Muslims, Jews in Florida Discuss Presidential Preferences
Electoral results in key battleground state could determine race’s outcome
Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities in the swing state of Florida say COVID-19, the economy and extremist hatred are among their priorities in selecting the next president, although they approach these issues from different perspectives.
Some of them are also concerned about the Palestinians, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Khalid Mirza, a Pakistani Muslim who immigrated to the US in 1974, told The Media Line that he left the Republican Party last year because he was uncomfortable with its treatment of immigrants and minorities. He reregistered as an independent and planned to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Mirza, the chairperson of the Islamic Center of Greater Miami, said he was also unhappy with President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting economic weakness, which hurt his community.
“People lost their jobs and businesses. All the money went to the big companies and the small guys are closing shop. There is a lot of stress and disappointment in the community,” he said.
In the last six months, people have been waiting in long lines at his Miami mosque to get food for their family.
“This is not the America of when I came here,” he said, blaming Trump for a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes throughout the country.
This is not the America of when I came here
As for last month’s Abraham Accords signed by Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Sudan’s announcement it would make peace with the Jewish state – all under Trump’s auspices – Mirza said these were distractions from a long-term Israeli-Palestinian solution.
“It looks very positive, but in reality, it did not change anything,” he said.
“Most Palestinians feel they are being neglected by [Israel] making deals with other countries and not with Palestinians,” he added.
Most Palestinians feel they are being neglected by Israel making deals with other countries and not with Palestinians
Another individual who supports Biden is Broward County Deputy Sheriff Nezar Hamze, who is also executive director of the South Florida Muslim Federation. He says his career in law enforcement and his leadership in the Muslim community prompted him to make himself heard on issues of importance to American Muslims and Muslims abroad.
“Something that really affects the Muslim community is foreign policy,” he told The Media Line. “In this particular instance, it’s just more of the same. The American-Muslim community voices are typically muted, especially when it comes to important issues like Palestine.”
It is unfair, he claims, to call the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement anti-Semitic, describing this as a “red herring” that distracts from the real issue.
Biden was not his first choice for the Democratic ticket, he notes, and while he intends to vote for him, Hamze says he does not like the candidate’s anti-BDS position and is skeptical about how tough he’d be on Saudi Arabia.
“Our actions have a ripple effect. From the human-rights perspective, there are a lot of problems,” he stated. “The US has a lot of ability to make a positive impact instead of making a negative impact.”
Our actions have a ripple effect. From the human-rights perspective, there are a lot of problems
Hamze told The Media Line he had left the Republican Party and became a registered Democrat even though he remains fairly conservative and prefers small government. He made the change because the GOP, in his eyes, empowers racism, intolerance and white supremacy.
For him, the top issues are healthcare, including for people with pre-existing conditions, as well as immigration and xenophobia. He is the father of a special-needs child and the son of a Lebanese immigrant.
Mirza and Hamze are two of South Florida’s more than 100,000 Muslims. According to World Atlas, Muslims make up less than 1% of the state’s population. More than 657,000 Jews also live in South Florida, and they are 3% of the state’s population, according to Jewish Virtual Library.
Rabbi David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah synagogue in Boca Raton says he is concerned about extremism and intolerance gaining ground in the US.
Steinhardt, who belongs to the Conservative stream of Judaism and describes himself as a Zionist, says he would like to have a president who is a unifier.
“I want a president who is well informed on issues and understands both the nuance and complications that exist within all the issues,” he told The Media Line, adding that for him, Israel is not a decisive factor.
In any case, he is certain that a President Biden – for whom he cast his vote – would continue the strong US-Israel alliance. He believes his congregation will also support the Democratic candidate, in line with American Jews’ traditional support for the party.
According to a recent GBAO Strategies poll commissioned by the Jewish group J Street, Biden leads Trump 73% to 22% among Jews in Florida.
The circumstances involving developments in the Middle East, he says, are “complicated and multifactorial,” but not consequential enough to change his vote. The coronavirus pandemic tops his concerns.
“I am a values voter. The values that define my life and identity, which at the core is a Jewish identity, are the values that I vote by, and they certainly are most aligned with that of Joe Biden,” he explained.
I am a values voter. The values that define my life and identity, which at the core is a Jewish identity, are the values that I vote by, and they certainly are most aligned with that of Joe Biden
University of Miami student Austin Pert says he is a registered Democrat and is voting for Biden. Originally from Brentwood, Tennessee, the Jewish student changed his voter’s registration to Florida, where the contest between Biden and Trump appears to be very close.
Pert says he has been a Biden supporter since the former vice president announced he would run for office. He adds that he is a moderate Democrat and that this sometimes alienates him from other young Democrats who are more progressive.
“I think that if Biden loses, the next Democratic candidate might be far worse for Israel, and the Left will become more radicalized,” he told The Media Line.
I think that if Biden loses, the next Democratic candidate might be far worse for Israel, and the Left will become more radicalized
Israel is an important issue, but Pert has other concerns, such as COVID-19, the state of American democracy, healthcare and climate change. These issues affect the entire country and are far more important to everyday Americans than foreign policy, he notes.
In contrast to Pert and Steinhardt, Avner Yeshurun, an Israeli-American member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Aventura, says he will vote for Trump. He tells The Media Line that his Jewish identity and values determine which candidate he supports.
“Donald Trump is a human being,” he said. “I don’t think he’s a good person. If I had to vote for a spiritual leader, I would not vote for Trump. But it happens to be that he does have policies that I think are beneficial to the country and the world.”
Donald Trump is a human being. I don’t think he’s a good person. If I had to vote for a spiritual leader, I would not vote for Trump. But it happens to be that he does have policies that I think are beneficial to the country and the world
Yeshurun, 20 and, like Pert, a student at the University of Miami, says his views are mostly conservative, with some exceptions, such as abortion and LGBTQ rights.
He considers the most important issues to be the economy, national security and foreign policy. A Biden presidency would continue the Democratic Party’s poor track record on foreign policy under former president Barack Obama, he says, adding that Biden’s vice presidential pick, Kamala Harris, would have far more influence on him than he had on Obama.
“The left is more dangerous because they hide themselves behind academia and movements like BDS and human rights,” he said.
The left is more dangerous because they hide themselves behind academia and movements like BDS and human rights
While he is worried about anti-Semitism and racial ideologies across the spectrum, he cites Democrats like US Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez as being hostile to Israel and dangerous for Jews.
The Abraham Accords and Sudan’s announcement that it will make peace with Israel are positive developments, Yeshurun notes, adding that these agreements would not harm the chances for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The results of the American Jewish Committee’s 2020 Survey on Jewish Opinion, published on October 19, show that 37% of participants feel “more optimistic” than a year ago about peace between Israel and the Arab world, compared to 49% who say there “hasn’t been much change.”
A second Israeli-American, Michael Pielet of Boca Raton, says he is a passionate supporter of Trump, his main concerns being the economy and the US-Israel relationship.
He was critical of the Obama-Biden administration’s support for the Iran nuclear deal and for UN Security Council Resolution 2234, which chastised Israel for settlement activity. He applauded Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the president’s tough stance on Iran.
“In order to be a good American, you have to be a good Jew,” he told The Media Line, adding that there seems to be a disconnect among American Jews when it comes to Israel.
Kevin Cooper, a Jewish member of the Republican Executive Committee for Miami, says he is confident Trump will win, lead the country out of COVID-19 closures and rebuild the economy.
He takes issue with the Biden-Harris ticket, particularly on foreign policy and criminal-justice reform.
“Kamala [Harris] locked up thousands of Americans for drug offenses and laughed when someone asked her if she ever smoked weed,” he told The Media Line, adding that “Biden’s 1994 crime bill locked up thousands of Americans while his own children used hard drugs on camera. One set of rules for him, and another set of rules for everyone else.”
According to the Florida Division of Elections, more than 5 million Floridians have already voted, either with mail-in ballots or at the polls, which opened for early voting on October 19.
Rohama Bruk is a student in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.