November 10, 2020
AJC is a non-partisan organization that neither supports nor endorses candidates for elective office.
Following four years of political disruption and redefinition of U.S. policies at home and abroad, and four days of uncertainty, it’s official: former Vice President Joe Biden will be the 46th President of the United States and Senator Kamala Harris will become the first woman to serve as Vice President — as well as the first person of color. More than 160 million Americans cast their ballots, making it the highest voter turnout rate since 1900, and widely surpassing the number of votes cast in 2016, which stood at 136.6 million.
In his victory speech, delivered on November 7, President-elect Biden called for unity, saying, “I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me — as those who did.” He repeated his promise that he would “restore the soul of America” and laid out an optimistic vision of a nation coming together to heal after a tumultuous and divisive period.
President Trump has thus far refused to concede and has made unproven allegations that the election was stolen from him, claiming widespread voter fraud. Republicans have largely followed the President’s lead, although the party’s last pre-Trump presidential nominee, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), and its last President, George W. Bush, have congratulated Biden and Harris on their victory. While the President has a right, as a matter of law, to continue his legal challenges, legal experts, party insiders, and statisticians explain that Trump has little chance of electoral success. Despite President Trump’s refusal to follow the norms of past presidents, a concession is not necessary for a transition of power.
While Biden won, as the pollsters had predicted, the final vote tallies looked quite different from what had been projected. Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, had been predicted to swing for Biden by upwards of 7 to 10 points, but in both states the margins were considerably smaller, with Biden winning by less than 1 point in Wisconsin and about 2 points in Michigan. The race was also noteworthy because the electoral map shifted. Biden looks to have eked out a win in Georgia, becoming the first Democrat to win a presidential election in the traditionally red state since 1992, while Arizona seemingly flipped blue for only the second time since 1952. These shifts can be attributed to both demographic changes in these states and record unpopularity of sitting President Donald Trump.
While it will take some time to unpack the data surrounding the election, exit polls suggest that Biden was disproportionately favored among women, Black and Latino voters, the college-educated, and voters under the age of 30. However, Biden’s success can largely be attributed to Trump’s plummeting support among white men. While Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton by 31% among white men, Biden narrowed the gap, losing that demographic by 18%. (Interestingly, Trump polled better than he had four years ago among white women — finishing 12 points ahead of Biden in this demographic, 3 points better than his 2016 lead over Clinton.)
In a poll conducted by AJC in advance of the election, we found that roughly 75% of Jewish voters were likely to vote for Biden, while 22% would submit a ballot for Trump. Comparing our data, from a survey conducted weeks before Election Day, with how Jews actually voted will be challenging in this pandemic-affected year; traditional exit polls, conducted as voters leave polling places, can’t capture the sentiments of those who cast their ballots by mail — as overwhelming numbers of Democratic-leaning (and, presumably, also Jewish) voters did this year in response to public health crisis. A variety of exit polls announced immediately after the election, had Jewish support for Biden ranging from 61 to 77%, and Trump support ranging from 21 to 31% (and as high as 43% among Jews in Florida), but the peculiarities of this year’s fractured voting patterns require viewing such findings with skepticism.
To put the AJC pre-election polling in historical context, more than 70% of Jewish voters have sided with the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1992, except in 2012, when President Obama received 69% of the Jewish vote. This election appears to have been consistent with historical trends of Jewish voting. AJC’s survey also found — as have our previous polls — that political sentiment is not uniform throughout the community. Jewish voters who supported Trump are predominantly concentrated in the Orthodox sector and favored Trump’s reelection by 74% (to 16% for Biden), while 72% of Conservative Jews, 78% of Reform Jews, 93% of Reconstructionist Jews, and 83% of secular Jews favored Biden.
Key Issues in the Election
The campaigns were a study in contrasts. While Biden conducted a largely remote campaign as a safeguard against coronavirus, President Trump held large rallies, disparaged mask-wearing, and contracted the illness himself, ultimately spending three days in the hospital. Biden projected confidence, while calling for calm as states counted every vote cast in the election. Trump on the other hand, tweeted that states should stop counting the deluge of mail-in ballots where he was ahead in in-person voting, and then delivered a White House press statement in which he claimed, without evidence, that Democrats were trying to steal the election, that there was massive voter fraud, and that he had won states where vote counts favored Biden.
The pandemic imposed unparalleled challenges to voting this year — with polling places across the country the scene of blocks-long lines of socially distanced (or not) voters, with many waiting five hours or more to cast a ballot. Some 21,000 polling places were reported to have been eliminated this year, for a variety of reasons. In some states — Texas being an egregious example — the number of official drop-off boxes for mailed ballots was sharply scaled back, posing hardships for those lacking the time or transportation options to bring in a completed ballot. And the record numbers of mail-in ballots, combined with administrative changes in the U.S. Postal Service this year, resulted in significant ballot delays, disenfranchising citizens. According to the Postal Service, more than 150,000 ballots were caught in mail processing facilities and not delivered by Election Day, including more than 12,000 in five of the states that were still counting ballots three days after the polls closed.
For weeks, Trump discouraged voters from voting by mail, stating that the practice is prone to fraud. The morning after Election Day, with his path to victory narrowing, Trump prematurely declared himself the victor, asserted that liberal forces were attempting to steal his victory, and called on authorities to stop counting ballots. Cries of protest calling for battleground states to stop counting ballots arose on social media and in some cities across the country. On social media, #StopTheSteal trended.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which the U.S. is a member, sends missions to observe elections in all member countries. On November 5, reports came out from the OSCE’s observation of the U.S. German parliamentarian Michael Georg Link, who headed the mission, found no evidence to support Trump’s claims regarding fraud involving mail-in or absentee ballots. Responding directly to Trump’s effort to stop the vote count, Link said, “he has neither the right nor the possibility to do this. Responsibility for the count lies exclusively with states.”
While Trump continues to pursue legal action in states where the count was close, such as Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, legal experts and election officials — even those from the GOP — do not place much confidence in those measures. In several instances, Trump’s legal ambitions have already been dismissed by the courts.
Disinformation was also a factor in the election — some propagated by Iran and Russia, according to U.S. intelligence officials, in the final days of the campaign. Other accounts of disinformation around the election stemmed from candidates, surrogates, and media outlets.
On the night of the election, President Trump declared that he expected Democrats to try to steal the election, wrongly suggesting votes would be cast after the polls were closed. He reiterated these statements in the days following election night, through tweets and other statements. Several major states, including key battlegrounds, did not begin counting their backlogs of mailed-in ballots until Election Day (per state election laws and long traditions), delaying final results.
Twitter flagged some of the President’s accusations, and blocked users from liking or commenting on suspect tweets, applying the following label: “Some or all of the content shared in this tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” This action was premised on Twitter’s policy, which forbids tweets intended to undermine confidence in election results, including “claims that could undermine faith in the process itself, such as unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results.”
In South Florida, two mainstream media outlets, El Nuevo Herald and Radio Caracol, disseminated antisemitic conspiracy theories to their Spanish-speaking audiences. In a column headlined “American Jews and Israeli Jews,” an author claimed American Jews support “thieves and arsonists” and equated Black Lives Matter protesters with Nazis. Radio Caracol aired a 16-minute segment insinuating a Biden win would amount to a dictatorship run by “Jews and Blacks.” To their credit, after being notified about these incidents, El Nuevo Herald and Radio Caracol apologized and disciplined the responsible parties. The incidents exemplify how antisemitic theories are a frequent element of disinformation.
Coronavirus and the Election
This election, more than any other in history, was focused as much on how Americans vote as it was on the choices they make. The weeks leading up to Election Day saw a record-setting rise in coronavirus cases. In large part due to concerns around the pandemic, nearly 100 million voters cast their ballots before Election Day. To put that in perspective, that is nearly three-quarters of the total number of voters who cast ballots in 2016. Turnout at this level took place even against the backdrop of the President spending months attacking mail-in voting.
As a political issue, Covid-19 played a huge role in the election — seen by many as largely a referendum on President Trump’s handling of the crisis. According to recent polls, coronavirus was the issue most determinant in voters' choice for President, and Trump’s approval ratings on his handling of the virus were deeply underwater, with far more Americans disapproving than approving of the job he has done. A wide margin of American voters also reported having more confidence in Biden to handle the pandemic. It is worth noting that there were large divergences in perceptions of the pandemic based on party affiliation. The Pew Research Center reported that while 82% of Democrats felt that the pandemic was a “very important” voting issue, only 24% of Republicans felt that way.
As AJC has reported throughout the crisis, the spread of the virus has also led to an uptick in antisemitic rhetoric, especially online. We have seen familiar tropes (recalling antisemitic conspiracies from the Black Death in Europe) claiming that Jews must be behind the spread of the disease and stand to profit in some way. These slanders against the Jewish community are toxic and dangerous and have spurred AJC to redouble its efforts to fight antisemitism and hate speech online, working in even closer coordination with government agencies, social media platforms, and civil society partners fighting the spread of racism, xenophobia, and all forms of senseless hatred.
Issues to Watch
With the pandemic continuing to rage, issues related to the virus and its economic impact will remain high on the agenda of the outgoing administration and lawmakers in the coming “lame duck” session. The move to alleviate the financial impact and health concerns surrounding Covid-19 has been clearly identified as the top priority for the incoming administration. Having been unable to pass an additional coronavirus stimulus before the election, lawmakers will likely look to pass a relief bill in short order.
Biden has committed himself to rolling out a comprehensive program to counter the pandemic, including providing states, cities, school districts, and workplaces the necessary infrastructure to allow for prudent reopening; new guidelines on mask-wearing and social distancing; improving coronavirus testing capability and accessibility; expanding access to personal protective equipment (PPE); and putting a plan in place to effectively distribute a vaccine, once proven safe and effective. Within hours of being declared the winner of the election, Biden announced the creation of a coronavirus task force led by highly respected scientists, including a former U.S. Surgeon General, a former FDA Commissioner, and the Associate Dean for Health Equity Research at the Yale School of Medicine; the taskforce has already convened.
Biden has also pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, announcing in a tweet on November 4 that he would recommit the U.S. to the international pact via Executive Order on his first day in office; Biden’s statement was issued on the day the U.S. formally exited the agreement, one year after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw. Climate change will likely be a central issue for Biden, who has also committed to reversing many of Trump’s Executive Orders that loosened environmental protections.
Foreign Policy Expectations
Expect a different approach to foreign policy from what we have seen the past four years and a return to a more traditional style of U.S. engagement in the international arena, focused on strengthening ties with democratic allies and bolstering the U.S. role within multilateral institutions. On the campaign trail, along with frequent references to his intention to rejoin the climate agreement, Biden spoke of restoring frayed relationships with NATO allies. The President-elect has a long history of diplomatic engagement, having served as the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 of his 36 years in the Senate.
The past four years have been trying for the transatlantic relationship. Traditional European allies have bemoaned the decline of America’s role as standard-bearer of the world order — although other allies, it must be noted, particularly in the Middle East but also in parts of Central Europe, South Asia, and Latin America, have seen ties with Washington strengthened. A European Council on Foreign Relations study last summer showed the pandemic taking a toll on European trust in the U.S. The study found that over 70% of Danes and Portuguese say that their perceptions of the U.S. have worsened, as have 68% of the French, 65% of Germans, and 64% of Spaniards. “If Trump’s America struggles so much to help itself, how can it be expected to help anyone else?” the study report asked. “If this domestic chaos continues, many Europeans could come to see the U.S. as a broken hegemon that cannot be entrusted with the defense of the Western world.” Restoring faith in American competence and leadership will be among the foreign policy priorities of the new administration.
In his victory speech on Saturday, Biden said he sought the presidency “to rebuild the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation, the middle class and to make America respected around the world again.” Many leaders from across the globe seem to welcome that ambition, and a number of their congratulatory messages centered on common themes: rebuilding alliances, renewing the focus on transnational issues like climate change, and combating the pandemic.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined hopes for a reinvigorated transatlantic alliance: “Our transatlantic friendship is indispensable if we are to face the greatest challenges of our time.” French President Emmanuel Macron said that Europe and the U.S., “have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged a new beginning in transatlantic ties, appropriating the term “a New Deal.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with whom Trump had a comfortable rapport, congratulated Biden and Harris, referred to the U.S. as Britain’s “closest and most important ally,” and specifically noted the need to work together on climate change, trade, and international security. He said the U.S.-UK relationship would not be altered with Biden as President.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted that current global issues, including the pandemic, placed an even greater importance on renewed partnership with the U.S. The European Council President, Charles Michel, enumerated “Covid-19, multilateralism, climate change and international trade” as foci for future cooperation. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said it was a “great day” for the U.S. and Europe, and referenced the need to “rebuild our partnership.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed Biden’s strong support of NATO, an alliance that regularly caught fire during the Trump administration for insufficient defense spending by member states, leaving America to carry a wildly disproportionate share of the cost of collective security. Stoltenberg stated, “A strong NATO is good for North America and good for Europe. We need this collective strength to deal with the many challenges we face, including a more assertive Russia, international terrorism, cyber and missile threats, and a shift in the global balance of power with the rise of China.”
Authoritarian leaders who may have felt emboldened under a Trump administration — with a transactional approach less focused on promulgating democratic ideals and a liberal social order — are now likely to feel more pressure coming from the White House. Putin’s silence speaks volumes; four years ago, he sent Trump a congratulatory message within hours of the latter’s securing victory.
The Middle East: Iran
During the 2016 presidential race, the then-year-old Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) was a hot topic. The deal, from which President Trump withdrew in May 2018, was a major diplomatic undertaking of the Obama administration. Trump excoriated the agreement as legitimizing and facilitating Iran’s regional aggression and creating a pathway to eventual military nuclear capability. Upon exiting the deal, his administration imposed a succession of harsh sanctions; in January 2020, a U.S. missile strike killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the terrorist mastermind who headed the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The President promised that, if he were reelected, Iran would recognize it could hold out no longer against punishing U.S. sanctions and would seek a new and comprehensive deal on U.S. terms. As the clock keeps ticking and deadlines for the relaxation of certain restraints set by the JCPOA in 2015 on Iran’s nuclear program draw closer, the issue of how best to counter the multiple threats posed by Iran will acquire increasing urgency. It is worth noting that the Trump administration has pledged to continue placing additional sanctions on Iran, attempting to make them as irreversible as possible by the incoming Biden administration and thwart any attempt to rejoin JCPOA on its original, five-year-old terms.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has urged Biden to re-engage his country, which has suffered economic hardship under the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure.” He said, “An opportunity for the future government of the U.S. has arisen for it to compensate for its past mistakes and to return to respecting global norms and the path of commitment to its international obligations.” Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted a harsh, and hypocritical, rebuke, “The situation in the U.S. & what they themselves say about their elections is a spectacle! This is an example of the ugly face of liberal democracy in the U.S. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is absolutely clear, the definite political, civil, & moral decline of the U.S. regime.”
When it comes to the threat of Iran, President-elect Biden has publicly stated that he wishes to rejoin the JCPOA, which he helped shepherd through the Senate when he was Vice President. In addition to his commitment to rejoin the deal, Biden is also on record in support of addressing the original deal’s shortfalls, such as Iran’s broader malign influence in the region and within the broader international community. He has expressed hope that he can work with U.S. allies to “make it longer and stronger.” In numerous communications with Biden advisors, AJC has urged that any rejoining be conditioned on a rigorous and more comprehensive approach to the multi-faceted Iranian threat, and that sanctions be maintained to provide leverage for a better deal.
Because Biden and his supporters shaped the foreign policy language in this year’s Democratic Party platform, we can glean more of his intentions from that document. While the platform stated that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remains the best means to verifiably cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb” and called for an urgent return to mutual compliance, it also stated that “the nuclear deal was always meant to be the beginning, not the end, of our diplomacy with Iran.” The platform committed Democrats to prioritizing nuclear diplomacy, de-escalation, and regional dialogue to “extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression.”
The Middle East: Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who enjoyed a close relationship with President Trump, tweeted that he was looking forward to working with Biden and Harris; he has a long relationship with Biden from the latter’s days as Senator and Vice President. In a separate tweet, the Prime Minister thanked Trump for his friendship. President Trump and his supporters maintain that he has been the most pro-Israel president in American history — and the evidence of U.S. support throughout the Trump administration for Israel’s relations with Arab states, its treatment in international forums, and its prominence in the President’s worldview is indisputable.
The administration undertook a major reset in the way the U.S. dealt with the Middle East, with Israel’s strategic concerns generally foremost. (An exception was the sudden decision, which caught even the then-Defense Secretary off guard, to pull a contingent of U.S. troops out of northern Syria.) The administration put forward a “vision for peace” between Israel and the Palestinians that strongly favored Israel — and was instantly dismissed by Palestinians, while respectfully received in a number of Arab capitals. America moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a step previous presidents of both parties had promised but failed to take), cut U.S. aid to the Palestinians based on the ongoing “pay-to-slay” payments for terror, closed the PLO’s office in Washington, ceased claiming that Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank are illegal, and recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. In recent months, the administration brokered ground-breaking normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan, and determined that U.S. citizens born in Israel could henceforth have “Jerusalem, Israel” printed in their passports, rather than “Jerusalem” alone. Indeed, in polls of Israeli Jews, Trump was clearly the preferred candidate, with support ranging as high as 70%.
The Trump-Biden divide on Israel was exacerbated by concerns that have been growing for some time about how the Democratic Party will confront and/or integrate its more progressive wing — including harsh critics of the Jewish state — into the political fold. This conflict was highly visible during this summer’s debate over the Democratic Party platform.
The final platform states that Democrats believe in a “strong, secure and democratic Israel” as “vital” to the interests of the United States. It also expresses an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge. The platform emphasizes the importance of continued U.S. military aid to Israel and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The platform also states: “We oppose any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.” In addition, the platform expresses a commitment to the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding that the Obama administration signed with Israel, promising it $3.8 billion in annual aid over 10 years – the largest military assistance package that the United States has ever provided. The platform also includes a pledge to renew U.S. civilian aid to the Palestinian Authority, which had been completely cut off by President Trump, and resume diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the PA. While the language does include criticism of Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank and the stated intention of the Netanyahu government to follow through with unilateral annexation of those settlements, it is not vastly different from a long line of U.S. policy statements under presidents of both parties.
The strong, favorable language belies what was a rather contentious process. At issue was a proposal to include mention of the “Israeli occupation” and to condition U.S. aid in response to Israeli action. Democratic Platform writers rejected this amendment by a vote of 117-34, but the party is still wrestling with competing visions of U.S. policy toward Israel moving forward. Ultimately, Biden himself weighed in on the platform’s Israel language, and it is widely acknowledged that the final document reflects his views on the Jewish state. That said, the fact that the Democratic Party had the debate at all was a reminder of the need for continuing advocacy with the party’s constituencies on the shared values and mutual benefits of a close U.S.-Israel relationship.
Biden has a long history of support for Israel throughout his years in public office. On the campaign trail, he welcomed normalization announcements with Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. Biden has said that he would continue to advance normalization efforts in the region but continues to be open about his desire for a greater focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Biden has stated his opposition to any unilateral steps that undermine a two-state solution, and he opposes annexation and settlement expansion. Vice President-elect Harris has been quoted as forecasting a restoration of U.S. financial aid to the Palestinian Authority; the Biden administration may seek to resume U.S. support of UNRWA and a reopening of the Palestinian mission in Washington. There are voices within his camp expressing a desire to restart an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Middle East/Eastern Mediterranean
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued brief congratulations, referencing close historical ties between the countries. The Saudis are heavily dependent on the U.S. for defense assistance and are cautiously watching the transition to a Democratic administration after four years of historically warm relations with Washington. (President Trump’s first foreign trip after taking office was to Riyadh, where he met with leaders of 55 Muslim-majority nations.) Many in the Democratic party have been highly critical of the Saudi human rights record, and of U.S. support for the Saudis in the conflict in Yemen, where Houthi rebels backed by Iran vie for control.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the president of Iraq, and the Emir of Qatar all relayed congratulatory messages to President-elect Biden. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the first foreign leader to call Trump in 2016 to congratulate him, stated that he was “looking forward to working and cooperating with the new President-elect.” While Egypt unquestionably remains a strategic partner, it may see more criticism from a Biden administration on human rights issues.
Similarly, Turkey will likely see a less permissive attitude from Washington. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s autocratic president, had a warm relationship with Trump and the two regularly communicated. Biden is on record as critical of Erdoğan’s military incursion in northern Syria, saying the Turkish leader would “pay a heavy price for what he has done.” It is reported that Turkish officials are already warning Biden against backing Syrian Kurds or working to thwart Turkey’s strategic ambitions in the wider Middle East.
President Trump established himself as a friend of Greece and Cyprus; in September, his administration partially lifted the 33-year-old U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus “for non-lethal defense articles and defense services.” His successor, meanwhile, boasts an extensive philhellenic track record. As Vice President, Biden took the Obama administration’s lead on pressing for a resolution of the Cyprus conflict, to end Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and reunify the island; he has long been regarded as a friend of Greece and of enhanced cooperation among Eastern Mediterranean democracies.
President-elect Biden is likely to shift the tone towards Latin America considerably, likely following the example set by President Obama, who acknowledged the U.S.’s checkered past in the region. Whereas in previous decades the U.S. asserted its interests (sometimes contrary to the interests of the region), subverted democracy, and propped up authoritarian regimes, Biden will likely engage more respectfully and as equals with Latin American leaders. He will almost certainly distance himself from the Monroe Doctrine, which justified past U.S. unilateral intervention and was broadly reaffirmed under the Trump administration.
In Mexico, where President Trump had a fan, if not an ally, in populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Biden administration may find some resistance. At the point of publication of this document, the Mexican president still had not acknowledged Biden’s victory nor issued a congratulation.
While Cuba has long felt the brunt of U.S. sanctions, the sanctions have been strengthened under the Trump administration. Even though Biden was Vice President when Obama initiated a historic rapprochement with Cuba in March 2016, the President-elect is unlikely to embrace the island nation, in part because he saw the success of Trump in garnering votes from Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Veneualean diasporas after tamping down on authoritarian leftist governments. Certainly, President-elect Biden will not turn a blind eye to the populist authoritarian leaders in the region who have enjoyed a close affinity with Trump, particularly Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has at times engaged in inflammatory rhetoric against those he perceives as his opponents and El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who has questioned and sometimes undermined his country’s checks and balances.
Whereas El Salvador and Brazil may meet more opposition from the incoming Biden administration, Colombia, whose leaders ostensibly enjoyed good ties with Trump, may in fact see more benefits. President-elect Biden is more likely to provide tangible and financial cooperation to aid Colombia in its ongoing drug war, without the criticism that Trump levied.
In Asia, reactions are mixed. China, for example, which has been a target of fierce American criticism this year — after a business-as-usual approach in the first years of Trump’s term, focused on addressing a massive trade imbalance — will see continued attention on human rights and the abuses against the Uighur minority, and may also see additional pressure over its crackdown on Hong Kong. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, advised Chinese officials to “get in touch with Biden’s team to explore the possibility of getting rid of extreme turbulence in the China-U.S. relationship.” Xi Jinping has not commented publicly on the election. It is expected that the Biden administration will continue to regard China as a strategic competitor and potential adversary — a stance not significantly different from the current posture of the Trump administration.
Japan, a nation deeply invested in the world order established after World War II, is more hopeful in welcoming a return to a traditional foriegn policy. President Trump had sporadically entertained the idea of requiring Japan — as well as the Republic of Korea — to pay more for the American troops based there. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed optimism about strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance under President Biden.
India-U.S. relations flourished under President Trump, who established a personal relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and oversaw a deepening of strategic cooperation — with an eye on Chinese regional ambitions. President-elect Biden is a known quantity in Indian policy circles — as an advocate of the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement ratified in his final year in the Senate, and a leader of efforts in the Obama administration to welcome Prime Minister Modi after the latter’s 2014 election. (Modi had been barred from visiting the U.S. since 2005.)
Against that background and with his long relationships with Indian American community leaders, Biden is expected to continue the upward trajectory of U.S.-India ties. In India, a major focus of attention in recent days has been the daughter of an Indian immigrant who had just been elected Vice President: Senator Kamala Harris, who will be the first individual of South Asian descent to hold the office. Prime Minister Modi referred to her as a “pathbreaking” source of pride for Indian Americans. He tweeted, “I am confident that the vibrant India-U.S. ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.”
There is a widely shared perception throughout Africa that the Trump administration has had little direct interest in the continent, other than to counter the growing influences of China and Russia. The administration promoted a business-friendly Africa agenda, as was evidenced in its 2018 signature initiative in the region, Prosper Africa, which was meant to expand U.S.-Africa trade and investment ties, much in the same vein as previous U.S. efforts in the region. In rolling out the plan, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton said it would help counter “the predatory practices pursued by China and Russia” that “inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”
Experts on U.S.-Africa relations don’t expect sweeping changes in U.S. policy under a Biden administration. This is in large part due to the fact that U.S. policy in the region has stayed largely stable since the Clinton era and has enjoyed bipartisan agreement in Congress. While Biden may change the tone of diplomacy, there is no expectation that he will seek large-scale policy changes. It is also worth noting that Biden’s Africa policy is likely to stay consistent because his top Africa advisors are familiar faces from the Obama era, including Susan Rice, who, in addition to serving as President Obama’s UN Ambassador also served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1997 to 2001; Antony Blinken, a central foreign policy figure during the Obama administration; and Michelle Gavin, a former Ambassador to Botswana, who worked as President Obama’s special assistant for Africa on the National Security Council before becoming ambassador.
Addressing Pluralism in America
With the implementation of the Muslim ban and broad challenges to immigration and asylum seekers, coupled with an ambivalence around addressing white supremacists, President Trump tested the boundaries of America’s commitment to — and expression of — pluralism. Assuming the presidency amid a global trend toward illiberal nationalism, Trump did not rebut those populist waves, at home or abroad.
In a time of deep-seated political division in the country, no issue shows the fissure more than that of race. In the run-up to the election, sporadic nationwide protests continued following the police killing of George Floyd and the media attention given to other deadly interactions of law enforcement and Black people. According to the Pew Research Center, 76% of Biden supporters said that issues around racial and ethnic inequality would be very influential in determining their vote; in contrast, only 24% of Trump supporters felt similarly. Inversely, 74% of Trump supporters felt that combating violent crime was paramount to them compared to 46% of Biden voters.
The issue of immigration has been central to Donald Trump’s message from the first moments of his 2016 campaign, when chants of “Build the Wall” were regularly heard at his rallies. While the wall as promised did not materialize (and Mexico didn’t pay for it), through a succession of Executive Orders and other administrative steps he was able to curb legal and unauthorized immigration, limit entry to the U.S. from a number of countries, and shrink the numbers of asylum-seekers and refugees to the U.S. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, by 2021, Trump will have reduced legal immigration by nearly 50% – without any change to U.S. immigration law. In September 2020, Trump cut the annual refugee limit to 15,000, the lowest ceiling in the history of the 40-year-old resettlement program. In contrast, in 2019, the limit was 30,000 and in 2018 it was 45,000.
Because many of Trump’s changes were implemented by Executive Order rather than by legislative mandate, Biden should have more tools at his disposal to reverse this trend. Early policy shifts may include re-starting DACA and issuing protections for Dreamers, overturning the ban on the entry of individuals from (mostly) Muslim-majority countries, ending the migration process that has resulted in tens of thousands of asylum seekers camped out indefinitely in Mexico, and reviewing the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for vulnerable populations, including Venezuelans as well as the hundreds of thousands of individuals from Central America who have lived in the United States for years and seen their TPS status jeapoardized or suspended by the Trump administration. Biden can be expected to focus on root causes of mass migration, providing political and financial support for the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Antisemitism in the Election and Moving Forward
Antisemitism and white supremacy were frequent topics of discussion throughout the campaign, with many questioning President Trump’s failure to repudiate the myriad of far-right groups that have long supported him. During the first presidential debate on September 29, Trump was asked to condemn the white supremacist group the Proud Boys. Instead of a clear denunciation, he responded, “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” which became a rallying cry for the group, as they and much of the nation took the comments to indicate tacit support for their activities. This was not the first time that President Trump failed to condemn white supremacists. In August 2017, the president famously referred to the “very fine people on both sides” in the Charlottesville, Virginia, neo-Nazi march, after which a protester was run over and killed by a march supporter. The Department of Homeland Security considers white supremacists and other “domestic violent extremists” as presenting “the most persistent and lethal threat” to the nation.
Biden repeatedly stated that the President’s response to Charlottesville was what propelled him into the race. He has said, “There’s a short line from those people marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh saying Jews ‘were committing genocide to his people.’”
While much of Biden’s attention with this regard has been on the threat posed by white supremacy, he has also focused on antisemitism as a singular threat. In The Jerusalem Post, he acknowledged the many forms and political impetuses of the hatred: “We need a comprehensive approach to battling antisemitism that takes seriously both the violence that accompanies it and the hateful and dangerous lies that undergird it. Sadly, antisemitism takes many different forms and cuts across ideology, political party, group and nation. So we must remain vigilant and speak out every time we see the persistent evil of antisemitism rear its ugly head. It’s incumbent on all of us to stand against those who traffic in pernicious stereotypes, or who seek to scare and divide us for political gain. Silence is complicity, so we must speak out — every time. We must call hate by its proper name, and condemn it.”
Regarding white supremacy, Biden has pledged to pass a federal domestic terrorism law that respects civil liberties and free speech, and to appoint senior figures at the U.S. Department of Justice who will prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes. He has also expressed support for a key AJC legislative advocacy priority, the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which will improve hate crime reporting and data collection.
Trump has his own impressive record on elevating the fight against antisemitism in the U.S. and internationally. He issued an Executive Order in 2019 including antisemitism among categories of discrimination monitored and barred under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In July 2019, the Justice Department convened an all-day seminar on the fight against antisemitism — a first; AJC was privileged to serve on a panel. In January, Justice announced a policy of “zero tolerance” for antisemitic hate crimes, and issued new directives to prosecutors. Last month, the State Department convened an online conference on antisemitism, “Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium,” focused on online antisemitic conspiracy theories; AJC was privileged to be a panelist in that program, as well.
It is also important to note that, although the appointment of a State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism was delayed until two years into the Trump administration, the appointee, Elan Carr, has been a tireless, creative, and effective advocate for measures and administrative mechanisms in a range of governments to fight antisemitism — and was provided the resources to expand his office’s reach.
Responding to antisemitism as an issue facing the country was not, sadly, the only driver of conversation during the election about hatred of Jews. Antisemitic political ads, often invoking famous Jews such as Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, and Bernie Sanders, and centering on the theme of money, made appearances yet again during this election cycle. One of many examples: On October 26, the deadline for new political advertisements to be submitted to Facebook before the platform instituted a ban on such content, American Action News, a right-wing website with more than 1 million followers, put out an ad with an image of Soros and the text: “Burn It Down: Soros planning nationwide chaos if Trump wins.”
The President has also displayed insensitivity from time to time in using language that echoes classic antisemitic tropes, including the charge of dual loyalty. Last year, Trump told reporters, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” At a conference in Florida in December 2019, the President implied that Jews would vote for him over his Democratic rivals because his opponents would impose a wealth tax, affecting only multimillionaires.
Biden faced criticism from some in the Jewish community for a comment made during a television interview in September. He compared Trump to Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. Biden was asked about Trump’s repeated accusations that he had a socialist agenda, and Biden responded, “He’s sort of like Goebbels. You say the lie long enough, keep repeating it, repeating it, repeating it, it becomes common knowledge.”
Kamala Harris and AJC’s Issues
The Middle East: Israel
The Vice President-Elect has visited Israel numerous times. She has voiced her support for the State of Israel, its “right to defend itself,” and a two-state solution. At AJC Global Forum 2019, Harris reiterated her commitment to ensuring that the “Israeli-American relationship remains strong” and noted that she is “proud to stand with America’s most important allies.” She has stated that “Israel is a critical friend and ally to the United States” and that “Israel should never be a partisan issue.”
Harris has said she believes a two-state solution is the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state. She has noted that a resolution between the Israelis and Palestinians can only be accomplished through bilateral negotiations and that a solution should not be imposed by outside parties.
Harris has not specifically expressed her stance on the legal status of Israeli settlements. She did voice her opposition, earlier this year, to the Israeli government when it announced plans to annex parts of the West Bank. In June 2020, Harris wrote a letter to President Trump warning that moves toward unilateral annexation might, “make Israel’s future as both a Jewish and democratic state uncertain...further, annexation undermines the rights, dignity, and aspirations for statehood of the Palestinian people.”
In January 2017, soon after she was sworn into office as Senator from California, Harris cosponsored a bipartisan resolution “criticizing President Barack Obama – in his last week in office – for abstaining in a vote on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies.” It was the first resolution that she cosponsored as Senator. Harris has condemned the movement of various organizations to delegitimize Israel. She has expressed her disdain for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Harris was one of 22 Democratic Senators who voted against the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, a bill that included anti-BDS provisions. When asked why she voted “no,” her office responded, “Senator Harris strongly supports security assistance to strengthen Israel’s ability to defend itself. She has traveled to Israel, where she saw the importance of U.S.-Israeli security cooperation firsthand. She opposed S.1 out of concern that it could limit Americans’ First Amendment rights.”
In recent days Harris, in conversation with the Arab American News, was quoted as saying that the Biden-Harris Administration will “reopen that PLO mission along with the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, in addition to taking ‘immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.’”
The Middle East: Iran
Harris is supportive of the U.S. reentering the Iran nuclear deal, from which the Trump Administration withdrew in 2018. Before reentering, Harris noted that, “[the Biden Administration] will want to strengthen it, and that will mean extending the sunset provisions, including ballistic missile testing, and also increasing oversight.”
When asked how the Biden Administration would protect Israel from Iran, Harris noted her commitment to ensuring that Iran would not acquire a nuclear weapon and added that, “we [the Biden Administration] will continue to ensure that Israel has the unbreakable support of the United States.”
Harris has been outspoken on hate crimes throughout her career in public service, as a U.S. Senator, Attorney General of California, and District Attorney of San Francisco.
In the Senate, Harris has helped spearhead legislation related to hate crimes. In 2019 she introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2019 and a resolution condemning the horrific antisemitic attack at the Chabad of Poway. In February 2019, following Rep. Ilhan Omar’s antisemitic rhetoric, Harris spoke out against “antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America,” while also voicing her concern “that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.”
At AJC Global Forum 2019, Harris stated in a video presentation that “we cannot stand by as antisemitism and hate crimes and bigotry are on the rise…. This violence and hate are alarming and simply unacceptable. No one should have to worry about their children’s safety when they drop them off at the JCC.” Following the murderous attack at the Chabad of Poway in April 2019, she posted a video on Twitter in which she condemned the attack and called for a community response to antisemitism. She stated that “antisemitism is real in this country and we need to deal with that…. We need to deal with the fact and agree that whenever we see any expression of any form of hate, the subject of that hate should never be made to fight alone.”
Her husband, Douglas Emhoff, will be the first “second gentleman” and the first Jew married to a sitting U.S. President or Vice President.
This analysis was authored by Jason Isaacson, Julie Rayman, Lindsey Eilon, and Jackie Subar.