Bloomberg heads to Florida in search of Jewish votes

By Sally Goldenberg

MIAMI — Mike Bloomberg made a direct appeal to Florida’s active Jewish voting base on Sunday, seeking to differentiate himself from both Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump on the delicate issue of Mideast politics.

“Now, I know I’m not the only Jewish candidate in the race. But I am the only one who doesn’t want to turn America into a kibbutz,” he quipped in a thinly-veiled jab at Sanders, who is Jewish and has emerged in recent years as the standard bearer for the left flank of the Democratic Party.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, lived on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960s, participating in a collective community of shared prosperity that is not entirely different than what he envisions for America today.

But his Jewish background is unlikely enough to win over most pro-Israel Democrats, who have blanched at his embrace of Rep. Ilhan Omar — a first-term House member who has stoked controversy by criticizing America’s Israeli policies.

Bloomberg, a billionaire who is running a general election-style campaign concurrent with the primary, sought to position himself as a better alternative than Sanders or Trump, while taking care not to torch the White House’s approach to Israel entirely.

“As president, I will always have Israel’s back. I will never impose conditions on our military aid, including missile defense — no matter who is prime minister. And I will never walk away from our commitment to guarantee Israel’s security,” Bloomberg told the crowd of several hundred people gathered inside the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social Hall in Miami Sunday afternoon. Some in attendance donned “Mishpucha for Mike” T-Shirts, the Yiddish word for family.

Bloomberg said he initially opposed former President Barack Obama’s deal with Iran “because our commitment to Israel’s security must never waver.” He said he felt at the time that it did not adequately addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and its sponsorship of terrorist actors.

“But my commitment to Israel is also the reason I opposed President Trump’s decision to unilaterally walk away from the deal and our partners in Europe,” Bloomberg said Sunday. “Because doing so was tantamount to giving Iran permission to re-launch its nuclear program.”

He vowed to achieve “the strongest deal possible to constrain the Iranian regime’s aggression and territorial ambitions and put an end to their nuclear program.”

During his remarks, Bloomberg, a secular Jew, also spoke about the national rise in anti-Semitic attacks and revealed that his sister, Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven, attended the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh years before a gunman opened fire inside the shul in 2018 and killed 11 attendees.

He delivered his remarks on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Earlier on Sunday, the New York Post reported that the son of famed Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is working on the Bloomberg campaign.

Florida is key to Bloomberg’s strategy of skipping the first four voting states and focusing on Super Tuesday and other battleground states. His team is zeroing in on six states where they believe Trump is leading — North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Evan Ross, a pro-Israel political consultant in Florida, said he expects Trump will win over more Jewish voters than he did in 2016 unless Bloomberg or another moderate like Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar seizes the nomination.

In 2016, Trump narrowly won the Sunshine State, and received about 27 percent of the Jewish vote, Ross said.

“I would expect he’ll do better in 2020, though who the Democratic nominee is will obviously play a huge role in how much better,” Ross said. "I think he's the worst president we have in modern history, but his Israel policy for the most part has been good. His rhetoric has been dangerous.”

Marc Caputo contributed to this report.