BROOKLYN, NY – It was billed as a debate between representatives of the two U.S. presidential candidates on issues that matter to the Orthodox Jewish community.
“Learn what the candidates stands for on issues important to you and the Jewish community,” read a poster plastered on walls in the Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
Instead, the over hundred people who gathered as the Talmud Torah of Flatbush synagogue on Coney Island Avenue heard two gentlemen discuss who’s worse than Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
In the invitation to the event, moderated by community activist Leon Goldenberg, members of the conservative-leaning Jewish community were promised to hear Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU’s Kashrut division, present – in his personal capacity as a friend of the Clintons – the views of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat who crosses party lines to support Republicans in national elections, present the views of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But at the outset of the 90-minute event, Hikind dropped a bombshell: “I cannot vote for Donald Trump,” he told the crowd, consisting mostly of Trump supporters. “When we said before I am going to represent the Republican side, I would’ve loved to – if I had a Republican. Donald Trump is not a Republican. He is running on the Republican line. I wanted to support him. I was hoping as the weeks went by that he would keep his mouth closed and stop saying the things that he has said, but he can’t change, and I am really concerned. I wish they can both lose, but I know that’s not going to happen. One of them will be elected next week. But we have to be honest with ourselves.”
Picking an alternative, Hikind announced he will be writing in House Speaker Paul Ryan for president. “He is a real superstar. A real friend of Israel. A real mensch,” said Hikind, pausing for the applause that never came. “This is the kind of person we really need.”
This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma some Orthodox Jewish voters are facing as the time to pick their choice for president – traditionally a Republican – is nearing. Based on conversations with many voters over the course of the presidential election, Trump is expected to receive a supermajority of the Orthodox Jewish vote in Brooklyn. But the question remains, will Trump’s poor standing in the general American Jewish community and the lack of support for him among the rank in file in the community impact their vote for president.
It should be noted that Hikind is a senior Democrat in the State of New York. He serves as Assistant Majority Leader of the Democratic-controlled State Assembly. His support for Speaker Ryan, a conservative-Republican, will likely raise some eyebrows among his colleagues, who are seeking to take over control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in next week’s election.
All of New York’s Jewish elected officials are supporting Hillary Clinton for president, including Councilman David Greenfield, Hikind’s partner in representing the Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park/Midwood.
Not everyone in the crowd was happy with Hikind’s decision to diss the Republican nominee and not counter the Democratic point of view.
“Tonight’s debate was a little misleading because we were supposed to have heard the views of two candidates,” Tzvi Schwartz, a resident from Flatbush, told Jewish Insider. “I don’t think Trump is a perfect candidate. I think he’s a horrible candidate. He was my last choice. But we got to make the best of this situation. That’s why I was disappointed we didn’t have somebody who is supporting Trump.”
But Heshy Friedman, a local activist who is running a “Jewish Democrats for Trump” campaign, said there it wasn’t necessary to have somebody on stage representing Trump because the audience was already supporting Trump. “Hikind is a Democrat, and the problem is he played safe in case Hillary wins,” Friedman explained. “I am sure that if he knew that Trump was going to be 20 points ahead, everybody would jump on him.”
“Everybody is voting for Trump,” Friedman asserted, as he handed out fliers of Bill and Hillary Clinton standing next to Yasser and Suha Arafat.
“While Hillary Clinton was kissing Suha Arafat and one thousand Jews were being blown up and murdered, resulting from the Clinton Oslo Accords, Donald Trump was funding the Israeli Hatzalah with motor bikes to enable a quicker response to save the Jewish terror victims,” the paper, which will be featured in paid advertisements in several Jewish papers this weekend, read.
During the discussion, Hikind brought up the issue to dispel the notion that the Clintons are more pro-Israeli than President Obama.
“Lemme tell you why Bill Clinton was so popular, why he had such a great relationship with the government of Israel,” Hikind asserted. “The reason was because you had a left-wing government in Israel; because he had Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, and they were making concessions as Jews were dying in the streets all over Israel from the terrorism of Yasser Arafat. Oh sure, he was very popular. When Shimon Peres ran after Rabin was assassinated, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, said the following to the people of Israel – he was trying to influence the elections in Israel, and he said to the people of Israel: ‘If you want peace, you know who to vote for, Shimon Peres.’ So, of course, there was a great relationship. He did everything in the world to stop Netanyahu. He didn’t want Netanyahu. He didn’t let the people of Israel make the decision.”
Rabbi Genack pushed back, saying that everyone agrees that Bill Clinton was sympathetic towards Israel.
He also insisted that the notion that Hillary is Obama is “inaccurate.” (“She’s worse,” two audience members shouted back.)
“Hillary has said that the constant condemnation of the U.S. every time some settlement is built, those are things that need to be discussed privately and not publicly,” he said. “And when Netanyahu made the concession that he froze settlement activity for 1o months, Hillary said that this is a huge, unprecedented concession. The president made her take that back. And she has said – this is explicit in her policy – that is going to change. What Obama has done, he has undermined Israel’s moral standing in the world – with this kind of attitude that he represents. That changes when Hillary is president.”
“It almost sounds like Hillary is a version of Menachem Begin,” Hikind quipped in turn.