When Patrimony Trumps Political Preference


Jews, despite their above-average affluence and their entrepreneurial bent, have long been among the most loyal constituencies of the Democratic Party. Half of American Jews earn more than $100,000 annually, three times the national average and far more than typical members of mainline Protestant churches. The only real competition, economically, comes from another outsider group: Hindus.

In 2008, President Obama received roughly 80 percent of the Jewish vote and, four years later, his percentage remained just under 70 percent, even though the alternative candidate was clearly more pro-Israel and enjoyed the support of some Jewish billionaires.

Some Republicans point out that Mitt Romney’s show of support among Jews was the strongest since Ronald Reagan ran against Walter Mondale in 1984. They suggest that Jews may finally be shifting toward the center and even to the Right.

Change on the left

Changes in attitudes toward Israel, and Jews, could hasten this process. After all, it is painfully obvious that opposition to Israel has now shifted from the traditionally anti-Semitic Right to the multicultural Left, and its various offshoots in the media and on campuses. The growing disconnect between left-leaning Jews, such as Peter Beinart, Jon Stewart, Max Blumenthal and Ezra Klein, and Israel makes such a shift easier.

This reflects a growing change in the nature of opposition to Israel, and anti-Semitism, in the West, from the old Right to the liberal-dominated media and the academy. Universities, for example, serve as ground zero for powerful boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel. The campaigns’ purpose is not only to hurt Israel’s economy, or protest its sometimes-unwise policies (such as expanding settlements), but also to cast her as a pariah state.

This is intriguing, indeed, since there seems to be no academic campaign to rein in such huge human-rights abusers – whether against Christians, females, gays or other minorities – as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Egypt. Only crimes by the Jewish state seem to qualify.

This clear inconsistency appears not to have slowed the divestment campaigns which, if not openly anti-Semitic, justify prejudice as a natural result of Israeli policies. Indeed, a Stanford professor writing in Salon placed responsibility for rising anti-Semitism on “the actions of the state of Israel in staging a brutal, prolonged attack on the Palestinian people.” This was echoed by another pro-divestment professor who suggested that “Zionists” were “transforming ‘anti-Semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.”

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with opposing specific Israeli policies, as we both do. But you also cannot ignore the fact that anti-Zionism often morphs into eliminationist anti-Semitism.

“From the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, Palestine will be free,” protesters chanted outside the U.S. Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during an event co-sponsored by, among others, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Broward Green Party.

Only a fool would think that a Hamas takeover of all Palestine would result in anything other than a second Holocaust. But such associations don’t seem to embarrass many progressives, who write for such publications as the Daily Kos. With anti-Israel policies now an accepted part of the progressive agenda, some Democrats may be forced to gradually shift their views – as has occurred in issues from climate change to foreign policy – to conform to the new accepted line.

Hostile Europe

This is already happening across the Atlantic. The two dominant parties in Scotland, Labor and the Scottish Nationalists, notes the National Interest, “try to outdo each other in their radicalism” against Israel and Zionism. Some Labor MPs have even revived old notions of a “cabal of Jewish advisers” who determine British foreign policy. To many on the left of the Labor Party, it’s basically impossible to be both openly Jewish and in the “progressive movement.”

This new attitude is, if anything, stronger throughout the rest of the European Union. Changing demographics explains part of this. France, long the home of Western Europe’s largest Jewish community, now has many times that number of Muslims. Much the same can be said of Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries. Parties on the left often covet these voters and play to their sympathies.

This means an embrace of an increasingly harsh view of Jews, not only among Muslim extremists, but also well-placed non-Muslim leftists. The publisher of L’Express, France’s leading left-of-center magazine, recently attacked French Jews for their support of Israel and chastised them for forming self-defense organizations to protect their community from attack. Not surprisingly, many French Jews are considering an exodus to Israel, Canada, Australia or the United States.

This process, thankfully, is only nascent in the United States, where Muslim and Jewish populations are roughly even. But racial divisions could speed up the dissolution of progressive support for Israel. Although perhaps less than one in five Americans hold strongly anti-Semitic views, that tendency is stronger among both African Americans and foreign-born Hispanics, two key and growing components of the Democratic coalition. This situation may worsen due to well-publicized efforts, particularly in the left-leaning media, to draw close comparison between the recent racial rioting in Ferguson, Mo., to Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza.

Given these pressures, it is certainly possible that, over time, more Jews may flee to the Right, following the path already trod by many Italians, Irish and other immigrant groups. Yet, if this happens, it won’t do so quickly. Historical inertia still favors the Democrats by a wide margin.

Shifts among Jews

What finally may drive this change, more than anything else, are evolving Jewish demographics. More American Jews – who left the former Soviet Union, Arab countries, Iran, even South America – do not share the old left-leaning narrative embraced by the bulk of Jews whose families left Europe before World War II. Among Americans who self-identify as Jews, roughly three-quarters, according to one survey, still consider Israel an important issue.

Economics and local issues, like public safety and schools, could also accelerate this movement to the right. Jews have tended to support more centrist or conservative candidates, such as Mayors Rudy Giuliani in New York or Richard Riordan in Los Angeles. Take the social issues of the Right – abortion, opposition to gay rights, school prayer – out of the mix, and many Jews may, indeed, vote a bit more like mainline Protestants, or even Mormons.

But at the same time, Jews’ electoral clout – whatever their party – seems certain to diminish. As more secular Jews intermarry and eschew child bearing, their ties to Judaism tend to fade and clearly will not be passed to nonexistent offspring. At the same time, solidly Jewish-identified communities, such as the Israelis, evidence little interest in local or American politics, outside of issues affecting their native country. Ironically, the Israeli immigrants reflect the old stereotypes of Jews as sojourners, people who are inward looking and not committed to their current place of residence.

Jews of Iranian, Russian or Sephardic descent – who have chosen to settle here for the long term and are not likely to return “home” – may be more likely to engage for Israel and Jewish culture, but, so far, few have emerged politically. Orthodox Jews, another growing group, are very parochial, and hold social views at variance with the vast majority of their co-religionists. They are unlikely to lead mainstream Jews toward the center or right.

All this suggests a difficult political future for Jews in America. As the old commonalities – memories of European repression, the Holocaust and Israel – continue to fray, the community’s political influence seems destined to weaken. Those who care about Israel, or traditional Jewish values, may find themselves forced to partner, often uncomfortably, with conservatives with whom they tend to have many disagreements.

But this strategy of at least considering a conservative linkage could, at a minimum, compel liberals – particularly in heavily Jewish areas like New York or Southern California – to confront the consequences of their growing alliance with anti-Zionists, as well as with blatant anti-Semites. In the end, as the sage and scholar Hillel suggested 2,000 years ago, Jews need to be for themselves, ready to defend their culture and patrimony, as well as Israel. To do this they may find their best allies – at least for now – may be fellow Americans who stand somewhat to their right.

This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Rory Cohen is assistant deputy editor of the Orange County Register’s Opinion pages.


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@ Phil Best

@ Phil Best - "I have always thought it odd that Jews in the USA so overwhelmingly vote for the mainstream political party that is most identified with a kind of "Long March" against "Judeo-Christian values".

I think you are partly right about that. They suffer from what Irving Kristol referred to as "atavistic memories" of their European experience; memories which were themselves false to a rather extraordinary degree. Point in case: the total fatalities from all pogroms in Russia throughout the 19th century numbered in the low hundreds, not in the thousands or tens of thousands, out of a total population of several millions. My source: Walter Laquer's History of Zionism

Thus while many American Jews were miseducated in their youth to believe that every goy was a potential anti-semite, they were blinded to the fact that they now lived in the least anti-Semitic society in the history of the world, and in my own native South least of all. (See Linderman's book on the Leo Frank case for details.)

I do think there is a danger of rising anti-Semitism in elite circles in America today, however, for reasons that have nothing to do with religion and are frequently discussed on Steve Sailer's blog. Indeed, I occasionally wonder whether I might have been vulnerable to such feelings had I not attended Reed College in the early 1960's, where there existed a genuine community of youth with zero ethnic consciousness, one third Jewish looking back, where we got to know each other intimately as fellow scholars serously seeking for truth. It was a brotherhood of learning amongst a common humanity and an innoculation against prejudice for all future time.

anti Jewish sentiment

In the rural location where I was raised I simply never met a Jew (or a black for that matter) until I went to college. It was something of a mild redneck environment where prejudices were commonly expressed towards people who simply didn't live in our neck of the woods. We did, of course, learn of the Holocaust in school, and I tended to feel sympathetic towards Israel. Otherwise, what I know about Judaism is pretty minimal.

In the liberal SF Bay Area, people have been generally inclined to keep their prejudices to themselves, however, I swear that over the past few years I hear more anti-Jewish, obliquely anti-Jewish, and certainly anti-Israel comments than I have ever heard before in my life, now rolling along in its sixth decade. Interestingly, I know and work with a lot of Middle Easterners and have seldom heard Israel mentioned by any of them, though I think mostly they just want to live their lives and perhaps do not think I'd be the best person to speak with about the subject.

I happen to be reading a

I happen to be reading a fifteen-year-old essay by Irving Krystol (included in his new book on Jews and Judasim) in which he makes essentially the same argument. The only thing different is two large new immigrant groups, Hispanics and Asians, who do not share the traditional Protestant American soft spot for Israel.

The thing about the Democratic Party of course is that it has deserted the American working class in favor of its new coalition of minorities and the unmarried. Thus the interests of the great majority of ordinary American families are without any effective representation in Washington. This explains our current trade and immigration policies and our failure to adjust our wage and hour laws to reflect the on-going revolution in new labor-saving technologies.

My advice to Ashkenazi Americans therefore: befriend the middle two-thirds of the American populace, speak for them and their interests, and they will befriend you and the things you care about. If that means going Republican, so be it. Or if it means a revolt in the Democratic Party, that's OK too.

P.S. Sen. Jim Webb's candidacy deserves consideration.

Luke Lea

Jews racial and religious - is there little intersect?

I have always thought it odd that Jews in the USA so overwhelmingly vote for the mainstream political party that is most identified with a kind of "Long March" against "Judeo-Christian values".

Are Jews in the USA mostly not practitioners of the religion of Judaism? Or do they not care too much about their own creeds?