Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Friday, November 4, 2011

American Jews and the 2012 Election

Next to blacks, Jews have been the most consistently loyal ethnic constituency of the Democratic Party. And considering that until 1965 blacks could not vote in the South, and that many in the North do not vote, Jews have been a more electorally important one. Jews are concentrated demographically in the states with the largest electoral votes: New York, Illinois, California, Florida, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Texas (in roughly that order). Jews are only between two and two and a half percent of the American population, but because they vote in much higher numbers they are about three or four percent of the electorate on election day.  Jews have voted consistently Democratic since the Progressive Era when they voted for Woodrow Wilson.

About eighty-five percent of the affiliated Jewish community--Jews that participate in Jewish communal life through membership and attendance at synagogues or through other Jewish organizations--is made up of either secular Jews or Jews of non-Orthodox denominations that aren't officially recognized in Israel (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist).  The fifteen percent of Jews who are Orthodox, either ultra-Orthodox or Modern Orthodox, tend to vote Republican because their religious views are more in line with Republicans on matters of personal morality than with Democrats. For secular and Reform Jews so-called Jewish values (tolerance, aid to the poor, equal rights) have replaced Orthodox ritual as the expression of their spiritual values. Most of these Jews consider themselves moderates or liberals/ Progressives politically and vote Democratic. About an additional ten percent of non-Orthodox Jews, roughly equal in number to Orthodox Jewish voters, vote for Republicans. This has been the situation for the past century, but with exceptions in individual presidential elections. Eisenhower and Reagan received about double the normal Republican  percentage of the Jewish vote. Eisenhower probably in gratitude and recognition for his role in defeating Hitler and Reagan in 1980 because Jimmy Carter was so disliked for attacking Menahem Begin over settlements. This previous analysis is based on several of the essays collected in Arthur Hertzberg's Jewish Polemics, a 1992 collection of his essays published over the previous decade. Hertzberg is a professor of religion who specialized in Judaism and the intellectual history of Zionism.  The present incumbent seems to attract the same disdain, contempt, and outright hatred among Jews that Carter did. But even Carter won 60 percent of the Jewish vote!

Obama is hated by those American Jews who are either already Republicans or who are Democrats but who identify with the Likud Party in Israel. Typical of this group is Martin Peretz, the publisher and former senior editor of The New Republic.  Peretz supported Obama in 2008, but then felt betrayed after Obama made overtures to the Arabs in 2009 and pushed for a settlement freeze in Israel. These Jews tend to put Israel at the top of their considerations when considering for whom to vote in presidential elections. Most American Jews, like other Americans, tend to vote on domestic issues and although Israel is important to them it is important as a homeland from which they can derive pride just as Irish-Americans identify in a vague way with Ireland, Italian-Americans with Italy, and Polish-Americans with Poland. These Israel-first voters might be compared to the Cuban exile community in Miami, where opposing Castro has traditionally been the only issue on which it votes.

The Republican Party now sees the 2012 election as an historic opportunity to part Jews from the Democratic Party in record numbers by casting the vote in terms of loyalty to Israel. Ironically, the insinuation that Jews were more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. was seen as an anti-semitic aspersion. Now some Jewish Republicans are making the charge that those who vote for Barack Hussein Obama are disloyal to Israel. I predict that this will backfire and that Jews will vote for Obama in their traditional percentages, if for no other reason than that they find the Evangelical Right supporters of the Republican Party to be more of a threat to their interests than they find Obama. This will be especially true if the GOP nominates a candidate other than Mitt Romney such as Rick Perry, Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich. And if that weren't enough there is always this Likud rally of Rick Perry to persuade all those J-Street supporters. And even Mitt, after flipping on all major social and economic issues from when he was governor of Massachusetts in order to win the nomination, will then be hard pressed to credibly flop back in order to win the general election.

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