The Dec. 3 event was held at Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.
Trump raised eyebrows with joking references to Jews’ skills as “negotiators,” in declaring he wasn’t likely to get support from the RJC because “I don’t want your money,” and by deferring on the question of whether the U.S. embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Carson, meanwhile, did little to assure supporters of his foreign policy credentials as he read carefully from written remarks that placed the rift between Hamas and Fatah at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mark Levenson, a local attorney who attended the forum — “only in my personal capacity,” he said — would have preferred the coverage to have focused on how the 13 candidates at the forum stand behind Israel and support a strong national security policy.
“It is nice to know that people running for the highest office in this country are strongly supportive of Israel,” said Levenson, who chairs the New Jersey-Israel Commission and is president of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.
As for the boos that greeted Trump’s remarks on Jerusalem and the criticism of his gag about Jewish “negotiators”: “The booing is being taken out of context and I don’t find any anti-Semitic innuendo in what he said,” said Levenson, a partner at the Newark law firm of Sills Cummis Gross. “I am not supporting him, but Trump gave a very positive pro-Israel speech. I found his presentation very entertaining and very enjoyable.”
Levenson is a registered Democrat who is supporting New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie for president. “He is the one who I believe will be the best candidate,” he said.
Beyond the forum, some local Jewish Republicans differ on whether Trump would be a candidate they could support, at least enthusiastically.
“Trump is today’s version of George Wallace,” said Alan Steinberg of Highland Park, a former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “His appeal has been misogynistic and nativist. His constituency is the white working class that was Wallace’s constituency in 1968. He is not going to get more support than that. He may win New Hampshire, but nowhere else.”
“It is way too early to have a favorite candidate, but I am happy that Donald Trump is in the race,” said West Orange attorney Jared Silverman, a regular columnist for NJJN. “I believe he has raised issues like our weak immigration policy, which otherwise would have been swept under the rug.”
To Silverman, “Christie increasingly sounds good. He is a very good debater. On national security he sounds good, but he’s got some baggage among NJ Republicans from ‘Bridgegate’ and the financial condition of New Jersey.”
Local Republicans’ discomfort with Trump and Carson could be seen, perhaps, in the reluctance of many to share their views with NJJN.
An Essex County woman who is supporting Marco Rubio for president asked not to be identified “for fear of alienating my clients and my friends.” She told NJJN, “It is very difficult being a Jewish Republican because most of my friends are Democrats.”
The woman formerly supported President Barack Obama.
“Obama has been terrible for this country, but I am concerned about the horrible rhetoric coming out of the mouths of people like Trump and Ben Carson,” she said. “I don’t have anybody to vote for. It is a terrible situation. I fear for my country and my kids and their kids. Hillary has moved over to the Left and the Republicans are kooky with this stuff on abortion and building a wall on our southern border. It’s dreadful. I am not your dyed-in-the-wool Republican.”
Ben Dworkin, who directs the nonpartisan Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told NJJN that “it is still a little early to really see where Jewish Republicans are going to land,” although he believes many will support their party’s nominee — even if it is Trump.
“I would not say automatically that if Trump becomes the nominee that Republicans will flood to a Democrat,” he said. “I think Republicans will vote for the Republican nominee.
“Jewish Republicans may disagree with some of the rhetoric but they are Republicans because they don’t like the way the Democrats have run the country. That’s why they are Republicans.”