This is the fourth in a series of diverse perspectives on the Jewish vote in the 2020 presidential elections.
As we know, the race for the presidency could come down to a handful of votes in any one of the key battleground states. These include Florida, of course, where, in 2000, 537 votes was the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Therefore, Holocaust survivors are crucial voters in a pivotal election that will shape America’s future for generations to come.
Florida’s Sun Sentinel estimates that over 10,000 Holocaust survivors live in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties in the southern part of that state alone, and there are smaller communities of survivors in other battleground states. Survivors, their descendants (I am a second- and third-generation survivor), and their communities care deeply about several key principles on the ballot today, and the contrast between two presidential candidates on the issues of importance to the survivor community has never been clearer.
On the one hand is Joe Biden, whose record of support for Holocaust survivors and the Jewish community is second to none. On the other hand is Donald Trump, a demagogue whose slogans, tactics and policies concern many survivors as deeply immoral and disturbing.
Joe Biden is a lifelong believer in commemorating and acting on the perennial lessons of the Holocaust. U.S. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, who has secured billions of dollars over the years for survivors and their heirs in compensation and restitution from European governments, says “Joe Biden was my strongest supporter” in this effort, first when Joe chaired the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as vice president.
This is because Biden’s father impressed on him from a young age the importance of never being a bystander to injustice – and that America in particular should have done much more to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. As a parent and grandparent, Joe Biden has insisted on bringing every one of his adolescent offspring to the Dachau concentration camp to educate them about this moral responsibility.
This is also a lesson Joe Biden carries with him in his support for the State of Israel, working closely with nine Israeli prime ministers across the decades. He describes his meeting with Golda Meir before the Yom Kippur War as one of the two most important meetings in his entire Senate career (the other was with Nelson Mandela) because she impressed on him the existential threats that Israel must face every day.
Golda Meir’s words still resonate with Joe. That is why he championed funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” system for defense against rocket attacks and why he will work as President to help achieve a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.
Meanwhile, here at home, Joe Biden has an unparalleled record of leadership supporting Holocaust survivors in need. I know this first-hand, going back to when I worked as counsel to former Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. In 2008, Senator Nelson held an important hearing on restitution programs for Holocaust survivors in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Any committee hearing first needed the green light from the committee’s chairman, Joe Biden, and in this case, Sen. Nelson’s request was immediately approved.
Five years later, during my service as the liaison to the American Jewish community in the Obama-Biden White House, I was part of the team that worked, under Joe Biden’s leadership, to develop the administration’s initiative to support Holocaust survivors in need.
As vice president, he personally spearheaded the creation of an unprecedented federal program in 2013 that provided federal grants to help address medical, emotional, and nutritional needs of aging Holocaust survivors. It ultimately allocated $17 million over five years in close partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America, for public-private joint grants to local charities that focus on helping survivors across the country.
Joe Biden is a lifelong believer in commemorating and acting on the perennial lessons of the Holocaust.
Vice President Biden also spearheaded the appointment in 2014 of the first-ever special envoy for U.S. Holocaust survivor services at the Department of Health and Human Services. Sadly, no similar position existed during the Trump Administration, which comes as no surprise given the failure of this administration to prioritize those in need and its insensitivity to Holocaust survivors.
In 2017, Donald Trump’s presidential statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day made zero mention of Jews or anti-Semitism. And when he visited Warsaw for the first time as president, he skipped a customary presidential visit to pay respects at the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument, which honors the Jewish men, women, and children who bravely fought for their lives under dehumanizing circumstances and against daunting odds.
Whereas Joe Biden has visited Israel numerous times, including multiple times as vice president, Donald Trump never went until he was president – and then for a mere 28 hours. While there, Trump spent less than 30 minutes at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum, where he left an insultingly glib inscription in the guest book. A former Trump Organization executive even alleges that Trump once trivialized the Holocaust to several Jewish employees at his own firm, taunting them that a German manager at the company “still reminisces about the ovens, so you guys better watch out for him.”
And of course, President Trump routinely makes comments that reinforce white nationalists’ dangerous anti-Semitic stereotypes, calling Jews globalists, questioning our loyalty, or saying we want to control politicians with money. He has closed America’s doors to asylum seekers, eggs on conspiracy theories of an immigrant invasion financed by a Jewish American, dehumanizes his enemies as animals, and echoes Charles Lindbergh’s shortsighted and worrisome motto of America First.
One of the main reasons Joe Biden ran for president was Donald Trump’s abject failure of leadership when armed White nationalists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Instead of using the bully pulpit of the presidency to condemn them, the president made his now infamous statement that “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
Joe Biden recognizes that the dramatic escalation in anti-Semitic assaults that has occurred on President Trump’s watch is no coincidence. He has mistaken his bully pulpit for a bully’s pulpit, and I know that many Holocaust survivors in this community feel the same way.
Matt Nosanchuk served as Associate Director of Public Engagement for Jewish Outreach at the White House during the Obama-Biden Administration.