The election is a week away. And afterwards, many will look back at the results and ask where the Jewish community stood, who rose to the occasion — and who didn’t confront unprecedented, alarming bigotry and anti-Semitism. Only one Jewish organization fully mobilized to defeat the threatening rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy: Bend the Arc.
CEO Stosh Cotler answered our questions after 300 Bend the Arc volunteers knocked doors as part of #LetMyPeopleGOTV in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
What is unique about Trump’s candidacy that prompted this effort by Bend the Arc?
[pullquote align=right] We also knew that Jews would have a unique moral power in this election and in its aftermath.
[/pullquote]Shortly after Trump launched his campaign, back when he was still mostly a joke, folks at every level of the organization started seeing this as something we needed to do. We saw Trump using fear and bigotry for political purposes in a way that reminded us of some of the worst parts of recent Jewish history, which is why we called the campaign “We’ve Seen This Before.” The hatred he has whipped up against immigrants, Muslims, women and people of color is frightening and unacceptable- and were echoes of fascism. Jews understand the horrible consequences that can result from allowing a movement driven by that kind of hatred to seize political power. We knew we had not only an obligation to do what we could to prevent that, but we also knew that Jews would have a unique moral power in this election and in its aftermath. When Jews speak and act on these issues, it carries a special weight and power with American voters.
Why is Bend the Arc the only Jewish organization to mobilize against Trump in this way?
[pullquote align=left] In years to come you’ll see more Jewish mobilizing that focuses on a bold, progressive domestic agenda.
[/pullquote]I think Bend the Arc Jewish Action is unique among Jewish advocacy groups in that we combine the ability and the will to be politically active through our 501(c)4 and PAC with a genuine connection to Jewish grassroots leaders. We are also one of the few Jewish groups that focuses exclusively on domestic issues, which many surveys have shown are the decisive political issues for most American Jews, especially members of younger generations. If our own growth is any indication, I think there is a real desire in the community for a Jewish identity that focuses on these social justice issues. In years to come you’ll see more Jewish mobilizing that focuses on a bold, progressive domestic agenda.
How would you characterize the overall Jewish community’s reaction to Trump’s candidacy?
We know that Jews overwhelmingly reject Trump’s agenda, including his policies of discrimination against Muslims, immigrants, women and people of color. Jews have also been strongly outspoken about their opposition to Trump, including on social media, despite frequently being targeted with harassment and threats by Trump’s anti-Semitic, white supremacist supporters. I am proud of the way our members and so many Jews across the country have stepped up in concrete ways to stop Trump, and I think the community as a whole has done good work.
[pullquote align=right] It’s also difficult to watch some of our institutions really missing what will be seen as a historic moment that demanded moral courage.
[/pullquote]But it’s also difficult to watch some of our institutions really missing what will be seen as a historic moment that demanded moral courage. We’ve been very outspoken in criticizing the Republican Jewish Coalition for its support of Donald Trump, especially given how many other Republican organizations were willing to repudiate him. We were disappointed that the American Jewish Congress and other organizations that also engage in politics took a neutral approach that by default branded him acceptable. Some of the biggest, most well-established and well-funded Jewish community organizations were quite notably silent.
Who have been the most laudably outspoken Jewish groups or individuals opposing Trump?
Many Jewish organizations have stood up to condemn Trump’s hateful rhetoric and policies. The ADL, for one, has been quite direct. Others have had to do it indirectly because they are concerned about the appearance of being involved in politics. And many organizations that are members of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, such as the RAC, have done great non-partisan voter registration and civic engagement campaigns that have mobilized Jews to work on the issues they care about in this election.
Many groups in the Jewish community claim to fight anti-Semitism — including many who consider their core work Israel-related or civil rights for all Americans. And yet a candidate peddling anti-Semitism-laced conspiracies has nearly made it into our country’s highest office. Where did they go wrong?
[pullquote align=left] …If we are serious about eliminating bigotry of all kinds, we need to cultivate a deeper understanding of how anti-Semitism functions.
[/pullquote]I don’t think the Jewish community is alone in being surprised by the swift rise of the anti-Semitic alt-right to mainstream political discourse. I think what this campaign has revealed is the need to more closely tie our analysis of anti-Semitism to an analysis of white supremacy. White supremacy is the meta system that perpetuates racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry and even misogyny. Anti-Semitism plays a key “utility role” within white supremacy and if we are serious about racial equity, immigrant rights, and eliminating bigotry of all kinds, we need to cultivate a deeper understanding of how anti-Semitism functions.
Trump is expected (God willing) to lose but his movement and the alt-right will continue. What battles should we expect after Trump’s defeat?
[pullquote align=right] Trump’s campaign has irrevocably changed American politics.
[/pullquote]Even after Trump’s defeat, the fight against white supremacy and for a bold, progressive agenda must continue. Trump’s campaign has irrevocably changed American politics. He has given legitimacy and acceptance to fringe elements of hate. One of the key goals for our campaign was to send an unmistakable message to America’s political leaders: Jews reject these politics. Any attempt to grab power through the tools of hate and fear will be strongly resisted by our community. I think this reality will affect political debates on all of the issues we care about deeply, including economic inequality, immigration, criminal justice and voting rights. Bend the Arc will continue to lead the Jewish community in advocating for progressive solutions to these major challenges.