He was born in Iran and is fluent in Persian, he wears a kippa to work at Trump Tower and he’s ready with a detailed rebuke to any claim a Jewish voter might come up with against his boss, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
David Peyman may very well be the Jewish Trump adviser you’ve never heard of. He assumed his position as director of Jewish outreach for the Trump-Pence campaign just over a month ago, after helping out part-time earlier in the race.
In an election season in which many establishment Republicans are keeping their distance from their party’s presidential candidate, and others are making excuses for his nontraditional style and for his controversial followers, Peyman is all in. And he is sure the Jewish community and media up for a big surprise once election results are in.
“I think he is going to fare better than Romney did, better than McCain did and better than Bush did,” Peyman told the Forward in a Thursday interview, comparing Trump to previous Republican presidential candidates. “The clear message that I’m receiving is that for American Jews, both conservative Jews and religious Jews, they believe that Donald Trump is the better candidate.”
The weeks leading up to November 8 have found Peyman mostly on the road, traveling between New York and Jewish voter concentrations in South Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. His mission is daunting. The Trump campaign’s Jewish outreach has been all but absent throughout the campaign, and while the New York billionaire appointed two of his business colleagues, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, to advise him on Israel and serve as an address for the Jewish community, the campaign has lacked a pro-active Jewish outreach operation. Clinton’s campaign, by contrast, has had a full time Jewish outreach director since the early stages of the primary race and, with the help of outside groups, has established supporter networks throughout the country.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which in previous elections carried much of the burden, is focusing on Senate races this time around and has not devoted significant resources to helping Trump. Many of its top donors have turned their back on Trump, leaving him with one major Jewish backer, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Peyman said he doesn’t know who these RJC members are and, in any case, is focused more on rank-and-file Jewish voters rather than party bigwigs. “What matters is Jewish families, Jewish college students, Jewish wives, Jewish fathers, who are supporting us on the ground.”
Peyman, 38, was born in Iran and emigrated as a child with his family to America in 1984. The family settled in Los Angeles, which is home to a large Jewish-Iranian community, and in his 20s, Peyman became observant and now defines himself as an Orthodox Jew. A Harvard law graduate, Peyman worked in the private sector and as deputy attorney general in California before he moved on to United Against Nuclear Iran, where he made use of his expertise as a sanctions legislation expert and of his knowledge of Persian to help the group fight against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the administration’s agreement signed with Tehran.
A self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and social moderate, Peyman is a strong believer in Trump and his foreign policy, especially as it relates to Israel. But what really gets him riled up is the claim that the Trump campaign has unearthed anti-Semitic sentiments and hateful speech.
“That’s a big lie that the media has spewed,” Peyman shoots back before delivering a lengthy point by point defense of Trump and his relationship with the Jewish community. “I wear a kippa to work every day, I wear a kippa to Trump Tower, I’ve taken every single Shabbat off,” he added “and I’ve gotten nothing but support and encouragement.”
Like Trump himself and many of his Jewish supporters, Peyman points to the candidate’s relationship with his Jewish employees and to his Jewish daughter and grandchildren as signs of his positive relationship with Jews. If there is anti-Semitism brought about in this election season, Peyman argued, it comes from the side of Hillary Clinton.
“What’s more troubling? people who are anti-semitic who are supporting Donald Trump and Donald Trump disavows them, or people who are anti-Semites and are very close advisers to Hillary Clinton?” Peyman accused Clinton’s close friend Sidney Blumenthal’s son Max of being anti-Semitic, he blamed her donor George Soros, who is also Jewish, of supporting anti-Israel groups, and pointed to a claim made by former assistant U.S. attorney regarding possible concerns about Clinton’s adviser Huma Abedin “Islamist sympathies.”
With very little polling directed at Jewish voters, it is hard to tell whether Peyman’s claim of an unseen Jewish groundswell in favor of Trump is anchored in reality. The few polls that looked at Jewish voters found Trump trailing way behind Clinton and doing worse than most of his Republican predecessors.
But Peyman, who plans to spend the next few days reaching out to Jews in swing states and asking them to “drown out the noise” has a different view on where Jewish American voters stand. “Usually my position is very difficult because Jews vote Democratic,” he said, “but this time it’s very simple. As soon as I talk about policies, I win them over.”
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman