If you want Jewish votes, don't pander to the far-right while you cheer for Israel - opinion

New House Speaker Mike Johnson and the rest of the GOP represent just about everything that the preponderance of Jewish voters stand against, no matter how many good things they say about Israel.

 Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) takes his oath of office after he was elected to be the new Speaker at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023. (photo credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)
Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) takes his oath of office after he was elected to be the new Speaker at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)

Matt Gaetz was crowing. The ultra-conservative Florida congressman who led the coup to dump speaker Kevin McCarthy was celebrating the election of Mike Johnson as the first MAGA speaker. “MAGA is ascendant,” Gaetz declared. That is where “the power of the Republican party truly lies.”

The new speaker won unanimous backing from the dysfunctional House Republican Conference, moving the party’s moderates from endangered species to extinct as the Trump cult took over.

Johnson, a four-termer from Louisiana, has one of the most conservative voting records in the House. Dubbed MAGA Mike, he played a major role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and was a prominent member of Donald Trump’s second impeachment defense team. Now he’s preparing to impeach President Joe Biden, no doubt to help satisfy Trump’s lust for revenge.

His first public speech after getting the gavel was to a group of wealthy Jewish Republican donors in Las Vegas.

 Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) smiles as he reacts to the applause of members of the House after being elected to be the new Speaker at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)
Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) smiles as he reacts to the applause of members of the House after being elected to be the new Speaker at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/ELIZABETH FRANTZ)

“God is not done with Israel,” he told the Republican Jewish Coalition, reminding the group that his first legislative act as speaker was to pass a resolution declaring solidarity with Israel in its war with Hamas.

Johnson's Israel plan is a ploy to take IRS money

He intends to use emergency military aid for Israel, in a cynical ploy to exploit sympathy for the Jewish state, by taking funds intended for the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats.

His bill does not include aid for Ukraine, which that country needs just as badly (he’s voted against it previously) – thereby setting up a confrontation with the Senate, where that aid has strong bipartisan support, and the White House. The result is needlessly – and dangerously – delaying essential aid to score political points.

Johnson's trip to Las Vegas to speak to a gathering of rich Jews, presided over by one of the party’s largest contributors, was no accident. Every Speaker is expected to be the top fundraiser for House races, as McCarthy was, and the relatively unknown Johnson has big shoes to fill and deep pockets.

The RJC meeting was a love fest for Israel. Even Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy had tried to convince the crowd that his plan to end military aid to Israel was really in the best interest of the Jewish state. No one seemed to care when Reuters caught Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s aides lying about his helping to “get weapons and ammunition to Israel.”

The star act was Trump, who treated his enthusiastic audience to an embellishing of all he’d done for Israel, even adding some things that never happened. He described how he “kept Israel and the world safe.” He said that if he were still president, Iran would have joined the Abraham Accords, Hamas never would have attacked Israel, Russia would not have invaded Ukraine, there would be no inflation, the lion would lie down with the lamb and Donald would provide the mint jelly.

How will Johnson react when Jews vote against him?

So, who cares if he’s a bigot, racist, Islamophobe, and anti-Semite who trashed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, praised Hezbollah terrorists as “very smart,” questioned the loyalty of American Jews, and said that “liberal Jews” are voting to “destroy America and Israel?”

One can’t help wondering how he will react if he is the nominee next year and Jews once again vote heavily against him.

Apparently, at the RJC, all is forgiven because he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the American embassy there – long overdue – and cut taxes for the wealthy. They seem unfazed by the 91 felony indictments against him. They don’t seem to care that, so far, three of his lawyers have flipped on him and that he is unencumbered by any moral compass, devoid of intellectual curiosity, and an admirer of autocrats and dictators.

Israel is the favorite talking point for Republicans with Jewish audiences. But beyond that, there is very little of the MAGA agenda they have in common. The party’s foreign policy theme is “America First,” a reminder of the 1930s isolationist movement that was heavily antisemitic.

Speaker Johnson and the GOP represent just about everything that the preponderance of Jewish voters stand against. Long past is the day when Jews were one-issue voters – and that issue was Israel. Support for the ultra-conservative domestic agenda is confined largely to staunch political conservatives and the ultra-Orthodox community, which agrees with the MAGA cult on issues such as hostility to public schools and opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Johnson is out of step with most Jewish voters

In recent presidential elections, Jews consistently voted 70-80 percent Democratic. In Congress today, none of the 10 Jewish senators is Republican; in the House, only two of the 28 Jews are Republicans.

Where does the new speaker, who was elected unanimously by his party, stand on the issues?

“Someone asked me today in the media, ‘People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview,’” he told Fox News.

In the wake of the Lewiston, Maine, mass murder last week, he rejected any talk of gun safety legislation. “[T]he problem is the human heart, it’s not guns, it’s not the weapons,” he insisted.

Johnson has promoted the “great replacement theory,” telling Fox News that Democrats want open borders and unfettered immigration because “they want to turn these people into voters.”  American Jewish Committee has said that this belief in an intentional effort “led by Jews to promote mass (non-white) immigration” is antisemitic.

He supports a national ban on abortion, once telling a reporter that “many women use abortion as a form of birth control.” He opposes same-sex marriage, has called homosexuality “inherently unnatural” and “sinful, destructive.” 

He is out of step with most Jewish Americans on church-state separation and social issues.

The top domestic issues for American Jewish voters are those that largely divide the two parties. They are, according the nonpartisan Jewish Electorate Institute, democracy, abortion, antisemitism, climate change, gun violence, the economy, health care, Social Security, and Medicare. Of the top 11 issues in the Institute’s September 2022 survey, Israel ranked 10th in importance.

A veteran Republican Jewish activist said RJC works to demonstrate its members’ loyalty to the party and to provide access for them to the powerful. It also seeks, so far with little or no success, to attract Jewish voters to the party. But there is scant evidence that it is trying to convince the party to take positions that would attract those voters.

RJC CEO Matt Brooks told Reuters that his group spent over $10 million in 2020 to help elect Trump and that its members put in another $50-$60 million during that election cycle. The GOP has been successful in raising campaign contributions from Jews, but not in getting votes.

The message for Republicans is clear: If you want Jewish votes, you can’t ignore the issues that are most important to Jews. Sweet words of love for Israel won’t do it. Neither will going full MAGA.

The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant, lobbyist, and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.



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