Counting down to California primaries: The party’s not over yet

As the state primaries hurtle into their final weeks, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have solidified their holds on their parties’ presidential nominations — but Bernie Sanders hasn’t given up on the Democratic side and is nipping at Clinton’s heels, vowing to continue pressing his case until the convention in Philadelphia July 25-28. California votes on June 7, with its huge prize of 475 Democratic and 172 Republican pledged delegates. J. spoke to local activists from both parties about where they stand and why.


Trying to come together: Jewish Republicans on Trump

lyn davidson  |  j. correspondent

Carrie and Bob Zeidman of Cupertino say that when Bay Area Jewish Republicans get together, the atmosphere is usually “relaxing.”

Not this time.

on the cover: Presidential candidates (from left) Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. photos/creative commons

At a recent private social event to discuss politics, it was almost like the Hatfields and McCoys. “It was awkward,” Carrie Zeidman admits. “There were the Trump people and the anybody-but-Trump people.”

With Donald J. Trump as their party’s presumptive nominee for president, local Jewish Republicans are experiencing a wide range of emotions — from support to reluctant acceptance to outright hostility — mirroring the mood in the Republican Party nationwide.

Larry Greenfield, a longtime Jewish Republican activist, marks himself down strongly in the “support” column.

“Do I endorse his rude attitudes to other citizens and journalists and fellow candidates and elected officials and minorities? No, I don’t,” says Greenfield, former California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

But Greenfield, 54, who graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1983, calls himself an “anyone-but-Clinton” voter who is ready to fully support Trump, and he says he liked the essence of Trump’s AIPAC speech in March (in which he suggested that President Obama “may be the worst thing to happen to Israel”).

Bay Area Jewish Republicans interviewed for this article agree that support for Israel, national security and the economy are their biggest concerns, but disagree whether Trump is the best person to deal with such issues.

Carrie Zeidman, 55, a board member for Hillel of Silicon Valley, says she preferred Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and that she would have supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over Trump. She calls the New York real estate tycoon “a reality host who has no clue what he’s doing.”

She adds: “He makes empty and meaningless statements, contradicts himself, and insults Israel and Jews with false statements and derogatory stereotypes.”

Bob Zeidman, 56, who heads Zeidman Consulting and is a former board member of the Anti-Defamation League, says he may abstain from voting for president. He calls Trump “a rude bully” who is “not very smart [and] doesn’t understand the issues. And I don’t think he’s a conservative. I don’t know what he is.”

Michael Gofman, 18, of San Francisco, says he’s “embarrassed as a Republican.” The son of Russian immigrants, he started the Young Republicans Club at his school, the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, where he is a senior.

Carrie Zeidman

“A vote for Trump is a vote to destroy the GOP,” says Gofman, who in sixth grade interned for the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation and later got involved with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “We’d have a Congress and a Senate that is hostile to its own president. …I would much rather sacrifice eight years to Hillary Clinton, who is not that extreme as a liberal, than vote for Trump, who is crazy.”

Gofman, who is pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage, says he now backs Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Gofman writes about U.S. election issues on Kstati.net, a Russian-language website of American news and opinions.

Jerusalem-born Ricki Alon, 63, says she plans to vote for Trump after her preferred candidate, Rubio, was knocked out in the primaries. The Los Altos Hills entrepreneur studied law at UCLA and helped found the local Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Alon, who is pro-choice and favors gun control, says while Trump’s rhetoric “isn’t exactly desirable … he is not a racist. His views are realistic and responsible.”

Asked about Trump’s views on immigration, she says, “When you watch the videos of poor Muslims escaping from Syria, it’s heartbreaking. Do I want to help these Muslims? Absolutely. But at the same time, we have to be careful who we let into this country.”

Michael Gofman

Abraham Sofaer, a self-described “Rockefeller Republican,” might not be as forgiving. A fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, he says he’s alarmed by Trump’s support for “torture” and his plans to scrap trade deals.

Trump’s statements are “not consistent with sophisticated, effective leadership,’’ says Sofaer, a former federal judge in New York and a State Department legal adviser during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. “He’s there because our leaders have not delivered.”

Sofaer says he likely will vote for Clinton in November.

The Zeidmans still aren’t sure how they are going to fill out their ballots.  They don’t like the choice of Trump vs. Clinton, and they are considering not voting at all.

The only thing they know for sure is that they are feeling “gobsmacked” (Carrie’s word) by the entire process.

“I keep waiting for [Twilight Zone creator] Rod Serling to step out from behind a tree,” she says. “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see this election ending well for the country.”


Jewish Democrats still split between Sanders and Clinton

dan pine  |  j. staff

On social media, the battle between supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton rages on. But for longtime Bay Area Democratic Party activists, that battle is over, and the war on Donald Trump has begun.

“Hillary Clinton will be our nominee and she will be our next president of the United States,” says Jason Carls, an attorney and the president of the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club in San Francisco. “Bernie Sanders will support her. He and his apparatus will probably try to influence the convention process, but in terms of this race, it’s done.”

Carls, 40, was born in Berkeley and has worked as a labor lawyer in New York and Florida. In 2005, he returned to the Bay Area and moved to San Francisco, quickly getting involved with Democratic politics, especially through the Wallenberg Club. The club does not endorse candidates in the presidential primary.

While impressed with Sanders’ ability to “go toe-to-toe” with Clinton, Carls considers the senator a “warm-up act” to Clinton, whom he personally supports.

“There’s no doubt she has negatives, but the reality is any candidate who doesn’t have negatives doesn’t have a history or the wherewithal to be an effective president,” Carls says. “That’s the type of baggage she has. She’s incredibly accomplished.”

Hene Kelley, long involved with Democratic Party committees in the Bay Area, feels Clinton is the most qualified candidate and the most qualified woman ever to run for the office. However, the 74-year old San Franciscan says she will be voting for Sanders in California’s June 7 primary.

And why shouldn’t she? Aside from agreeing with his progressive politics, she dated Sanders when both were students at the University of Chicago more than 50 years ago. The two worked together on integrating Chicago’s notoriously segregated housing market, and she’s been an admirer ever since.

“He’s done a wonderful job,” says Kelley, a retired teacher and daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. “He is the real deal. He was in civil rights, he’s a social democrat and a nice Jewish boy, too.”

Though the delegate math inexorably points to Clinton as the party’s nominee, Kelley does not think Sanders should drop out, even if he has no chance of winning the nomination.

Hene Kelley

“If he walks away now, people will feel betrayed by him, and he cannot do that,” Kelley says. “If he stays in and gives it a fighting chance, and then says he will support the Democrats in the fall, some of his supporters would support Hillary. That would make a difference.”

Adam Sieff, 26, a San Francisco lawyer who serves as Wallenberg Club treasurer, also has kind words for Sanders, although he supports Clinton. Sanders, he says, has “elevated issues of inequality to the forefront and pushed Clinton into positions she probably always held but didn’t want to advertise. Bernie has brought a lot of people into the election, and that’s important.”

Addressing Clinton campaign concerns that bitter Sanders voters might sit out the fall election, Sieff feels optimistic.

“I’m hopeful that the folks who have latched onto his campaign will stay on and make the institutional changes that animate them, much in the same way Obama tried to do with his voters,” he says. “Bernie’s refrain that Democrats do better when people turn out to vote is absolutely right.”

Adam Sieff

Though the Wallenberg Club primarily weighs in on local candidates, ballot measures and issues, because it is a Jewish club, its members do care about international affairs, especially relating to Israel, the Middle East and anti-Semitism.

Here, too, Carls believes Clinton has an edge over Sanders and Trump.

“I think Hillary is better for the Jewish community overall because she understands the security risks that Israel faces,” he says. “The reality is every Jewish American is safer with a safe Israel.”

Sieff thinks any current hostility between the Clinton and Sanders camps will dissipate over time, chalking up the candidates’ differences as having more to do with style than substance. “I think either would be better than anyone on the GOP side,” he states, “which is frankly frightening on many levels.”

The Trump factor does worry Democrats, even though the polls today indicate an electoral map highly favorable to them in November. Sieff thinks his party must take Trump seriously if it wants to retain the Oval Office.

“It would be a mistake to just dismiss his candidacy,” he says. “He’s clearly an outlet for a lot of anger and disappointment in the way government has not been working. If there’s a weakness in our democracy, it’s demagogues who don’t have the moral compass to avoid preying on people’s darkest hostilities. Trump clearly doesn’t have that restriction inside of him.”