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Yeah, OK, bad pun. But a bit of shtick to open this column seemed appropriate.
The allegiance of so many Jews to the Democrats is a matter of long established faith. There I go again, start over…
As far as modern records show a plurality of Jews have not voted Republican since 1920 and that year it was only because a socialist split the Jewish vote. There have been times over the last century when they have hedged their bets as in Reagan 1980 with 39 percent, Ike in 1956 with 40 percent, and Hughes in 1916 with 45 percent. The GOP has never cracked the 50 percent mark with Jews. Is there anything that could affect that ongoing loyalty in the future?
Truth in advertising: I grew up Jewish, although I converted to Roman Catholicism in my mid-30s. I am still proud of my Jewish heritage, however, and I still retain many of the intellectual and cultural habits I picked up in several years of Hebrew School before my Bar Mitzvah and in the decades that followed before I converted.
That being said . . .
Yes, possibly. Three things could nudge Jews away from the Democrats.
First, the Trump Administration’s strong pro-Israel policy. That’s good for several polling points and several more points of covert support. Second, as Trump is so clearly pro-Israel, the Democrats go institutionally anti-Israel and possibly even anti-Semitic.
And third, demographics. The growing numbers of intermarriages of Jews outside of the faith and Jews who are religiously indifferent also mixes up the political cocktail. This makes many of the next generation possibly not as tied to Jewish political habits and tradition. Against that is the simultaneous rise in numbers of Orthodox Jews who are usually more politically conservative than their Reform and Conservative brethren.
Donald Trump’s presidency has been philosemitic and solidly pro-Israel. Not even Reagan or Bush the Younger, both pro-Israel presidents, can match his record. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem, strong ties with Netanyahu and Likud, and an overt hostility to the Palestinian Authority and regional foes of the Jewish state ranks him as the friendliest U.S. president in Israeli history. Inside the Trump White House the story is no different.
Daughter Ivanka and her husband are Orthodox Jews. Both are close advisors to Trump. Jews fill cabinet slots and other vital posts. You would think that on these facts alone, and the Israeli relationship, Jews would be flocking over to the GOP and Trump in droves. Yet they are not. Oh, he’s gaining points, to be sure, but nowhere near a majority, as prior conditioning takes precedence.
“Since the Jewish people came to Ellis Island, the party they have identified with most often is the Democrats,” says Alexandra Levine, national treasurer for #Jexit, a group trying to lead Jews out of Democrat bondage and into the GOP promised land. “The problem is the party has changed from the party of Truman and JFK. That party is possibly gone forever.”
The lady has a point. Which brings us to the Democrats.
One does not have to be a Talmudic scholar to understand the consequences of the words of influential Democrats such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Their casual anti-Semitism is not only tolerated but also encouraged by modern Democrats. This was heralded several decades earlier by the conversion of the entire global Left to a virulent strain of anti-Semitism as evidenced by their rabid policies and bigoted statements over Israel. One look at the British Labour Party’s very recent controversy on this question shines a light on that contention.
Though some Democrat bigfoots have remained publicly pro-Israel (Elizabeth Warren is an exception) neither do they slap down loons like Omar and Tlaib when their anti-Semitism emerges. Jews are rightly concerned about this, as sensible modern Jewish thinking has it that there are only two places left in the world Jews can feel safe: the United States and Israel. If the leftist wingnut crowd in the Democratic Party gains power, by sheer seniority and aging if nothing else, then that very short list of nations is reduced by one.
An ironic fact of the matter, however, is that there are leaders of the anti-Israel U.S. and global Left who have been and are ethnic Jews, prompting all sorts of tinfoil helmet theories regarding the so-called “Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy,” Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the lean brisket at Herschel’s in Philly.
I mean, it’s really lean.
In the United States the J Street crowd of Vichy Jews showcases an appeasement attitude towards evil and the enemies of Israel not limited to Jews. In their case it goes past mere cowardice and, if one truly regards them as concerned about Israel, it borders on suicidal. You’d think history has shown Jews that acquiescence to threats and violence against them only leads to mass murder. J Street disregards such common sense and remind me of the Jews who entered the showers of Treblinka clutching their World War I Iron Crosses.
A question arises here. When does legitimate criticism of Israel in a purely political sense (which is possible as the Israeli state, as any other state, is far from perfect) cross into anti-Semitism and an irrational hatred of Jews? I would contend there is a line, perhaps thinish, between the two. I’m not saying that every utterance not in keeping with the Likud party line is written by Goebbels. What I am saying is that if one accepts that Israel is a Jewish state comprised mainly of Jews and is the incarnation of millennia of Jewish hopes and aspirations then an overheated animosity towards it may bespeak something other than a simple political bone to pick.
This is certainly true of the Left, which sees Israel as something akin to a Western colonial outpost in a sea of blameless Arab victims of Israeli brutality. The historical record means nothing to them. To use Israel as a hammer to beat the West is their strategic motivation.
Will these factors draw Jews away from the Democrats? Yes, to a point. The following factors may do much more in a relative sense, as they highlight the definition of who is a Jew, who remains a Jew, and who is not a Jew.
According to #Jexit’s Levine, only 41 percent of U.S. Jews, in a 2012 Gallup poll say religion is important to them in their daily life (I think the numbers have increased since then); 34 percent attend religious services monthly; 22 percent say they have no religion. Only 38 percent say their Jewish identity has anything to do with Judaism.
That last one is nonsensical.
This group of stats is a double-edged sword. Those who fall away from the faith by various means, most of them emanating from the cultural Left, will likely decrease the number of liberal Jews, as they will no longer be counted, strictly speaking, as Jews. Combine that with the burgeoning birth rates, tactical political conservatism, and cultural hard conservatism of Orthodox Jews (and low birth rates among secular Jews who still cling to Jewish identity) and the Orthodox share of the Jewish vote could increase exponentially in the years to come.
Trump, by my guess, will take over 30 percent of the Jewish vote in 2020. That would be up from 24 percent in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. If this trend continues (and there is no foreseeable demographic barrier to it), then with the Orthodox relatively soon making up a majority of the Jewish electorate, Jewish majorities for the GOP could be a reality in two to three decades.
That is, if we define Judaism by religious practice and not ethnic heritage.
That road, bringing secular Jews into the political land of milk and honey, will be a much longer journey.
Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images