Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin

Jewish Insider: The AJC released a poll this week that showed among Orthodox Jews, 71% view President Trump favorably. Given the large Orthodox constituency in Maryland, how would you explain this strong support, which deeply contrasts with other elements of the Jewish community?

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD): “This has been a growing trend that in the Orthodox Community — traditionally the Jewish community has been very much part of the Democratic party. It’s never been unanimous. The overwhelming majority of the Jews identify with the Democrats. Within the last 20 years, there has been a growing trend within the Orthodox community for different reasons: some have been because of their foreign policy views others it has been the sanctity of life issues, others it has been church state issues that they want help on schools and they find an easier audience from Republicans to help faith based groups: all that has built up in Orthodox as stronger interest in the Republican nominees. It has been a trend that has been going on well before Donald Trump. I think there will be a backlash with Mr. Trump and that knowing Jewish values there will be less support among the Orthodox community for Donald Trump.”

JI: How can Democrats better win back Orthodox support giving their rising numbers in the Jewish community?

Cardin: “You have to look at the different issues. We should highlight the issues that are important to the Orthodox Jewish community where we are in agreement. A lot of our budget issues are more aligned with the Orthodox community than the Republican views. Quite frankly, our environmental views are more in line. I look at the protection of civil liberties that is also more in line. There are areas where we can deal with it. Israel should not be a divisive issue. I don’t want someone to support Democrats because Republicans are bad on Israel. I want to maintain the strong bipartisan support for Israel. I don’t want to use it (support for Israel) as a divisive issue.”

JI: This week, an Israeli Member of Knesset from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party submitted his resignation following backlash in his community for attending his nephew’s gay wedding. How do you view this development?

Cardin: “I could be wrong on this but I think the LGBT issues are becoming less of a division in every community including the Jewish community but there is no question that the Orthodox have stronger views based on religious texts. I belong to an Orthodox congregation, and I know the language used in my Synagogue and it’s very much respectful of diversity. I really think that’s not going to be a fundamental division. Certainly in Israel, you have a recent Supreme Court decision on military service, the Kotel, laws of conversion, there are conflicts within the Orthodox political structure of Israel that the American Jewish community, whether you are Orthodox or non-Orthodox, don’t necessarily agree with.”

JI: The Trump administration has weighed the possibility of not certifying Iran’s adherence to the nuclear deal. Would this U.S. step be appropriate?

Cardin: “The certification should be based on a factual determination of a material breach. From everything we know Iran is not in material breach so therefore if the President doesn’t certify, he is setting up a situation where the United States would be walking away and be the violator of an agreement isolating the U.S. from Europe and giving Iran much stronger platform in the international community. I think it would be counterproductive. We should take action against Iran for many of the activities that are not prohibited under the nuclear agreement. We passed legislation to do that. Let’s act against Iran.”

JI: Following the ACLU’s objection, some Democrats have expressed concern with the anti-Israel Boycott Act that you introduced with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). Are you open to revising the current legislation?

Cardin: “Those who have taken the effort to truly understand our amendment recognize that all of the complaints that have been raised deal with the underlying current law not with the amendment that followed. Having said that, we think there is ample support in Congress to pass this. We are open to clarifying this.”

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