Purim is next week, but people are already debating Exodus — just not the one from the Passover seder.
On March 12, President Donald Trump tweeted a quote he attributed to a Jewish woman from New York named Elizabeth Pipko. For most followers, this was the first they heard of Jexodus, a new organization urging millennial American Jews to “follow their conscience” and depart the Democratic Party. But in fact, Trump 2020 campaign advisor Jeff Ballabon tweeted Feb. 28 that he announced the launch of Jexodus at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In a "Fox & Friends" interview on the morning of March 12, Pipko — Jexodus’s spokesperson, and a Trump’s 2016 campaign staffer — laid out her case for a Jewish exodus from the Democratic Party.
“There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party. They can hide it, they can do whatever they want. They failed to condemn it, and now it’s there, so it’s time,” Pipko said. She was referring to the political drama surrounding the repeated use of anti-Semitic tropes by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D- Minn.) in her public statements, and the decision to expand a House Resolution condemning anti-Semitism to one condemning other forms of intolerance and bigotry as well.
This was the third time in three months that the 116th Congress voted to condemn anti-Semitism in some capacity. The first condemnation, in January, was of white supremacy; the second, in February, affirmed that combating anti-Semitism is in the national security interest of the United States. The third both defined and condemned various forms of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.
The president was among critics of the decision not to keep the focus of the resolution on anti-Semitism alone. “The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They’ve become an anti-Jewish party, and it’s too bad,” he told reporters on March 8, the day after the vote.
The resolution’s language did reflect Omar’s statements, rejecting anti-Semitic stereotypes “including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty... especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.” It also provided historical context illustrating “the centuries-old bigotry of [anti-Semitism] faced by Jewish people simply because they are Jews.” Additionally, it noted the 37 percent increase in hate crimes against Jews or Jewish institutions in 2017.
The resolution passed in the House by a large majority, 407-23. All 23 no votes were cast by Republicans, with Omar herself voting in favor. Critics of the text argued that the inclusion of other persecuted groups was “All Lives Matter”-ing the resolution. Others were displeased Omar was not mentioned by name in the resolution, nor was she censured by her party.
“When you cross that threshold into Congress, your words weigh much more than when you’re shouting at somebody outside,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on March 7, “and I feel confident that [Omar’s] words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude, but that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where these words have a history and a cultural impact that may have been unknown to her.”
“Not only did the anti-Semitism with Ilhan Omar get worse and worse — you know, by proving she had supporters in her own party — but when the leadership fails to condemn that, it shows that they are a party of anti-Semitism," said Pipko. "The president said it the other day, and they can’t deny it anymore."
The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) expressed support for the inclusive approach of the resolution. “Anti-Semitism does not emerge in a vacuum,” said JDCA Chairman Ron Klein in a statement issued by the organization. “It is an indication of larger trends of intolerance in society, and should be combated in conjunction with other forms of discrimination.”
“Use of hateful or discriminatory rhetoric by members of Congress is contradictory to our values and must come to an end. While we accept legitimate political debate on Israel, such debate must exclude prejudicial attitudes, stereotypes, and other forms of anti-Semitic tropes targeting Jews,” added the former congressman.
The Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, Nathan Diament, expressed appreciation for the work of Congressional leaders in shaping the resolution and securing its passage. That being said, he would have preferred that the House pass a resolution on other forms of intolerance and bigotry independent of this one: “While we certainly agree with the full scope of the resolution’s content, and that all forms of intolerance and bigotry — including anti-Muslim bigotry — must be rejected, it would have been better for the House of Representatives to respond to recent incidents of anti-Semitism with a Resolution exclusively addressing that topic.”
After the president called the Democratic Party anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, the JDCA accused him and the Republican party of hypocrisy. “Trump and the Republicans embrace and exploit hate when they perceive it as politically expedient,” the organization said in another statement. “Dems have resoundingly and consistently condemned hate in all its forms, including anti-Semitism. That’s what they did last week in the House and that’s what they will continue to do. That’s why more than 79 percent of Jewish voters supported Dems in 2018 and even more will support Dems in 2020 — because Dems represent our values.”
Pipko said Jexodus’s message is not limited to Jews responding to anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party, but anyone who has felt pressured into voting against their values. “I think it’s time for that person to stand up and do what needs to be done in 2020,” she said.
Who Decides What Jewish Values Are?
Looking strictly at the numbers, there is a strong Jewish presence in the Democratic Party. Of the 34 members of Congress who are Jewish, 32 of them are Democrats. Seventy-one percent of American Jews voted for Clinton in 2016, and more than 75 percent of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms. While this is certainly not a guaranteed indicator of satisfaction with the party, it does indicate an alignment with Democratic policies and/or politicians over those put forth by the Republican Party.
Data from as recent as 2014 supports this assessment. The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey (RLS) is the most recent Pew study on the religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views of Americans. Researchers collected data from 35,000 Americans from all 50 states. According to their findings, 64 percent of Jews surveyed identified as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans, and nine percent as having “no lean.”
There was no breakdown by denomination in the 2014 RLS, but there was in “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” published by Pew the previous year.
"A Portrait of Jewish Americans" found that American Jews as a whole supported the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by more than three-to-one: 70 percent of subjects said they are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, while 22 percent said they are Republicans or lean Republican. Among Orthodox Jews, however, the balance tilted in the other direction: 57 percent said they are Republican or lean Republican, and 36 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic. According to the report, Orthodox Jews constitute the smallest of the three major denominational movements, but they are much younger, on average; tend to have much larger families than the overall Jewish population; and have an increasingly high retention rate.
Even if the movement proves to be a fad, the chosen face of Jexodus is a strategic one.
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.