By Mark Jacobs
Don’t look now, but the 2020 presidential election is upon us. The Democratic candidate debates begin next month and under the new primary rules, both the Texas and California primaries are on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
We just might have a Democratic candidate within a year. If you thought you still had some time to take a break from the barrage of election chatter, coverage and controversy, you thought wrong.
It’s a good time to ask ourselves in the Jewish community if we can avoid bludgeoning ourselves over our political differences from now until Election Day.
Can we possibly find ways to get through this campaign with a commitment to civil and respectful dialogue? Or are we destined to go through the anguish of months of anger and alienating friends and family with insults and intolerance that only put a further wedge into our small community?
For the past 50 years, 71 percent of American Jews have chosen Democratic candidates while 25 percent have chosen Republicans ones. But a recent Gallup poll shows that 52 percent of Jews identify as Democrats, 16 percent as Republicans, and 31 percent — a new high — now identify as Independents.
The landscape is ripe for a highly contentious battle for the Jewish vote, and things can easily turn ugly if we allow them to. The battle lines are being drawn.
Republicans will say that despite the President Trump’s character flaws, his policies are staunchly and undeniably pro-Israel, and that the Democratic Party has turned against the Jews and Israel.
Democrats will counter that the vast number of Democratic lawmakers are pro-Israel, that Trump’s words actually encourage hate crimes against Jews and others, and that he has alienated our allies and destabilized the world, resulting in greater threats to Israel.
These are worthy and important debates to have, but without tearing ourselves apart. Yet in the course of the next year and a half, both sides are going to cite things that get the other side incensed.
Many Republicans will, I’m certain, absurdly claim that Rep. Ilan Omar or Rep. Rashida Tlaib are the new face of the Democratic Party. In doing so, they will ignore that the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress are pro-Israel and very vocal about it.
Conversely, many Democrats will falsely claim that none of Trump’s policies have helped Israel become stronger and safer. In doing so, they will ignore that this administration is undeniably a rock-solid advocate for Israel, both in rhetoric and policy.
On the eve of a brutal campaign, for the sake of Jewish solidarity, it’s a good time to remember that none of us is correct 100 percent of the time. There is merit on both sides.
“The measure of intelligence,” Albert Einstein once wrote, “is the ability to change.”
In the coming months, we can decide to exercise restraint, to listen, to know when to stop talking, to measure our words in a careful and respectful manner and, most importantly, to be cognizant that in the end we are all Jews, and intrafamily squabbles do nothing but weaken us and strengthen our detractors.
At the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief who was then running for prime minister, told the crowd that “Jewish unity is our secret weapon.”
On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election, we’ll still be here, just as we have been for thousands of years. There’ll still be anti-Semitism, and there’ll still be a need to support the State of Israel. Our unity must remain intact.
When you find yourself at the boiling point, check yourself before saying something you’ll later regret. Breathe, relax, remember that we’re all in the same tiny tribe and perhaps even consider whether there is a small grain of truth in what you may disagree with.
And if all else fails, go into your car and scream your lungs out.
Mark Jacobs is the AIPAC Michigan chair for African American Outreach, a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council-AJC and the director of Jewish Family Service’s Legal Referral Committee.