Donald Trump’s decision to triple down on his Star of David anti-Clinton tweet didn’t help his standing with Jewish voters. Nor did his Frozen quip creating a perceived parallel between the Disney hit and his campaign use of Jewish imagery alongside piles of money and claims of corruption.
If anything, Trump’s recent misstep and his refusal to put the controversy behind him have triggered another round of criticism from Jewish activists.
It has also set off a battle over the question of whether it is still legitimate for Jewish groups to support the presumptive Republican nominee.
Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish organization focused on domestic policy, launched on Thursday a petition aimed at another Jewish group, the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“It’s time for the RJC and their executive director, Matthew Brooks, to end their support for Donald Trump and his platform of bigotry and hatred,” the petition reads. “Until Trump actively works to reject the support of known white supremacists and anti-Semites, and cuts ties between his staff and the alt-right, there should be no Jewish support for his campaign.”
Stosh Cotler, the group’s CEO, said in an interview that it is “inexcusable” for the RJC to remain silent and maintain their support for Trump. “RJC members, are powerful and have the ability to influence the candidate,” Cotler said. “Their silence is an anathema to what it means to be a Jewish organization.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to the Forward’s request to comment on the petition.
RJC endorsed Trump after he clinched the Republican nomination, but some of its board members have chosen not to raise funds for Trump’s campaign.
Trump’s comments did, however, bring about some unity in the organized Jewish community, at least among those with a centrist to liberal leaning.
A joint open letter organized by the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and published Thursday expressed the communal concern regarding the rise of xenophobia and bigoted rhetoric during the presidential campaign.
And it did so without mentioning Donald Trump even once.
“We are deeply concerned by suggestions that Muslim Americans should be targeted by law enforcement, simply because of their faith. We object to hurtful characterizations of entire ethnic groups as criminals. We are pained by anti-Semitic epithets hurled at Jewish Americans on social media,” the letter states.
Due to the tax exempt status of most of the organizations signed on the letter, they cannot wade into election politics, thus the more general call addressed to all candidates.
While the list of signers is populated mainly by liberal leaning Jewish groups and by organizations focused on social justice, it also includes representatives of three denominational movements: the Reform and Reconstructionists, which have made their voice heard on Trump’s positions in the past, and also the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly which had been more cautious.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a group that joined the letter, said in a statement that “this is not about left or right or liberal or conservative. It is about common sense and core American values of pluralism and tolerance.”
Trump’s political prospects among Jewish voters also might have diminished because of his Star of David tweet. According to a report published in the Hill, Trump’s loss of support among Jewish voters could cost him in swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania, both crucial states in the Republican’s road to the White House.
“Trump wasn’t going to do well with Jewish voters before the tweet that went out of his account over the weekend. You look at that and you have to wonder — is he trying to piss off Jewish voters?” Ira Sheskin, a Jewish demography expert at the University of Miami, told the publication. The report noted that if Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a close race in Florida and Pennsylvania, the Jewish vote could be critical in determining the winner.
Trump’s adviser on issues relating to Israel, Jason Greenblatt, in an interview with the Jewish Press provided what could be an explanation to the perceived gap between how the community views Trump’s response to anti-Semitic comments and how the candidate and his close Jewish allies see it.
“Our community has this sort of focus that we want something done a certain way; we want it done right away,” said Greenblatt. “We’re not the only people in the country.” Trump’s adviser went on to explain that the candidate condemned David Duke’s remarks and made broad condemnations of anti-Semitism. “People need to look at the whole campaign story and not a particular story, biased or unbiased, in a particular newspaper on a particular day.”
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 Haaretz 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.