In the final weeks before the US presidential election, a surprising voting bloc has emerged: Jewish grandparents against Donald Trump.
"This is probably one of the most important elections, because there is so much at stake," an elderly Jewish woman says in a video released Sept. 22 by the nonprofit Bend the Arc Jewish Action. "We have seen this before. We saw it in Germany, and don't want to see it again."
The video, featuring about a dozen elderly Jewish men and women ostensibly addressing their grandchildren about the importance of this election, is part of a larger campaign by a group of American Jews, dubbed "We've seen this before," an echo of the well-known phrase, "Never again," to defeat Mr. Trump.
"[Trump's] anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-woman agenda runs fundamentally counter to our most deeply held values as Jews and as Americans. His willingness to exploit hatred and violence for political gain hearkens back to demagogues throughout history," says Stosh Cotler, chief executive officer of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, who says her group has worked to defeat Trump since last fall.
This video and the broader campaign of American Jews against Trump offers insights into the values, and fears, of some Jewish voters, who surveys suggest support Hillary Clinton 3-to-1. Citing Trump's comments against immigrants and Muslims, the campaign offers a stark warning against repeating history.
"The name of our campaign is 'We've Seen This Before,' because what Trump is doing this election and the policies he's proposing remind many of us of the horrors that our parents and grandparents were fleeing when they came to this country," says Ms. Cotler. "We think the most believable messengers are the generation that was closest to some of that terrible history."
As another Jewish woman says in the video, "Trump is more than a tyrant ... I have tremendous fears for the country and and for you, my grandchildren."
The video was released a few days before Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday. According to reports, Trump said that if he was elected, the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, marking a potential dramatic shift in US policy.
In fact, US policy toward Israel is probably not the most important issue for most Jewish voters (only 4 percent said it was, according to a 2012 poll), and this ad campaign is probably aimed at a broader group of voters, says Melody Crowder-Meyer, assistant professor of politics at Sewanee: the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.
"I don't think this ad campaign is aimed at convincing Jewish voters to support Clinton," says Professor Crowder-Meyer. "Rather, I think it is aimed at convincing a broader set of American voters of the seriousness of this election and the importance of their support.... In an election season that has been so long and so exhausting, Democrats need to make sure their voters remember how important it is that they vote. And drawing a comparison to such a significant set of events in our history is one way of highlighting the consequences of showing up to vote."
The campaign appears to jive with a broader, national trend. Asked whom they would vote for if the election were held today, 61 percent of Jewish adults chose Clinton and 19 percent picked Trump, according to an American Jewish Committee survey released earlier this month.
Some 51 percent of American Jews identify as Democrats, 18 percent as Republicans and 26 percent as independents, according to the AJC survey. In fact, Jewish Americans comprise a relatively small proportion of the American population, about 2 percent. But they are more likely to vote: more than 90 percent of Jews who are registered to vote make it to the polls, compared to 74 percent of all Americans.
While Trump certainly has some Jewish support, the majority of American Jews oppose his candidacy.
For starters, the Trump campaign has released some anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric, including tweeting a picture of Clinton against a backdrop of $100 bills with a six-pointed star pronouncing her "Most corrupt candidate ever!" Many saw it as a Star of David. Trump also initially refused to disavow anti-Semitic former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who voiced his support for the Republican candidate. And Trump’s alt-right and white nationalist supporters regularly use anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery and target Jewish journalists on social media, although the Trump campaign says it rejects their anti-Semitism.
Those actions may have led scores of Jewish donors to drop Trump and former Democratic Party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to accuse Trump of tolerating anti-Semitism.
But it is perhaps Trump's hostile stance on Muslims and immigrants that risks ostracizing Jewish voters more than any other issue. Trump launched his campaign by calling illegal Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "criminals," and has pledged to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and build a massive border wall to keep them out.
As for Muslims, Trump famously declared in March, "Islam hates us," and has proposed banning Muslim immigrants, monitoring mosques and predominantly Muslim-American communities, and registering all Muslims living in the country. To be sure, he has since appeared to moderate some of those positions.
Together, Trump's proposals against immigrants and Muslims may be threatening to many American Jews who identify with the experiences of immigrants and religious minorities. The Bend the Arc anti-Trump video taps in to the fears of many of these older Jewish voters: A leader who is willing to erode one minority group's rights, may eventually target other groups.
"We started last fall when we denounced Trump's plan to start a government registry of Muslims and launched a televised campaign, 'Heard it Before,' comparing anti-immigrant rhetoric in the presidential campaign to what Jewish immigrants faced a century ago," explains Cotler.
The group has since organized anti-Trump vigils and is organizing a get-out-the-vote effort in key swing states.
Of course, not all American Jewish groups oppose Trump. The Republican Jewish Coalition endorsed Trump in May, and some prominent Republicans like former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer have also endorsed the Republican candidate, with this tweet.
Ari Fleischer ✔ @AriFleischer
There's a lot about Donald Trump that I don't like, but I'll vote for Trump over Hillary any day.
8:42 PM - 3 May 2016 · St Louis, MO, United States
2,279 2,279 Retweets 4,471 4,471 likes
Nonetheless, some Jews and Jewish groups like Bend the Arc, have read in Trump's more extreme proposals against minority groups a warning.
"[American Jews] crave stability and security in politics," Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie wrote in an editorial for the Israeli news site Haaretz. "[A]s an oppressed and persecuted people for nearly two millennia before making their way to America, Jews have more experience than most other Americans with dictators and demagogues. They also have a fuller understanding of precisely how fragile modern democratic governments are."