Hamas supporters don’t get a veto on Jewish identity, AJC head tells JNS
American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch addresses the AJC Global Forum, June 11, 2023. Photo: Yair Meyuhas/AJC

“No one gets to decide for them whether they can or cannot be a proud Jew,” Ted Deutch, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, told JNS.

By Andrew Bernard
June 11, 2024

No one gets to tell Jews how proud they ought to be about their faith and how they should feel about Israel and its right to exist, Ted Deutch, CEO of the American Jewish Committee told JNS on Monday afternoon on the sidelines of the AJC’s Global Forum in Washington, D.C.

The former Democratic congressman from Florida spoke with JNS less than a mile away from Lafayette Square, a park that is part of the White House complex, where violent pro-Hamas protesters had gathered on Saturday.

Jews worldwide are standing up to antisemitism and are “saying that no one gets to decide for them whether they can or cannot be a proud Jew,” Deutch said. “No one gets to decide for them how they feel about the State of Israel, the State of Israel’s right to exist, its need to be able to defend itself as any other country would, to celebrate the brave rescue of hostages.”

Those things are for Jews to decide, Deutch told JNS. 

“They’re standing up against the kind of awful protests that we saw and the encampments that so often directed antisemitic vitriol at members of the Jewish community,” he added.

Deutch told JNS that amid concerns that Israel is increasingly becoming a partisan issue on the political left, and to a lesser extent on the right, his mandate is to encourage bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

“This is the only place where I’m comfortable talking about my prior position in politics, because the whole time I was in Congress, I fought really hard to make sure that support for Israel always remained bipartisan,” he said. 

“I don’t have the luxury of allowing one side or another to try to turn Israel into a partisan issue,” he added.

The AJC Global Forum, held this week from Sunday to Tuesday, drew thousands of Jewish leaders from across the United States and the world.

As leading Democrats, including U.S. President Joe Biden, have increasingly criticized Israel’s conduct in Gaza, it is an open and closely watched question whether Jewish voters will remain as reliable a constituency for the Democratic party as they have been in the past.

A survey of 1,001 American Jews that the AJC released on Monday suggests that at least for now, Biden can still count on the Jewish vote come November.

Were elections to be held today, 61% of respondents said that they would vote for Biden, compared to 23% for former president Donald Trump. That’s just three percentage points lower than the 64% of poll respondents, who said that they had voted for Biden in 2020.

Ted Deutch, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, speaks at the opening plenary of the AJC Global Forum on June 9, 2024. Credit: AJC.

But a bigger enthusiasm gap among Jewish voters for Biden emerges when those numbers are compared to AJC’s 2020 survey, when 75% of U.S. Jews polled said they intended to vote for Biden. That 14-point drop is outside the margin for error of the 2020 and 2024 surveys, which was plus-or-minus 4.2% and plus-or-minus 3.9%, respectively.

Despite being only 2.2% of the overall U.S. population, the American Jewish vote could play a significant role in the presidential election in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania if those races are as close as they were in 2016 and 2020.

Another open question for the American Jewish community is whether the United States can continue to play its role as a safe haven for Jews amid the catastrophic rise in open antisemitism that the country has experienced since Oct. 7.

AJC’s survey found that a combined 9% of American Jews have considered leaving the country either since Oct. 7 or in the past five years.

“There are enormous challenges for the Jewish community right now,” Deutch told JNS about that finding. “Challenges on campus, challenges in the workplace, the antisemitism that we’ve seen in some places normalized. The fact that for some on the far-left, being an anti-Zionist, calling for the destruction of Israel, is an important part of political identity.”

“It’s dangerous, and it’s outrageous, and I understand why people so often have fear at this moment,” he added.

Deutch noted that while 60% of American Jews surveyed felt unsafe wearing Jewish symbols in public, spending time in a Jewish setting or sharing their views about Israel, many American Jews have had a different reaction to Oct. 7.

“Close to 20% of American Jews in our survey said that they are going out of their way to be more proudly and boldly Jewish, to make sure that people understand that it’s their decision, what they’re going to do, how their Jewish identity is going to guide them,” Deutch said. 

“We’re pushing back against the university presidents who refuse to take action to support Jewish students,” Deutch added. “We’re working to make sure that businesses respect their Jewish employees and provide what they need for Jewish employees who feel at risk.”

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