Why do Jewish Americans vote Democrat?

Whether you like him or not, President Donald Trump wears Israel on his sleeves. One cannot deny the turn-around in relations with that country.  In contrast to his predecessor, he took steps to support Israel emotionally and politically.  The move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem was the first step in recognizing Israel’s right to the capital city.  One must also recognize the US “pit bull” ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley.  She routinely and unabashedly goes after Security Council members in support of Israel and its aggressive defense of Gaza while condemning the continual attacks by Hamas and its “mobs”. The majority of evangelical Christian leaders, mostly Republicans, also support Israel without reservations. So why is it that  approximately 70% of American Jews still vote Democrat?

This phenomena gets even weirder when one considers the anti-Israeli sentiment on liberal US campuses and the proliferation of BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction); an organization fundamentally anti-Israel and anti-Zionist insidiously disguised as a champion of  human rights. It’s common knowledge that the organization’s sole purpose is to delegitimize Israel and in retrospect Jews.  It is also common knowledge that its ultra far left organizers are deeply imbedded in universities’ student and faculty memberships.  Anti-Semite Farrakhan has just described Jews as termites, and Linda Sarsour, the darling of the women’s movement, sneers at Jews as being “creepy”.  Both pinheads openly associated with the Democratic party.  Or perhaps to be more accurate: the Democratic party never denounces them, like it has never denounced Jesse Jackson and his subtle anti-Semite accusations. So what drives the large population of American Jews to remain behind the party that often seems to stand by those who disparage them?

In 2015, The Washington Post printed an interview by John Sides, entitled, “Why most American Jews vote for Democrats, explained”. John interviewed Kenneth Wald, professor of political science, and Samuel R Shorstein, Professor of American Jewish Culture & Society at the University of Florida.  The interview was “a tongue in cheek”  attempt at answering Iowa’s Republican Representative Steve King’s  question of why most American Jews vote Democrat.  Mr. King was having difficulty understanding why Jews in America “…can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president.” You must give Mr. King credit because if the last statement were to be believed than all Jewish Americans should be voting Republican.  After all Jewish Americans are at the top of education, income, and business.  Which makes this affinity for the Democratic party a bigger puzzle.  The party that has always portrayed itself  as the party of the oppressed, the minorities, the inner city rejects, and the secular. So what is the common thread? What “Judaic” theory can explain the conscious decision to vote for a liberal Democratic party?

The liberal Jewish voting seems to be unique to the US.  Unlike in the US,  Jews in other countries are politically strewn across ideologies without any concrete political party cluster. Outside the US, Jews are conservative, liberal, and centrist sans  definite group or particular party identity.  So what gives?  Professor Shortstein theorizes that American Jews have always had a special affinity to the liberal constitutional foundation separating state from religion.  It gave American Jews a  sense of equality often denied in other countries.  They could belong to any political party without having to short change their Jewish identity. In the early days of Jewish immigration, this liberal concept  gave Jews a sense of belonging rather than mere tolerance as they had experienced in Europe. They could enjoy a government that secularly accepted an individual’s preference in worship without compromising Judaic historical experiences. This is “classic” liberalism. A philosophy that attracted Jewish Americans to the Democratic party.

However, in the late 60’s and early 70’s Jewish Americans did wander away from the Democratic party. The new “identity politics” adopted by the Democrats went against their liberal ideas of equality.  Their party was now talking about gender and race preference.  To those Jewish Americans who followed the fundamental constitutional right of “equal rights” rather than “equal rights” by skin color or gender, this new concept was a “turn off”.  Affirmative action was not attractive to most Jewish Americans and the Democratic Jewish vote was in trouble.  One would think that this would have been a great opportunity for the GOP to woo Jewish Americans into their fold.  But they also screwed up.  The 70’s and 80’s witnessed a Republican party going after the evangelical vote.  The predominantly white protestant base that ranted about “Christian America” and Christian family values. The rhetoric was perceived by Jewish Americans as a threat to religious liberties and the fundamental liberal distinction between religion and state which they had grown to appreciate. It was also the catalyst that turned the majority of Jewish Americans back to the Democratic party and their support for Democratic presidents.

To be fair: Orthodox American Jews are still inclined to be conservative and primarily Republican. However, contrary to popular belief, this support has very little to do with Judaic theories or historical Judeo experiences. According to Professor Shortstein, Orthodox Jews are more likely concerned with “communal integrity”.  GOP business policies perceived as good to the community win over liberal causes.  Orthodox American Jews also tend to be the ones most supportive of Israel and a predominant Orthodox Jewish state.  Alas, most American Jews do not approve of Israel’s current nationalism or of Netanyahu’s conservative government.  They also do not embrace the Likud’s seemingly anti-Arab stance.  American Jews would like to see Israel adopt more liberal values of religious pluralism and tolerance.  American Jews seem to have assimilated more to the US liberal secular ideologies than the hard core conservative often far right concepts in today’s Israel.  They also don’t believe that their Judaism is tied to Israeli national pride. In short; Israel does not play a major role in the way they vote. Probably another reason why their vote remains predominantly Democrat.

While writing this blog, Jews were targeted and killed in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  A horrific attack at a people simply because of who they are and how they worship.  Whether Democrat or Republican, Jew or gentile, this heinous act should wake us up to the horrors of ethnic hatred and religious persecution.  President’s Trump first response was inane.  They should have had armed guards.  Really?  That’s like telling the victim of a hit and run that he should have looked both ways. American Jews were outraged at the remark, and rightly so.  As voters we should hold both parties responsible for the current toxic political climate.  We need to demand change. But for now: the pain of Pittsburgh is within our hearts and the pain of every Jew remains within our souls.

Sides, J. March, 24, 2015. The Washington Post. Why most American Jews vote for Democrats, explained. Retrieved October 27, 2018 from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/03/24/why-most-american-jews-vote-for-democrats-explained/?utm_term=.82daaf63ced8

About the Author
Judith was born in Malta but is also a naturalized American. Former military wife (23 years), married, and currently retired from the financial world as Bank Manager. Spent the last 48 years associated or working for the US forces overseas. Judith has a blog on www.judith60dotcom Judith speaks several languages and is currently learning Hebrew.
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