti-Semites, they insist, are members of the progressive left who are hostile to Zionism and Israel – a reality that the majority of American Jews and mainstream groups that represent them simply refuse to recognize, they allege. Stuart Kaufman, a retired lawyer and investment banker who backs Trump, speaks bluntly, condemning “the disgusting behavior of mainstream Jewish organizations that purport to speak for Jews.”
He believes the “relatively small” number of “Jew haters who live in their parents’ basements” were not the source of the violence in Charlottesville. The real culprits, he says, were the counterprotesters – specifically, members of Antifa, the umbrella movement of far-left, anti-fascist groups. “They were the ones on the left who showed up with baseball bats and clubs,” charges Kaufman.
Like Freedman, who moved to Charleston from Pennsylvania, Kaufman is a transplant from northeast America. He grew up around the corner from Trump in Queens, and says he knows from firsthand contact with Trump and his family that accusations the president is a “Jew-hater” are “demonstrably false.”
Yuval Biggs, a Trump supporter who works as an analyst for a software company and lives in Summerville, South Carolina, said he, too, had “absolutely no problem” with Trump’s Charlottesville remarks.
Growing up in California, Biggs says, means he experienced violence from the political left, and he has no doubt they were just as responsible for the violence as the white supremacist demonstrators.
“In Berkeley, if you wear a kippa or carry an Israeli flag, you are going to get physically attacked by the same people who want to rip down those Confederate statues,” says Biggs. “These leftists have been tearing towns apart, creating chaos in city after city. Don’t talk to me about the left being peaceful. Frankly, in a showdown between those people and the Nazis, I have no dog in the fight at all.”
Biggs says he was pleased Trump condemned both sides, “because basically what you had was a bunch of nasty hooligans on both sides.”
Jewish Trump supporters say that, for them, Charlottesville – like the Russia accusations – are tangential. They say they’re focused on substance and are largely pleased Trump is keeping his promises on what they say are their top-priority issues: supporting Israel and taking a hard line on terrorism.
“He is pursuing an agenda to keep our country safe so we don’t turn into Europe,” says Freedman.
Kaufman says Trump’s performance has exceeded the expectations he had when he cast his vote on Election Day: “Since he took office I have been more and more thrilled he is president. I am completely disgusted with those who are doing all they can to tear him down.”
But even devoted Jewish Trump supporters have experienced some letdowns. Topping that list is the Trump administration’s failure to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; its continued support of a two-state solution and pursuit of peace negotiations with the Palestinians; and what they see as a failure to roll back the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump had called a “bad deal” during the election campaign.
“Am I disappointed in some of the things he’s done?” asks Kaufman rhetorically. “Yes, I am disappointed he hasn’t moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. I am very disappointed his State Department certified that Iran was in agreement with the document Barack Hussein Obama signed with them,” he says, emphasizing the former president’s middle name.
But Kaufman pins blame for that on the State Department, which, he says, “needs to be cleaned out like the Augean stables, and it should start with [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson.”
As for the Jared Kushner-led efforts to seek a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians: “I think it’s stupid; I am totally dead against any two-state solution. It should be abandoned. Israel should annex Judea and Samaria,” adds Kaufman, using the Jewish term for the West Bank.
Biggs, an American who studied in Israel and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army, says that, beyond the Middle East, he is pleased with Trump’s performance as president, praising the fact he has “brought regulations under control” and withdrawn the United States from the Paris climate change agreement, “which infringed on our sovereignty.” He also backs Trump’s tough rhetoric against North Korea: “It’s deterrence. If anyone should understand that, it’s Israel.”
Even Jewish Trump voters who express discomfort with the president’s freewheeling rhetoric and combative Twitter habits since he took office say his policies are more important to them than his style.
Eli Hyman, a native Charlestonian and well-known local restaurateur, admits having misgivings about Trump’s Charlottesville response, but still doesn’t regret voting for the president.
While he doesn’t believe Trump is an anti-Semite, Hyman admits it does “bother” him that Trump “didn’t call out the alt-right, the KKK or Aryan nation – the fact he is appealing to these groups is alarming.
“Even though we may think he’s good for Israel, it’s clear the KKK and skinheads are not good for Israel,” continues Hyman. “He shouldn’t let them fester unanswered that’s how Nazi Germany started. The saying goes that the way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing at all. I don’t think [Trump] should be aligning himself at all with the alt-right and other bigots.”
Trump’s continued support among the estimated 24 percent of Jews who voted for him isn’t limited to red states like North Carolina. In Trump strongholds in New York and New Jersey’s Orthodox enclaves, there is vocal support for the president.
And a cover story in Los Angeles’ Jewish Journal found that Jewish Trump backers in liberal southern California, especially Israeli émigrés, are still behind Trump – even after Charlottesville.
In Chicago, David Makowsky says that while the majority of the Jewish community may not be with Trump, he feels within his own Orthodox community he is “in the majority. There are a lot of Trump supporters in my synagogue.” But the computer support analyst stresses that “it wouldn’t matter if I was the only one. Trump does what’s right, and it doesn’t matter to me whether or not it’s popular.”
For Makowsky, the 2016 race was about “keeping my kids safe” – and so far he believes Trump has not let him down. “Trump has protected my kids from terrorism and he is a supporter of the police; I am a huge Trump supporter.”
He dismisses charges that Trump has fanned the flames of racism and encouraged white supremacists as “media lies.” As for the majority of U.S. Jews who voted for Hillary Clinton and today actively oppose Trump, Makowsky believes “a lot of Jews are tied to a leftist movement that no longer represents them – they just don’t realize it.”
Freedman agrees, saying “the Democratic Party has been hijacked by anti-Israel supporters.” Once a liberal Democrat herself, she is now a “devoted” Breitbart reader and listener, and her views reflect its influence.
She fears “an elite globalist movement that has control over what we hear and what we read. I think there’s a deeper conspiracy going on with George Soros funding the antiestablishment organizations, from Black Lives Matter to Antifa.” The media “is complicit” in this scheme, she believes, adding that the White House contains “saboteurs” remaining from the previous administration who are undermining the president in their ongoing effort to bring him down.
It’s a scenario she and her fellow Jewish Trump backers hope won’t happen. They are eagerly looking forward to voting for him again in 2020.