Tag Archives: republicans

The (True) Myth of the Jewish Democrat

By Daniela Enriquez

Elections are around the corner and once again the question presents itself—are Jews by nature Democrats? That American Jews tend to lean left is not news. After all, 74 percent of Jews voted for President Obama in 2008; the only group that voted more heavily for him was African Americans. However, the November elections are going to be quite interesting from this point of view. On one hand, Republicans keep saying that Jewish support for President Obama will decrease over the coming months. On the other hand, the GOP candidate, if elected, would become the first Mormon president and it’s hard to know whether this would impact “new world” Jewry and its relationship with Israel.

In the latest issue of Moment Magazine, we analyzed the most famous—and infamous—Jewish myths of all times; that got me thinking, so I decided to look around the latest political commentary to find out if there is any news regarding Jewish voters that could support or debunk the myth of the Jewish Democrat.

What I found is not exactly a scoop; it was, however, quite interesting.  In fact, a newly released report by the North American Jewish Data Bank, “Jewish American Voting Behaviour 1972-2008,” upends the claim that Jewish voters are starting to swing to the right, showing that Jews are still voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, and that their support for liberal candidates is actually increasing, not decreasing.

The study shows that between 1972 and 1988, Republican candidates won 31 to 37 percent of the Jewish vote, and that in later decades, between 1988 and 2008, Jewish support for Republicans dropped to 15 to 23 percent. The report also shows that Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates is even higher than for presidential candidates. According to these researchers, these numbers not only demonstrate that the majority of Jews have been, and will continue to be, liberal, but also that they tend to be more Democratic than all other Americans.

Despite this trend, some polls show that Jewish support for President Obama may be slipping. Right now, the president would receive 64 percent of Jewish votes, compared to 29 percent of Mitt Romney’s.

After reading through the report, two questions occupied my mind—if true, why is the number of Democratic Jews is declining? And how much does “Israel” matter in terms of political voting decisions?

For one, as Dr. Rafael Medoff writes, the relationship between the GOP and American Jewry has changed over the past few decades. When Jewish immigrants arrived, they where scared by what they considered a “WASP-only country clubs” Party, and found common values with the Democratic Party. But the situation has changed. The Republican Party has abandoned much of its old anti-Semitism, and is moving toward many Jewish values and needs. Now, not only do many Jews vote Republican, but several prominent American Jews are giving considerable amounts of money to Republican campaigns. One important example is the donations given by Sheldon Adelson to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s campaign.

According to Dr. Gilbert N. Kahn, writing in New Jersey Jewish News, every year many American Jews decide not to register for any party. They prefer to define themselves as liberals or independents rather than Democrats, and don’t want to be affiliated with any political institution. This means that in the states where it is necessary to register with a party in order to vote for its primary, many are not allowed to vote. Thus, statistics on Jews voting in Democratic primaries show that Jewish participation is decreasing. And that is the reason why the number of American Jews who vote for Democrats seems to decline!

Continuing to read Mr. Kahn’s article, I found the answer to my second question. According to an April 2012 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, Israel and its relations with the United States are not the most important issues that American Jews think about when choosing a candidate to vote for. Just four percent of the Jewish population put Israel at the top of their political priority list. The majority prefers to give more importance to the issues of health care and the economy.

To summarize, American Jews are still overwhelmingly Democrats—although many prefer to be called liberals, and don’t always register officially as members of the Democratic Party. However, many Jews are still Republicans and willing to help the GOP to win the elections. Thus, the race for the November presidential elections is still quite open, and Jews are an important part of the equation!

A Shakeup in District 9

by Theodore Samets

In Monday’s Huffington Post, Ed Koch, the former Democratic mayor of New York City, and an outspoken supporter of Israel, did something scandalous: He advocated that his former constituents in Brooklyn and Queens elect a Republican in the special congressional election taking place this September.

Koch’s principal reason for advocating this, according to his HuffPo column, is what he perceives as President Obama’s “hostility to the state of Israel.” Koch claims that by electing a Republican, the Jewish-dominated 9th district (until recently represented by the Honorable Anthony Weiner) will send a message to the president that he must “change his hostile position on the state of Israel” if he wants to be reelected next year.

Yet Koch is wrong when he claims that supporting a “Scott Brown”-style insurgency is the right tactic. Koch says he will support Republican candidate Bob Turner if he acquiesces to certain demands–committing not to cut Medicare or Social Security, for example. Who is the Democrat Koch will, in turn, oppose? David Weprin–a state assemblyman, former city council member, and according to The Jewish Week, an Orthodox Jew.

So in order to encourage the leader of the Democratic Party to be more pro-Israel, Koch wants Jews to abandon an Orthodox candidate, significantly favored by the political establishment, who last week had this to tell PolitickerNY about the “1967 lines” issue that Koch cites as his major concern with Obama:

“I think our commitment to Israel should be unequivocal,” said Weprin, when I asked about the president’s handling of the Mideast peace process and relationship with Israel. “It’s the only solid ally we have in the Middle East.”

Then, Weprin added, “I don’t think we should be going back to the pre-’67 boundaries. It’s clearly been part of Israel for many, many years.”

This just doesn’t seem like the right guy to be attacking in an effort to get the Democratic Party in line on Israel.

Koch’s concern about where President Obama stands on Israel is not entirely misplaced; the former mayor rightly identifies instances when this administration has not shown friendship to the Jewish state in the way previous presidents have. He’s been on this crusade for a while, after originally endorsing Obama and campaigning on his behalf in 2008. And he’s not the only Democrat concerned with the party’s trend on Israel. (I wrote on this issue a few weeks ago, and Politico’s Ben Smith, who has followed Obama’s relations with the Jewish community since 2007, raised the alarm in a much talked about piece at the end of June.)

What is the best way to address this? The Jewish community is actively engaging with the administration, and the Obama reelection campaign is working hard to promote what they believe is their candidate’s strong record on Israel. In the meantime, it seems that elevating strongly pro-Israel voices like David Weprin is a better move for Jewish Democrats than trying to tie him to a president’s policies that only some consider anti-Israel.

After all, in the same interview with PolitickerNY, Weprin also stated his support for Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democratic caucus. And who does Koch identify in his HuffPo column as a better spokesperson for his beliefs than President Obama? Nancy Pelosi.

Israel and the Left

by Theodore Samets

In its consistent effort to commoditize political positions as “left” or “right,”“conservative” or “liberal,” much of American media has determined that to be pro-Israel is to be right-wing, to be anti-Israel is left-wing.

It exists even here on InTheMoment, when last week a blogger called CAMERA, a pro-Israel media monitor, “conservative,” without qualifying what she meant by that term. CAMERA itself claims to be “non-partisan.”

This equation of “right equals pro-Israel” is problematic on a number of levels, but each time a writer, pontificator or politician repeats it, it seems to gain ground.

Why is this concerning? Because the people who will be most hurt by making support for Israel a partisan issue are the Israelis; the country whose existence will be threatened is Israel.

Israel has long enjoyed high popularity among the American left, and that should be no less true today. What’s more liberal than supporting gay rights, women’s rights, and democracy in the Middle East? Israel is an environmentally conscious, universal health care-providing, equality-loving nation. Democrats and Republicans alike should be vehement defenders of the Jewish State and passionate believers in the vibrant US-Israel relationship.

Most Democratic politicians understand the importance of standing with Israel. At this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, for example, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said that with any future two-state solution, “Israel’s borders must be defensible and must reflect reality on the ground,” rebutting President Obama’s call for a return to 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps.

Nonetheless, Republicans are occasionally guilty of trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue, such as when the Republican Jewish Coalition exaggerated new Democratic National Committee chair and pro-Israel stalwart Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s minimal ties to JStreet. But some Democrats encourage this effort when they refuse to make clear that they stand with Israel.

When groups like JStreet defend Donna Edwards, a Maryland congresswoman with problematic positions on Israel, when Democrats allow voices that are not pro-Israel to claim that mantle, it hurts Israel, it hurts the Democratic Party, and it hurts the United States. Democratic leaders need to sideline JStreet and its allies and focus on recruiting pro-Israel candidates to run for office; if not, support for Israel will become an ever-more Republican issue, and the media will be correct when they equate pro-Israel with right wing.

We need more members of congress like Eliot Engel and Brad Sherman and fewer like Dennis Kucinich.

Which is not to say that Republicans never voice anti-Israel sentiment; but when they do, the Republican Jewish Coalition condemns it. It’s hard to imagine the RJC’s counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, doing the same thing, given their decision to stand with JStreet, an organization whose destructive policies put Israel’s security at risk.

Democrats need to turn their focus inward: Why is it that the far-left’s animosity toward Israel has found its voice protected by a contingent of the party leadership, when Republicans have successfully silenced much of the isolationist, anti-Israel rhetoric of past leaders like Pat Buchanan?

It’s time for Democrats to tell the president that his pressure on the Israelis to return to peace talks is misplaced; it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who has avoided the table for the past two and a half years. It’s time for pro-Israel Democrats, who make up the vast majority of the congressional caucus and the party as a whole to do this in the open.

It’s easy to throw punches at your enemies in Washington; it’s much harder to tell a friend that they’re wrong.

If Democrats can’t stand up and do this, the ever-present warnings of the Jewish right – that Jews might start voting for and giving to Republicans in larger numbers – might just come true.

For a whole host of reasons, Jews remain loyal to the Democratic Party, as well they should. Democrats at the core represent the belief in tikkun olam that Jews embrace so strongly. Yet if the Democratic leadership can’t prevent the right from successfully making support for Israel a partisan issue, the loyalty of past generations may not remain.

The Emergence of Jewish Republicans

By Gabriel Weinstein

After a year of raucous Tea Party protests, growing disillusionment with presidential policies and economic stagnation, Republicans’ fantasy of regaining control of at least one house of Congress is close to becoming a reality. The final USA Today/Gallup Poll released Sunday revealed that 55 percent of likely voters plan on voting Republican while 40 percent of likely voters will vote Democratic. Independent voters, who helped propel Barack Obama to victory in 2008, have left the Democratic fold. Women voters, traditionally Democratic stalwarts, are predicted to vote primarily Republican for the first time since gender vote tracking began in 1982. On this Election Day, will Jewish voters remain a bastion of Democratic support or join the disgruntled droves and vote Republican?

Jews have tended to vote Democratic throughout American history.  The small American Jewish community of the late 18th and early 19th century aligned themselves with Jeffersonian Democrats. From the 1830’s through the 1850’s Jewish voters supported Jacksonian Democrats. The Civil War split the Jewish vote as Northern Jews flocked to the Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, while Southern Jews remained Democrats. The emergence of strong Socialist parties during the Eastern European immigration wave of 1890-1930 siphoned Jewish votes from the two major parties. Franklin Roosevelt’s tough stance towards Hitler and New Deal social welfare policies captured Jewish votes during the 1930’s and entrenched Democratic voting as a Jewish cultural norm. The tradition continued during the 2008 elections when 78 percent of Jewish voters voted for Barack Obama.

But recent surveys show that Democratic stronghold over the Jewish vote is dwindling.  While two thirds of the Jewish community identified as Democrats in a September 2009 Gallup poll, a year later only 48 percent of respondents to the American Jewish Committee’s Survey identified as Democrats.  While Jews gave Obama the highest approval ratings of all religious groups surveyed at 64 percent in the 2009 Gallup poll, this figure plummeted to 51 percent in the AJC survey.  Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia said in The Jewish Week, “A 51 percent positive rating for a Democratic president among Jews is, frankly, terrible.”

Hoping to capitalize on Jewish voters’ growing dismay with presidential and Democratic policies the Republican Jewish Coalition began extensive television and direct mail campaigns over the past month in battle ground states such as Ohio, Florida, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania. Perhaps the RJC’s advertising campaign, a sputtering economy, two interminable wars and candidates’ views on Israel are the ingredients that will finally deliver a substantial chunk of the Jewish vote to the GOP.

For many years, Jews have voted Republican in sizeable numbers at the state and local level. Jewish voters strongly supported Rudy Giuliani in his mayoral campaigns, by a proportion of three to one in his second election. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie received 38 percent of the Jewish vote in 2009. Some pundits believe that Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak’s stance on Israel (Sestak signed the “Gaza 54 letter” encouraging the government to steepen pressure on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade) will drive voters toward Republican hopeful Pat Toomey, a noted Israel ally.  In New Jersey, a group of Rabbis have formed “Rabbis for Sipprelle” in support of Republican House candidate Scott Sipprelle. Sipprelle is challenging incumbent Democrat Rush Holt, another signer of the Gaza 54 letter.

Whether or not Republicans make the sweeping gains they predict, the 2010 midterm election will be remembered as a crucial turning point in the Obama regime. The country’s seething frustration over health care and tax cuts, coupled with the emergence of zealous Tea Party advocates and charades have added a special flavor to this election season.  The possibility of an increase in Republican Jewish voters is the latest oddity of a zany election season.