Israel Doesn’t Get A Call In First Presidential Debate
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Israel Doesn’t Get A Call In First Presidential Debate

Candidates spar over Iran nuclear deal in Hofstra square-off.

America’s military readiness, NATO and the Iranian nuclear agreement — but not Israel — were among the foreign policy issues tackled during the first presidential debate last night, but many analysts believe neither candidate delivered a knockout punch.

The general consensus was that Republican Donald Trump won the first half-hour and that Democrat Hillary Clinton won the rest of the 90-minute face-off at Hofstra University in Hempstead, L.I.

“If the debate did anything, it probably broke for the moment the belief that he [Trump] had the energy and the momentum,” said Aaron David Miller, who has been an adviser to both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. “It stopped the refrain that he was on a roll.”

“The fact that Israel was not mentioned or discussed was not surprising,” he said. “There are so many more critical issues, and within 24 hours of the debate both met with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu [who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly]. … Both were photographed with the prime minister, and given the number of other issues it would have been hard for one candidate to attack the other on the Israel issue.”
Gilbert Kahn, a political science professor at Kean University in Union, N.J., said he would be “very surprised if she does not get an uptick” from the debate.

“After the first 30 minutes she gained strength substantively and stylistically,” Kahn observed. “He put substance in the beginning of the debate, and then he began rambling with answers that were not effective as to what he wanted to achieve. … As far as undecided voters, whatever strength he showed at the beginning evaporated.”

Kahn added that Trump demonstrated that he understood the issues “in general terms … but I don’t think he thought through the complicated nuanced foreign affairs issues. Even on the Iran issue, whether you favor or are against the nuclear deal, the notion that this is a black and white issue is just not fair.”

Perhaps as much as 20 percent of the electorate is still not firmly committed to either Clinton or Trump and may be toying with voting for a third party candidate or even sitting out the election. It is unlikely that last night’s debate resolved that dilemma for many.

The debate comes just as a new study billed as the first state-by-state, county-by-county Jewish population study found that the votes of Jews in parts of Pennsylvania and Florida could be decisive in selecting the next president.

Pennsylvania and Florida, along with Ohio, are viewed as critical swing states in this year’s election. And Jews in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just northeast of Philadelphia, comprise fully 6 percent of the adult population.

“That’s three times more than the national numbers” of Jews, according to Daniel Parmer, a research associate at the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, which conducted the study.

“If it’s a tight race, Jewish voters could swing the election,” Parmer told JTA.

Similarly, the 209,400 Jews who live in the Palm Beach area of Florida comprise nearly 15 percent of the adult population. Barack Obama carried Florida in 2012 by just 74,309 votes — less than 1 percent of the total vote.

And in the 2000 election, George W. Bush carried Florida by only 537 votes, giving him all of Florida’s 25 electoral votes. That edged him over the top to a total of 271 electoral votes – one more than required to defeat Democrat Al Gore and win the presidency.

The new study found that more and more Jews are identifying as independent voters, according to Leonard Saxe, the institute’s director.

He pointed out that among all Jews, 54 percent said they were Democrats, 14 percent identified as Republicans and 32 percent said they identified as neither. There was only a slight difference among Jewish millennials ages 25-34: 51 percent said they are Democrats, 12 percent identified as Republicans and 37 percent identified as neither.

Saxe said the data used for this analysis came from 250 surveys by governments, large foundations and organizations.

“For the first time we have accurate data on people who claim Judaism as their religion,” he said, noting that computers were used to analyze the data.

“It takes 24 to 48-hours for computers to run the models,” Saxe said. “We use dozens of different combinations to get the final model that gives us the best estimate. Previously we didn’t have the statistical tools or the computer power.”

Although the number of independent voters is on the rise, polls show Jewish voters heavily favor Clinton over Trump. A recent AJC poll found that 61 percent of Jewish voters favor Clinton compared with just 19 percent for Trump.

An August poll of Jewish voters in Florida by pollster Jim Gerstein had put Clinton’s lead among Jews at 66 percent to 23 percent for Trump.

But such support for the Democratic presidential nominee has become the pattern for about 70 percent of the Jewish community since 1928, according to a new study released by the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa. Even when concerns were raised by members of the Jewish community about Barack Obama’s ties to a controversial Chicago preacher who often criticized Israel, the Ruderman study noted Obama still received 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 and 69 percent four years later.

Despite efforts by the Republican Party to reach out to Jewish voters over the last few decades, the “liberal-Jewish-Democratic connection has strengthened not weakened since Ronald Reagan,” the study said.

“Even though the Republican Party is more pro-Israel than ever, and sometimes more ‘pro-Israel,’ (however you define that) than the Democratic Party, American Jewish liberalism has become a mentality, a sensibility, an ideology, a cultural identity,” it added.

Thus is it not surprising that half of all contributions to the Democratic Party come from Jews while just 25 percent of the money donated to the Republican Party is from Jews, according to the study’s author, Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The study found also that American Jews “more than ever” are embracing their liberalism, especially this year.

“United by the fear of Evangelicals, ‘Trumps’ and the Tea Party, their liberalism is defined by freedom, liberation and autonomy,” it said.

“The Jewish community remains extremely active in American politics and has achieved real impact on so many levels of the political scene, yet the motivations of the community are varied and complex,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “The secret of the community’s political success can be boiled down to an intense desire to improve American society and its role in the world.”

stewart@jewishweek.org

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