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October 26, 2004

The Jewish vote

I'm taking time off from pondering whether there still is anything that can be called the Jewish vote, a subject I hope to write about in the near future. (Tentative conclusion: It still exists, but only barely.)

Reader "Just Moi" sent a link to the Weekly Standard's site, which has a brilliant but rather bitter article today by Joel Engel entitled "From Me to Jews: Why, despite everything, Jewish-Americans keep voting for Democrats." Let me just say that I think the bitterness is entirely justified.

Engel's piece begins this way:

FOR NEARLY SIXTY YEARS, since the birth of Israel, American Jews have faced accusations that they care more about the well-being of their ancient homeland than of their home. Well, barring some unforeseen circumstance, the canard of dual loyalty should be retired forever on November 2, 2004. On that Tuesday, Election Day, up to 80 percent of American Jews will pull the lever for John Kerry, thereby proving that they not only do not care about Israel's well-being, but that they don't mind making common cause with people who wish them ill. Or worse.

The evidence is overwhelming that acceptable anti-Semitism has moved from right to left on the political continuum, and that its philosophical home now resides in the Democratic party, which has become less the party of liberals than of leftists.

He then discusses how high-profile Democrats have kissed Sharpton's ring and given him a choice slot for his speech at the convention. They have also honored Jimmy Carter and Michael Moore, two viciously anti-Israel voices. The Left has brought anti-Israel (and, increasingly, anti-Jewish) demonstrations to campuses, to go along with the similarly virulent classroom teaching.

Why is it, then, asks Engel, that liberal Jews are silent? His answer: Liberalism's a religion.

American Jews' allegiance to Democrats is nothing less than a religion. And conversion is considered a sacrilege.

If you ask even the most secular Jew, one who stays home to watch baseball on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to convert to Christianity--say, in order to marry a shiksa--he'll likely recoil. It's a visceral thing, hatched in the belly eons ago.

So, too, is the notion of pulling the lever for dirty anti-Semite, racist Republicans. That's the catechism. No matter that Republicans booted out David Duke and Patrick Buchanan--or that both of them would find plenty of fellow travelers in today's Democratic party. Catechism states that only Democrats can be authentic liberals.
To this I would add that Jewish support for Israel is way down among liberals, whose support for Israel (in my view) is contingent upon its having a Labor government. There are real limits on how far liberal Jews can go in defending Israel against the anti-semitic Left, because liberal Jews are themselves so conflicted over Israeli policy. How can they publicly support Sharon? Or, for that matter, publicly support non-Jewish Americans who love Israel? Engel points out that liberal Jews
fear evangelicals' unshakeable support for Israel on the grounds that it's biblically based, which is the equivalent of refusing to accept your dog back from the guy who found him after he admits doing it only for the reward.

I have frequently referred to this attitude as a "shtetl mentality" -- a view that, just as on the shtetl in Eastern Europe, Jews in America are somehow at risk of death, or at least forced conversion, from the neighboring gentiles. I can't fully understand how this attitude can be held by second and third generation American Jews. (See also my post Jew in America.)

I would suggest, though, that, as the importance of Israel to liberal Jews declines, the relative importance of secular idols increases. What I mean by "idols" is political positions that are so firmly held that they are not subject to question. Number one is unrestricted access to abortion. Why this is a Jewish issue is not obvious. While Jewish law is not opposed to abortion in all circumstances at all times, it is closer to the Catholic view than to the secularist "anything goes" view. But, of course, liberal Jews do not support abortion for religious reasons. Number two is "separation of church and state." Liberal Jews approach this as strict separationists, trying to move religion entirely into the private sphere. These two "idols" make it all but impossible for liberal Jews to create alliances with evangelicals on Israel.

I've always wondered how support for Kerry can possibly be "good for the Jews" if Kerry insists on giving the U.N. and "old Europe" primacy in his foreign policy. Engel explains just how self-defeating this is:

Why won't Jews who plan to vote for John Kerry take the senator at his word, and consider the ramifications, when he says that he wants to refract his foreign policy through the prism of the United Nations and the European Union? Nearly one third of the United Nations is comprised of Islamic states, which helps to account for why Israel has been targeted by a relentless barrage of condemnatory resolutions--as well as the disgraceful ruling in the International Court of Justice against the anti-terror fence.

As for Europe, birthplace of anti-Semitism, the European Union publicly wrings its hands over dead Palestinian terrorists but not dead Jewish children and mothers, insisting that there will be peace when Israel withdraws from all so-called Palestinian lands; and if that pullback to the "Auschwitz borders" should someday result in Israeli Jews being driven into the sea, then good riddance. In the unvarnished words of Daniel Bernard, French ambassador to Great Britain, Israel is "a shitty little country" inhabited by "those people" who are putting the world "in danger of World War III."

He closes by referring to James Baker's famous line about how the Jews "don't vote for us" and notes the consequence of high levels of Jewish support for Kerry.
"F*** the Jews," Republican James Baker snapped during Bush 41's reign more than a decade ago. "They didn't vote for us anyway."

Right he was. And if only 20 percent of them vote for Bush 43, American Jews won't need James Baker--they'll have done it to themselves.
The only consolation here is that the real Jewish vote tally this year will be about 3 to 5 percent higher than exit polls show. I can never prove this, and I don't think it's even capable of proof, but I have anecdotal evidence, from my own experience, that of others, and various postings around the blogosphere, that some Jews are secretly going to vote for Bush, even if they won't admit it to a stranger. It is a small consolation, because what can it possibly say about the state of Jewish politics that Jews are afraid to admit they're voting for a man who, as the Kerry campaign implicitly admits, has been a stronger supporter of Israel than any previous president?