Originally published in The Hill.
As America stampedes into the 2020 presidential election cycle, voters are already facing information overload from candidates, political action committees and pundits. These groups are flooding our social and traditional media platforms. Our intelligence community says the race will also be vulnerable once again to disinformation attack by foreign powers. It is safe to say that voters face confusion ahead and at worst, greater political polarization.
Jews, in particular, have cause to worry. With hate crimes and violence against Jews skyrocketing and even members of the U.S. Congress peddling in anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and white supremacist rhetoric, the stakes for Jewish Americans are especially high. At the same time, the next few years may hold new political opportunities for Jewish Americans, and those we elect in 2020 will have a real impact on American policy toward Israel and the Middle East.
It goes without saying that Jewish Americans care about and vote on issues other than those pertaining to Jewish Americans and Israel. We are American voters as much as Jewish ones. But when it comes to these particular issues, the stakes are too high to ignore. The Jewish community and its allies must come together to help voters make smart, informed political choices on Jewish and Israel-related issues in Congress and the White House.
But how can this happen when Russian bots have been linked to campaigns to confuse Jewish voters, such as #walkaway? How can Jewish voters protect their most basic security interests when campaigns like “Jexodus” cloud the airwaves with disinformation that attempts to divide and conquer Jewish solidarity?
Paradoxically, information is the answer. The mainstream media exists for exactly this purpose: to serve as a gold standard of researched, sourced, unbiased, information that allows consumers to think critically and make decisions. But it is not enough. The New York Times, which is the sine-qua-non of credible journalism, last month had to apologize for publishing anti-Semitic cartoons.
Jewish Americans need clarity in this time of chaotic information. Informed voters need to know a candidate’s voting records, personal histories and present statements as they relate to the Jewish community. To this common goal, Jewish community organizations are among the actors best positioned to address this issue. The American Jewish Congress has a new website for this purpose; other groups offer candidate questionnaires and the like. This mission will take work from all fronts
For example, we hear a lot about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the news — you might have read that he has a tendency to blame Israel for Gaza border violence instead of Hamas, a terrorist organization, or that he was one of several candidates to skip AIPAC conference this year. But what about his more concrete actions? You’ll need to dig a little deeper to find out that in the past, Sanders voted in 1991 to withhold $82.5 million in aid for Israel unless it halted settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or that he was once the only Jewish member of Congress not to back a resolution condemning Palestinian suicide attacks.
And what happens if the JCPOA (Iran Deal) is put back on the table? Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently joined other 2020 contenders in supporting a hypothetical return to the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal). Yet, he is also among the most pro-Israel candidates in the field. He has spoken up for Israel’s right to defend itself, condemned Hamas’ actions, and has even criticized the politicization of supporting Israel.
It’s up to voters to decide how to weigh and evaluate these facts – but it’s crucial that those facts are readily available. Whomever we elect for the presidency, will take on tomorrow’s challenges surrounding anti-Semitic hate crime and Israel’s security. Our vote will decide the course of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) legislation, American policy regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense.
Jewish Americans are a diverse community with various diverging opinions. Knowing where candidates stand will help the Jewish community to vote smarter, to engage in the electoral process with greater confidence and knowledge and choose the right people to advocate for our interests and goals. Capitol Hill may be largely divided, but Americans are so much more than two parties and their platforms and talking points. Only when society at large recognizes these issues together, and chooses truth over blind victory, will the potential of our democracy be realized.