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Overlooked Electorate: Jewish Voters In Iowa

Posted: October 4, 2015 | By: Haley Barbour Tagged: From the Campaign Trail

While Bernie Sanders spent last weekend in Des Moines hosting various public events, he also took an afternoon to speak at a private event hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. The Des Moines chapter of the Jewish Federation has invited all the candidates to speak to their members about the issues in the upcoming election.

Jackie Heymann, a junior at Drake University is also the community outreach chair of Drake’s chapter of Hillel and attended Sanders’ speech. Heymann believes that the Jewish Federation is hosting this candidate serious so that the Iowa Jewish community can “make well-informed voting decisions,” come February first.

Bernie Sanders with members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. Photo by Lisa Gerloch.

Bernie Sanders with members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. Photo by Lisa Gerloch.

Sanders is the second candidate in the serious to speak. Carly Fiorina spoke to the organization in August. In addition, Lindsey Graham spoke to a small round table of members from the Jewish Federation, though it was not part of the candidate series.

Sanders spoke about a variety of issues including raising taxes on the wealthiest one percent, the issues of race and criminal justice facing the country, and his plan for tuition-free college education. While his entire speech was not about issues specific to the Jewish community, he did speak about the Iran nuclear deal, the threat of ISIS to the Middle East, his personal relationship with Israel, and his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to Heymann, Sanders specifically spoke about his support of a two state solution in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He stressed that Israel has a right to be secure, and Israelis should be able to live their lives without the fear of attack. He also emphasized that all the Palestinians deserved the same right to feel safe in a country of their own. His support of a two state solution is drawn from his respect of Israelis and Palestinians.

On the subject of the Iran nuclear deal he reiterated his support for the Obama administration’s negotiations. He has stated publicly many times his support, and his criticism of his Republican colleges. He believes that war should always be the last resort and that this deal will prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

Heymann was particularly drawn to Sanders’ explanation of how being Jewish has shaped his political ideology. As the only Jewish candidate, Sanders has a unique perspective to offer the Jewish Federation and the Jewish community as a whole. He spoke about growing up in the United States as a Jewish kid during the holocaust. He pointed to this experience as the reason he has developed an ideology to treat all humans with dignity and respect.

Sanders’ ability to speak about these issues through the lenses of his Jewish experience gives him a competitive edge among Jewish voters, which make up large constituencies in general election swing states. For candidates looking at the long-term possibility of winning states like Florida, New York, and California the Jewish vote is important. It will be interesting to see how Sanders fairs among this electorate that remains divided over the Iran nuclear deal, and the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, it is clear that candidates like Sanders and Fiorina are interested in speaking directly to the Jewish community of Iowa before the caucuses in February.

Haley Barbour is a junior political science and international relations double major at Drake. She spent last semester abroad in Amman, Jordan, studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics.