What Does Trump Victory Mean For The Jewish Agenda?


The 2016 presidential election campaign is finally over. Donald Trump secured a remarkable victory over Hillary Clinton, and Republicans held onto their majority control of the House of Representatives and Senate. Trump campaigned touting a range of bold, if not always detailed, policy positions on immigration, trade pacts, Obamacare and more. While a majority of American Jews supported Hillary Clinton, many (Orthodox Jews in particular) voted for Trump and were attracted to do so on the twin bases of rejecting Clinton as the candidate of continuity (and, effectively, a third Obama term) as well as policies Trump proposed on key issues.

As president-elect, Trump begins his transition to the White House in earnest, here is a roundup for policies relevant to the Jewish community to be further developed and implemented in 2017.

Israel’s Security: The Jewish voters who supported Trump primarily did so because they thought he would be best for the security of Israel. Trump vigorously criticized President Obama’s policies toward Israel with regard to its conflict with the Palestinians, and his election will have a beneficial impact before he even takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of public speculation about whether President Obama might take one last action with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama’s step could range from the U.S. supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state, to a resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal, or a speech unilaterally laying out his specific vision for resolving the conflict.

Of course, any such move would be counterproductive to the real prospects for peace by encouraging to the Palestinians not to engage in direct negotiations with Israel. Now, Trump’s election makes such a move by Obama unlikely, if not irrelevant. His election is a repudiation of Obama’s eight years of pressing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, and this should make Obama reluctant to do it yet again; and even if Obama does take such a step, it will now be viewed as irrelevant to the incoming Administration. Indeed, Mr. Trump making good on his firm commitment to finally relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem may send the most useful message to Israel’s enemies in decades.

The nuclear deal with Iran was an important focus of the campaign as well. Trump regularly spoke out against it and promised to abolish it. The president-elect must immediately charge his transition team with planning specific steps they will aggressively undertake in the first days of his administration to rein in Iran on the nuclear front and also confront Iran on its expansive sponsorship of terrorism. In Washington, an oft-stated cliché is that “personnel is policy,” and Trump must rapidly identify appointees who possess the seriousness and energy demanded to thwart the Islamic Republic.

Education: Trump committed himself to improving education opportunities for American children through school choice initiatives. He presented this primarily in the context of increasing opportunities for minority and low-income children. However, the cost of Jewish education remains the preeminent domestic issue in many Jewish households (especially in New York, where Jewish students are the largest bloc of children in nonpublic schools). Trump broadly spoke of undertaking a long-overdue reform of federal education funding by redirecting $20 billion in federal education funds to state programs that allow the funds to “follow the student” to the school of his or her family’s choice. Such a reform could spark new educational opportunity in America and have a revolutionary impact upon the challenge of Jewish education affordability.

Religious Liberty: Religious liberty is the bedrock upon which American Jewry has flourished. Its discussion in the 2016 campaign was mostly limited to Trump promising to repeal the tax code’s restriction on clergy endorsing candidates from the pulpit (something many rabbis and other clergy actually do not desire) and Clinton assailing Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban.” But the dimension of this issue of greatest concern to Orthodox Jews — as well as traditional Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons —is striking the proper balance between the expansion of civil rights for gay Americans (already undertaken by the Supreme Court and many state legislatures) and protections for religious institutions and individuals with dissenting views. We are in the midst of a fractious debate over this, and a compromise that delivers fairness for all will take real leadership and compromise from the White House and bipartisan leaders in Congress.

Anti-Semitism: Trump’s campaign attracted support from white supremacists and others who articulate the tropes of rank anti-Semitism (and other forms of pernicious speech). An essential role for a president of the United States is to unite the nation, embrace people of all faiths, ethnicities and reject those stoke hate and division. While these fringe elements found no welcome in the mainstream GOP, as president-elect, Trump must undertake explicit steps in this direction to set a proper foundation for his leadership of this diverse country.

Every American presidential election is, by definition, historic. But the 2016 election can already be also seen as an inflection point for American politics and policy. President Trump will pursue policies dramatically different from those promoted by President Obama or his would-be successor. This will provide new opportunities for American Jewry’s interests, and we must partner with the new president and allies in congress to pursue them and serve our community and country.

Nathan Diament is executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, based in Washington, D.C.