Steven Windmueller
Is it Good for the Jews?

“Jewish Loyalty” A Political Proposition

For many Jews for much of the past one hundred years, the Democratic Party represented their political home base. Similarly, for a smaller group of Jewish Americans, the Republican Party provided the same degree of support. Will all of these past connections and historic ties come undone over the years ahead?

This President has decided to introduce the “loyalty test” regarding Jewish voters. His exact words: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

These comments did not occur by chance. If you raise doubts about a group’s loyalty, then it becomes easier to target them at a later point as being problematic citizens! There is no significant leap required here and the damage to such a people can be devastating.

This is an old storyline for Jews, who have faced such tests elsewhere. In the Alfred Dreyfus case of the 1890’s, this French officer would symbolically represent all of the Jews of France, as he would be falsely accused of disloyalty and treason. At numerous points in history, Jews have had to prove their patriotic credentials. It is no wonder therefore that Jewish historians have meticulously accounted for every Jewish military personnel who has served this nation in all of its wars, a measurable standard of loyalty and proof of service to one’s country!

This story line has a second element involving the proposed visit to Israel by Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar. Their disagreements with Israel are reflective of the left wing views within the Democratic Party. They and their supporters have raised questions about “dual loyalty” of some American Jewish officials and the power of Jewish money as a “problematic” influencer in American foreign policy.

In this new political construct, Israel represents for our enemies the “collective Jew”. The Jewish State has become the measure how Jews are to be defined and how loyalty will be determined. The real issue may well be how Israel and American Jews will fit into the American political landscape over the decades ahead?

In the long term, as both political parties undergo major changes, are we likely to see Jews being welcomed into either political camp? White nationalism has served this President well and seems to reflect the current ideological direction of the Republican Party. In turn, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party with its anti-Israel stance is seeking to gain control over the ideological direction and policy lines of its party.

At the moment Jews are among the ideological favorites of the Republican Party. Part of this attraction is tied to Jewish wealth that currently feeds the Trump political machine. Another advantage here can be found in the US-Israel connection, and more directly, the Trump-Netanyahu relationship. “Jews” are welcomed, just as other constituencies, including people of color and immigrants, are clearly being dismissed as “outsiders”. The goal here is centered on returning America to its prior position as a white, Judeo-Christian society. For now, at least, the Trump nationalists will tolerate its Jews as beneficial to the election interests of the party. But as with other right of center political movements, at what point will another generation of Trump Republicans discard its “Jewish ties” in favor of its white nationalist interests? At that moment, Jewish loyalty will have little value.

On the Democratic side, the situation has its own problematic outcomes. While “the progressives” will certainly welcome disaffected Jews, who have given up on Israel and who have become radicalized against this President, little room remains for “establishment Jews” who have deep connections with the Democratic Party’s mainstream. At the moment centrist Democrat politicians remain dependent on Jewish donors and voters. As this party becomes more ethnically and racially diverse, what will be the status and role for Jews? In the short term, is it likely that Jews will be “tolerated,” until such a time as their value and their whiteness will be questioned, and as a declining constituency ultimately dismissed as no longer in consort with the interests of the party?

Over time, race and ethnicity will represent core features critical to both political parties! Clearly, demography is working against the Jewish community, as its numbers are decline and where its influence will ultimately be weakened. For Republicans it is about cleansing the party of its ties to minorities in order to preserve its credentials as the party for “whites” and for Democrats it may well be about everyone but “white”. As with other moments in history, will Jews be once again caught between warring political factions, where questions surrounding their “whiteness” and their “loyalty” become the measures of their political value?

Whether it is the destruction of Israel envisioned by the left and its allies or the “whiteness” campaign of the political right, the prognosis for the American Jewish political future must be seen as highly unsettling, if not down right problematic.

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.