October 13, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Making the Jewish Case for Joe on Campus

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“We are in a battle for the soul of this nation,” former Vice President of the United States Joseph R. Biden proclaimed in his 2020 campaign launch video. Guided by my values as an American Jewish Cornellian, I have proudly enlisted to fight alongside Biden in this battle over the character of our country by joining forces with the grassroots organization Jews 4 Joe. With less than a month to go until Election Day, as a J4J Campus Ambassador at Cornell, I am urging Jews and non-Jews alike on campus to vote in accordance with foundational American and Jewish principles — “all men are created equal” and “receive all men with a pleasant countenance,” respectively — as well as with the founding Cornell principle of “any person, any study.” That is to say, cast your ballot for the Democratic presidential nominee who embodies these principles, and not for the incumbent who is their very antithesis. American Jewry, nay all Americans of conscience, must vote Biden over Trump because Joe will not persistently stoke antisemitism and its ugly twin “isms” or debase the presidency and in turn degrade the public discourse.

In the words of Stuart Eizenstat, Obama-Biden administration Special Advisor for Holocaust Issues, “Joe Biden has worked tirelessly with American Jewish organizations for tikkun olam, making our country and the world a better place.” As a senator, Biden spearheaded the landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and championed the struggle to end South African apartheid. As vice president, Biden secured the passage of Obamacare and headed the Cancer Moonshot that is dedicated to curing the disease that took the life of Joe’s son Beau. A vote for Biden-Harris 2020 is a vote for the values of tikkun olam to persist and a vote to honor the legacy of the beloved Big Red alumna and Jewish luminary, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54.

While the policy differences between the candidates are stark, this election is first and foremost about moral character, without which the enactment of equitable policy is impossible. Trump, informed by a lifetime of bigotry, has served as U.S. Divider-in-Chief. He uses the bully pulpit of the American presidency to tear at our social fabric by fanning the flames of antisemitism and other forms of discrimination. In light of the long history of Jewish persecution, it is worth stating that even if Trump were “good for the Jews,” American Jewry must follow in the late RBG’s footsteps of tzedek, tzedek tirdof, meaning “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” We cannot stand idly by as Trump discriminates against fellow minority groups. By contrast, Biden, in a demonstration of profound moral character, launched his campaign as a response to Trump calling neo-Nazis “very fine people” and has pledged “unbreakable support” for the “Jewish State, the Jewish people and Jewish values.”

For Trump, his “both sides” comment is just the tip of the antisemitic iceberg: Jews, according to this president, are “only in it for themselves” and “stick together;” Jews have dual loyalty to Israel — “great disloyalty,” “your country,” “your prime minister” (referring to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu); Jews are money grubbers — “the only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes.” These are age-old antisemitic canards, regularly spewed by the leader of the free world, that have undoubtedly contributed to the current spike in U.S. antisemitism. Trump also praised antisemite Henry Ford as having “good bloodlines,” embraced the antisemitic conspiracy QAnon, repeatedly declined to disavow Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, hired alt-right strategist Steve Bannon, created a “Patriotic Education” commission reminiscent of the Hitler Youth, shared a “white power” video on Twitter, and campaigned using imagery of a Star of David alongside dollar bills, the Nazi symbol of an imperial eagle, and footage of famous Jews imposed over the term “global special interest.”

This endless stream of antisemitism that comes out of the White House recently prompted the Jewish Democratic Council of America to astutely compare Trumpism to the advent of Nazism, and Biden to compare Trump to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Indeed, anti-Jewish hatred pervades Trump’s America, with the highest level of antisemitic incidents reported across the United States last year, 2,100, including the deadliest attack on American Jews in U.S. history at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Inspired by Trump’s xenophobic conspiracy about a migrant caravan, a Pennsylvanian shooter killed 11 Jewish synagoguegoers whom he blamed for the caravan of “invaders.” While the President may claim to be “the least antisemitic person,” citing his Jewish son-in-law as evidence thereof, the blood of my people on the streets of modern-day America proves otherwise.

Again, by contrast, Biden has pledged to “lead a comprehensive approach to battling antisemitism.” He also remarked at a Jewish American Heritage Month reception that “Jewish values are such an essential part of who we are.” The 2020 Democratic National Convention demonstrated that from befriending Amtrak workers to a 13-year-old fellow stutterer to an elevator operator, Biden embodies these values, especially the aforementioned ‘pleasant countenance’ principle from Pirkei Avot, or Jewish Ethics. Shaped by humble beginnings and unspeakable tragedy, Biden is a real mensch, the Yiddish word for a person of integrity. He is the Healer-in-Chief we need to replace an occupant of the Oval Office who emboldened white nationalists to chant “Jews will not replace us.”


Avraham Spraragen is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Jews 4 Joe Campus Ambassador at Cornell. He can be reached at [email protected]