Josh Glancy

Why American Jews will back Biden the 'super-mensch'

'Joe Biden can sit there with the American people, in a sense sitting shiva, being present and acknowledging the great loss that we as a country have gone through'


WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - AUGUST 20: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers his acceptance speech on the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center on August 20, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. The convention, which was once expected to draw 50,000 people to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is now taking place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

August 28, 2020 16:30

In America, people often apply the “beer test” to rival presidential candidates: which of the two would you rather crack a cold one with? It was George W Bush’s apparent beer-friendliness that supposedly gave him the edge against John Kerry in 2004.

This time around, with America losing 180,000 dead from the coronavirus, Aaron Keyak, Joe Biden’s head of Jewish engagement, applies something more akin to a shiva test. Which of Biden or Donald Trump would you most want to arrive at a house of mourning?

For Keyak, it isn’t even close. “Given his experience with personal tragedy, Joe Biden can sit there with the American people, in a sense sitting shiva, being present and acknowledging the great loss that we as a country have gone through,” he told me.

“This stands in contrast to President Trump, who makes it about himself and seems not to engage with the mourners in our country.”

He’s not wrong. Biden’s tragic history, losing his young wife and daughter in a car crash when he was 29, losing his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, have given him an emotional depth that many Americans connect to.

The same goes for American Jews, who will likely opt for Biden’s pitch as a mensch-in-chief in large numbers. Some 71 percent of Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — that number will likely be very similar this time around.

Yet of course a president does much more than just comfort an anguished nation. And while Biden isn’t quite at the measuring curtains in the Oval Office stage yet, his imposing lead in the polls gives him a very strong chance of becoming the 46th president in January. Which leads us to the obvious question: what would a Biden presidency mean for the Jews?

In many ways, a Biden-Kamala Harris duo in the White House represents a dream ticket for most American Jews. Biden is a conventional, old-school, pro-Israel Democrat. The kind of guy who invited members of Washington’s Jewish community over for a meal at the vice president’s residence on Rosh Hashanah. And Harris, aside from being married to a member of the tribe, lawyer Doug Emhoff, is also firmly in the philosemitic and pro-Israel Democratic mainstream.

Given the anti-Zionist currents swirling around the modern Democratic party, things could have been very different.

Trump will be baffled by his lack of support: he thinks Jews should vote for him because of his approach to Israel, forgetting that it’s just one of many factors dictating their decision on polling day.

It is true that Trump has indeed been a conspicuously pro-Israel president, implementing policies that have garnered him much support among right-wing Zionists. He pulled out of the Iran deal, assassinated Qassem Solemaini, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and in recent weeks he has overseen a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that holds the promise of creating a once-unimaginable détente between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

This may swing some votes, but in reality many American Jews are now to the left of the Trump administration on Israel, viewing his pro-Netanyahu policies as inimical to a just peace settlement with the Palestinians. A poll conducted last year by Pew Research showed that 43 percentof American Jews think Trump favours Israel too much, as opposed to just 26 percent of Christians.

Beyond Israel, what many Jews long for, and indeed a majority of Americans appear to want, is a return to normality. After four tumultuous and sometimes terrifying years, with Jews gunned down at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, with Nazis chanting anti-Semitic slogans in Charlottesville, conspiratorial Jew hatred coursing through the internet, the hope for many is that a Biden presidency can restore some sense of calm.

And perhaps it will, but it’s worth a note of caution here. Trump is a bad actor, but the schisms and strife that have marked his presidency will not evaporate when he leaves office.

American support for Israel used to be bipartisan, but the Democratic left’s growing dislike for the Jewish state is turning the issue into a party political football, a trend that Biden can’t just reverse. Similarly, the rage and conspiratorial fervour that has defined the Trump era — and often manifested as antisemitism — can’t just be put back in a bottle. That toxicity is in the country’s bloodstream and will outlive the Trump presidency.

Nonetheless, the idea of a mensch-in-chief, someone who attempts to use the mighty power of the presidency to calm rather than inflame ethnic tensions, is an appealing prospect. Overall, Biden would be good for the Jews.


Josh Glancy is Washington Bureau Chief for the Sunday Times

August 28, 2020 16:30

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