As Election Day approaches, disparities between the Republican and Democratic candidates for president become ever more conspicuous. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump differ enormously in their views, especially in areas such as immigration, healthcare, and the economy. Early voting has demonstrated a tremendous turnout of American citizens, far greater than the turnout in 2012. In short, this election matters to people—and Jews are no exception. Jewish opinion concerning the candidates varies as well, and one of the issues that tends to interest and influence the Jewish vote is the candidates’ stances on Israel.
Clinton, 69, has spent the majority of her life involved in one way or another with the world of politics. This former senator, First Lady, and Secretary of State has had many chances to demonstrate her views on Israel-related issues, and has often used her platform to do just that. Clinton has said that “an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States” and insisted that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” She has also condemned BDS and said that she intended to “fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
Clinton’s political career has included many interactions with the Israeli government, and she has spoken of her cosponsorship of acts such as the Palestinian Anti-Terror Act of 2006, which urged “members of the international community to….refrain from financially supporting the terrorist organization Hamas until it agrees to recognize Israel.” She also introduced a resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli soldiers held captive by Hamas and Hezbollah, in order to express the United States Senate’s “commitment to Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders.” She also voiced “support and interest in achieving a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.” Additionally, she has said that Jerusalem should be the “eternal and indivisible capital of Israel” and supported Israel’s separation barrier. She has described herself as “concerned” at “attempts to compare Israel to South African apartheid” because “Israel is a vibrant democracy in a region dominated by autocracy, and it faces existential threats to its survival.”
Despite all of this, Clinton’s policy regarding Israel has been criticized harshly in the past. In a 1998 interview, she said “I think that it will be in the long-term interest of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state….the territory that the Palestinians currently inhabit, and whatever territory they will obtain through the peace negotiations” should be viewed as “a functioning modern state.” Additionally, a photo depicting her giving a salutary kiss to Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, after Suha’s accusations against the Israeli government stating that it had poisoned Palestinian women and children, came under intense scrutiny in 2000. Clinton insisted that “all my comments and work I have done had been premised on what would be in the best interest of Israel.”
As Secretary of State, Clinton demanded an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements because Barack Obama wanted, “a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions….That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.” In 2010, when the Israeli government made an announcement that 1600 homes would be built in an East Jerusalem area that the United States deemed Palestinian territory and opposed as being used for Israeli settlement, Clinton said that the Israeli government “had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.” In a 2012 speech, Clinton stated that “there is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished.”
During the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict, Clinton was supportive of Israel’s right to bear arms and defend themselves, declaring that “the Israelis are absolutely right in saying that they can’t just sit there are let rockets rain down,” and added that Palestinians in Gaza were “trapped by their leadership.” She also defended the Israeli government, pointing out that “to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist— that is a very difficult challenge.”
Clinton supported and helped facilitate the Iran Deal; she stated that “we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot.” Pro-Israel organizations have criticized this and view the deal as sponsorship of terrorism due to the millions of dollars Iran has been given as a result. The Israeli Defense Ministry compared the Iran Deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement in an official statement regarding the deal: “Iran today openly announces its aim to destroy the State of Israel, while a US State Department report published this year listed Iran as the world’s top sponsor of terrorism.” Despite this assertion, Clinton defended the deal, saying it was the best that could be made with Iran, although it wasn’t perfect.
Sidney Blumenthal, a close friend and advisor of Clinton, is a figure with intimate involvement in her campaign. His son Max Blumenthal has demonstrated significant anti-Israel views, making analogies between Israel and ISIS as well as the Nazi Regime. He referred to Israeli soldiers as “Judeo-Nazis” and supports BDS as it “ensures that for the Palestinians a horizon darkened by occupation can be extended until a just solution comes into view.” Sidney has often shared his son’s writings with Clinton, who has praised them in emails released by Wikileaks as “very smart” and “good stuff.”
At the AIPAC Annual Policy Conference earlier this year, Clinton told the members of the audience that, “we’ve always shared an unwavering, unshakable commitment to our alliance and to Israel’s future as a secure and democratic homeland for the Jewish people.” Clinton noted “three evolving threats—Iran’s continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism across a wide arc of instability, and the growing effort to de-legitimize Israel on the world stage—are converging to make the U.S.-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever.”
Enter Donald Trump. The 70 year old political newcomer has both enthralled and enraged Americans with his blunt manner of speech and his unconventional policies. Although the wealthy businessman had not been active in politics until recently, Trump has shared his views on Israel many times. Due to his close relations with Orthodox Jews—his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism before she married Jared Kushner in 2009—many Jews believe Trump will be good for Israel. Ivanka has said of her father: “He has used his voice often and loudly in support of Israel, in support of developments within Israel, in support of security for Israel and in support of the idea of the Israeli democracy.”
Initially, Trump declared himself “a neutral guy” when asked about his stance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. He also said that he was unsure if “Israel has the commitment to make [a peace deal] and I don’t know that the other side has the commitment to make it.” Trump added that “it has to be said that Israel has given a lot and hasn’t gotten a lot of credit for it.”
Yet at the AIPAC conference in early 2016, he said, “When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one.” Trump has also consistently criticized the Iran Deal, which AIPAC and many other Jewish organizations say could lead to Iran’s use of a nuclear weapon against Israel. Trump has said that the Iran Deal “is going to destroy Israel—unless I get elected.”
In September 2016, Trump met Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and in a public statement that summarized the meeting stated, “Mr. Trump and the Prime Minister discussed the special relationship between America and Israel and the unbreakable bond between the two countries….Mr. Trump recognized that Israel and its citizens have suffered far too long on the front lines of Islamic terrorism.” Peace would only come, said the statement, “when the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish State…the United States under a Trump administration will finally accept the long-standing Congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.”
When UNESCO declared the Temple Mount as having no connection to the Jewish people, Trump said in a statement released mid-October 2016 that “Jerusalem is the enduring capital of the Jewish people… the United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000 year-bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the UN.”
Yet Trump’s position on Muslim immigrants to the United States has led him to gain support from many radical figures: August Kreis III, a former Ku Klux Klansman, has said “I will always hate the Jew…please vote for Trump!” Kreis also stated that “all that dance to the tune of the Jew should and will be exterminated with the Jew!” He’s also been praised by the chairman of the American Nazi Party, Rocky J. Suhayda, as well as Andrew Anglin, a neo-Nazi journalist who has written that, “Jews, blacks, and lesbians will be leaving America if Trump gets elected—and he’s happy about it. This alone is enough reason to put your entire heart and soul into supporting this man.”
Additionally, Trump’s seemingly inconsistent views on Israel concern voters who want to see a constant, stable figure supporting a stance they agree with. A poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute revealed that, though a majority of Israelis thought that Clinton would be harder on their country than Trump would, the plurality preferred her to Trump. This may be because of what people deem his lack of consistency.
Stern College students examine policy stances on Israel closely. Chana Morgenstern said, “There are two things to consider in this election; which candidate I can, with conviction, vote for, and which candidate would, in truth, be better for Israel.” She expressed her support for Hillary Clinton because “I have seen the man Trump is, and he is not anyone I could ever vote into office….we know he will support Israel, but we don’t know how he will support it. Clinton….has throughout her career supported and defended Israel. With Trump being who he is I have no right to elect him when I feel it will disastrous for the country, which in the end would be bad for Israel as well.”
Rachel Lelonek agreed: “While Israel is certainly a very important issue for me, it was not my sole deciding factor in choosing her [Clinton] over Donald Trump. But I am confident that from her track record…Clinton as president would support initiatives that would benefit Israel and only enhance our relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Yet an anonymous junior disagreed, stating, “In good conscience, I can’t support Hillary Clinton after the information regarding her private email server and the Benghazi scandal was released. Though she may have been exonerated, her dishonesty is repugnant to me.”
Shaina Bakhshi said that “Israel-related matters are one of the most important if not the most important matters to me. I have been following both candidates closely in regards to Israel, particularly their reactions to Israel-related news. Donald Trump is the candidate who has not only addressed more Israel-related issues, but also addressed them in greater detail, which I greatly appreciate.”