More on the AJC poll: are we losing touch with our immigrant past?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the most eye popping statistics in the new AJC Survey of American Jewish Public Opinion was Question 3, which addressed the controversial Arizona law aimed at illegal immigrants, which critics say will inevitably lead to racial profiling.

What was the response from a still-liberal, civil-rights-oriented Jewish community? 52 percent said they support the law, 46 percent oppose it.

What gives?

The AJC’s David Harris said he thinks it’s mostly because of a kind of conditioned response to the words “illegal  immigration,” but he conceded “we don’t really have enough data to tease this one out.”

JTA’s Ron Kampeas also addresses the interesting number in his blog.

The response to the Arizona law challenges the popular assumption of many Jewish groups – including the AJC itself – that Jews remain staunchly liberal on immigration matters, even though today’s immigrants are far more likely to be Hispanic and Asian than Jewish, and that they will almost automatically favor progressive immigration measures, including reform that provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

And I’m guessing the response is more than just a conditioned response to the word "illegal."

We’re several generations removed from the heyday of Jewish immigration. I remember my immigrant grandmother and the stories she told about her gratitude about the safe haven she found in America (and the stories of my great-aunt, an illegal immigrant who arrived in America stowed in a trunk), but most younger Jews have little to no personal connection to that era and the stories people told.

And the attitudes of the elderly Jews who do remember may be affected more by their fears of a changing America than their memories of what immigration meant to the Jewish community.  Just go to any retirement community in Arizona and listen to the still-mostly-liberal Jewish retirees talk about the horrific Mexican invasion.

If I were a leader of a group like the AJC or HIAS, I’d rethink some of my policies.

I wouldn’t forsake support for fair, liberal immigration policies that take into account all the positive things immigration has meant both for America and for the Jewish community.

But I would reassess the automatic assumption that Jews have an organic connection to the issue that nurtures support for progressive policies. That emotional connection has been broken; pro-immigration groups need to think about educating a community that, to a great extent, has lost meaningful ties to its immigrant past.  This week’s AJC poll suggests we’re becoming more like the rest of America. And that means some of the attitudes and values stemming from our immigrant past.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.