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The First Debate, Jewishly

The First Debate, Jewishly

What did we learn about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the Jewish vote from the debate on Monday night?

Except for an extended tussle about the Iran nuclear deal, not a whole lot. Race was an issue, but Clinton did not make an issue of the support the Republican nominee gets from the alt-right, a breeding ground for white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Nevertheless, there were some obvious moments, and others less obvious. Let’s run through them.

Mar-a-Lago open for bar mitzvahs

Clinton cited two federal housing lawsuits against Trump and his father in the 1970s filed because of a pattern of refusing to rent properties to African Americans.

In his defense, Trump recalled his battle in the 1990s with local authorities in Palm Beach, Fla., who he said were resisting relaxing local ordinances because his Mar-a-Lago was open to all.

“In Palm Beach, Florida, tough community, a brilliant community, a wealthy community, probably the wealthiest community there is in the world, I opened a club, and really got great credit for it,” he said. “No discrimination against African-Americans, against Muslims, against anybody.”

The “anybody” included Jews. Trump at the time accused the Palm Beach poobahs of anti-Semitism, which got him a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League’s then-director, Abraham Foxman, who according to The Wall Street Journal reporting at the time “was concerned that Mr. Trump was using the charge of anti-Semitism for his own mercantile ends.”

Foxman later modified his tune, saying the battle, whatever Trump’s motives, shone a light on bad behavior in the tony enclave and that other clubs in Palm Beach were relaxing discriminatory restrictions.

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Was Trump going to mention the tensions between the Democratic National Committee and the Bernie Sanders campaign, which led to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz when hacked emails confirmed her team did not like the Vermont Independent senator upsetting the apple cart?

You bet he was!

“But what did we learn with DNC?" Trump asked. "We learned that Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people, by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Look what happened to her. But Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of. That’s what we learned.”

Oddly, his remarks about that clash — between the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests and the most senior Jewish official in the Democratic Party — came during Trump’s response to a question about defending against cyber attacks. The Washington Post used his rather lengthy and discursive response as an example of “kitchen sinkiness” — the candidate's tendency to pile on information when entering unfamiliar territory.

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This exchange, over Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state:

Clinton: I do. You know, I made a mistake using a private email.

Trump: That's for sure.

Clinton: And if I had to do it over again, I would, obviously, do it differently. But I'm not going to make any excuses. It was a mistake, and I take responsibility for that.

Lester Holt (the debate moderator): Mr. Trump?

Trump: That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely. OK? That was not a mistake. That was done purposely. When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth so they're not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the Fifth, I think it's disgraceful. And believe me, this country thinks it's — really thinks it's disgraceful, also.

Voters will have to decide if in the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, Clinton's acknowledgement of her mistake was adequate or, as Trump suggests (in so many words) that she hasn't done full teshuvah — repentance.

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