By Omri Nahmias
WASHINGTON – Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and Matthew Brooks, the Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, faced off on Sunday at American Jewish Congress global forum plenary session around the question of support for Israel and President Donald Trump’s policies.
Soifer told Brooks that while the sides could debate whether Israel is more secure or less secure under Donald Trump, “when we look at the Jewish community, we know that Jews themselves, according to the AJC’s Poll, feel less secure in the past year; feel less secure because of Donald Trump allowing and emboldening and engaging, even, in antisemitism.”
She added: “We’ve seen antisemitism and white supremacy increase under his watch, including the horrific attacks at two of our synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway. And those perpetrators were emboldened by some of his policies and ideologies. And Jews feel less secure in his presidency, and there’ll be voting on their security in 2020.”
Brooks answered Soifer, telling her: “I can promise you with 100% certainty, antisemitism in the United States did not start January 20th, 2017. It did not start with the election of Donald Trump. If you go back and look at antisemitic attacks against Jewish institutions in this country, they were going on in the 1950s when they were bombing synagogues in the South and elsewhere.”
He called for both sides to join forces in combating antisemitism. “Look, on the Right, we have problems with white nationalists,” Brooks said. “We have rising antisemitism with the KKK and the alt Right. But on the Left, there’s also an antisemitic problem, and it’s a strain that’s running throughout the mainstream of the Democratic Party – not the fringe, as in the Republican Party.”
Soifer reminded Brooks of things that Trump said as a candidate at RJC’s conference in 2015. “He said: ‘You Jews aren’t going to support me because you don’t want my money, and you don’t want to control your politicians,’ and has repeated similar antisemitic tropes from the campaign trail to the Oval Office, including repeating conspiracy theories that were then used, emboldening white supremacists who have now targeted our community in unprecedented numbers, including the largest shooting of Jews we’ve ever seen in our history. There is a clear tie,” she said.
Brooks discussed the shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, telling Soifer: “Both of those shooters, if you read their manifestos, acted because they were upset at Donald Trump for being too close to the Jewish community. Go back and read the manifesto. They accused him of being too Zionist, too pro-Israel and too much of a Jew-lover, which is what they said. I know it’s part of the talking points, but the reality is that at our event – when he said we don’t want your money – I was actually on stage with him. I’m the one who asked him the question about that. And immediately after, the ADL put out a statement that it’s not antisemitic. So if the Anti-Defamation League says it was a joke and in context, we can put an end to it.”
Asked by moderator Dana Bash of CNN whether Democrats welcome Trump’s policies regarding Israel, Soifer said that the answer is positive. “We welcome the move of the Embassy. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But the reality is that what’s important is not just Israel’s security, or policy with regard to Israel, but also our security as American Jews. And we know that this is what Jewish Americans are voting on. A wide range of domestic policy issues such as choice, reproductive rights, immigration, not caging children at our borders or trying to deny people access to affordable health care. And these are the policies of President Trump.”
She added that most of the party supports Israel, and when asked specifically about Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, she said that they do not represent the party. “There are a few voices [who don’t support Israel], but those two members of Congress have been there for five months. Let’s see what they do. But they don’t speak for the party.”