For the JN Nov 29 2020
The executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer, told a Jewish Labour Movement audience on Sunday that president-elect Joe Biden would not move the American Embassy back to Tel Aviv from its new home in Jerusalem — “which we recognise as the capital of Israel”.
But Ms Soifer, who has had a long career in Washington, including being national security adviser to the vice-president-elect Kamala Harris during the Obama administration, was at pains to denounce the “false narrative” peddled by Donald Trump that Jews would vote for him because of his policies on Israel.
In fact, she said, figures showed that more than 77 per cent of American Jews had voted for Mr Biden, and only 21 per cent for President Trump.
Ms Soifer’s experience includes being “Jewish vote director” for President Obama in 2008, and in the wake of the Trump victory in 2016 she has worked with the Jewish Democratic Council to do whatever is possible to get more Democrats elected in the Senate and Congress.
In conversation with former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, Ms Soifer reminded her audience that Joe Biden had received “more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, and that Jewish votes [for him] were overwhelming. The Jewish vote matters; we are two per cent of the population but three per cent of the electorate, which has to do with where we live, our age, and the fact that we show up to vote”.
She said that the result indicated as much support for Mr Biden as antipathy to Donald Trump. “We have never had a president whose policies were such a betrayal of our values. His policies were anathema to who we are as Jews. We had issues in this election that didn’t exist in the past: existential questions in terms of our own security, the health crisis over rising Covid; and the issue of rising hatred in America, and antisemitism. On those issues, Donald Trump’s approach has been like nothing we’ve ever seen before. He did not demonstrate an appreciation for the sanctity of human life with regard to Covid”. The Jewish community, she said, “blamed Donald Trump” for the horrific virus death rate.
Under the Trump presidency, Ms Soifer said, there had been two shootings at synagogues in 2018 and 2019, and a huge rise in antisemitism. “There’s no question that Trump’s emboldening of white nationalism, and his amplification and even encouragement of, and alignment with, nationalists and hate groups, has fuelled hatred in this country — and Jews voted against that”.
But she praised Joe Biden as a known quantity to the Jewish community with a record that was both known and trusted on issues that were of concern.
On Middle East policies, Ms Soifer said, Mr Biden had made clear his opposition to BDS and that he would continue “unconditional support for the $30 billion (£22.5bn) 10 year military aid package to Israel that Obama and he undertook in 2016”.
She said that the president-elect had no intention of moving the American embassy back to Tel Aviv. “The embassy has been moved to Jerusalem, which we recognise as the capital of Israel, and it’s not going back under Joe Biden. We did polling to see whether Trump’s policies, including on the Abraham Accords, were going to change support among Jewish voters — and we found it was absolutely unchanged. This shows that Jews weren’t actually voting on Israel in this election, they were voting mostly on domestic policy issues; but also, most Jews did not believe that Donald Trump was such a great president for Israel.”
The story that had resonated with her, Ms Soifer said, was that David Ben-Gurion had once advised President Kennedy: “Be a good president for America and you’ll be a good president for Israel. What we saw with Trump was that he was a terrible president for America, but also in his foreign policy, which hampered our ability to support Israel.” Trump had talked about “America First, but in fact had succeeded in making us ‘America Alone’ — and the election result is as much a repudiation of his foreign policy as his domestic policy”.