Wednesday, April 17, 2002
News flash (not): Republicans and conservatives considerably more sympathetic to Israel than liberals and Democrats. So says Gallup. This is not a recent artifact of the War of September 11; it's a pattern that goes back to the beginning of Gallup polling on the question, back to 1988. And yet, Jews have voted consistently and strongly for Democrats, and for liberal Democrats at that. How to explain this?
Well, I can think of a few explanations, all probably true. First, contrary to popular belief, the majority of American Jews probably don't vote on the basis of America's policy on Israel. Indeed, a majority probably don't vote on the basis of any Jewish issue. With intermarriage rates as high as they are in America, it would be surprising if large majority of American Jews continue to be communally-minded, and if they are not so then they are unlikely to vote based on policy questions with respect to Israel. Further, most people vote not on the basis of policy but on the basis of general cultural comfort. Democratic and Republican allegiance gets passed down through family and community ties. These are not easily repudiated. And Jews are not only historically Democratic but generally culturally liberal. Elderly Jews vote on the basis of memories of Roosevelt (or, by this point, of Stevenson), or on the basis of Medicare and Social Security. Young Jews in significant numbers probably vote solely on the basis of abortion. When Israel is in acute crisis, Jews may vote to a greater degree on a single-issue basis, but Israel has not been in a crisis like the current one since the mid-1960s, so it is not so surprising that Jews vote primarily on other issues that move them.
But what drives me to distraction about those American Jews who are indeed communally active, concerned about Israel, and non-stupid is that they frequently are incapable of seeing the logical disconnect between their views on Israel and Jewish matters and their views on the rest of the world. I remember reading an article by Seth Lipsky on this topic last year. I know Jews who are hawks on Israel but doves on the United States. They have sympathy for Jonathan Pollard but not for Elian Gonzales. They condemn European anti-Semitism and favor European proposals for global institutions, international law, and other restrictions on national sovereignty. They think Israel has the right to defend itself demographically to remain a Jewish state but favor lax immigration policies for other countries. They favor private, religious schools for their children because they want them to learn Jewish values, but they oppose efforts to accommodate religious values in public education and oppose vouchers that would let poorer people choose parochial education. Jews have consistently benefitted from race-blind, meritocratic selection processes but are probably the most pro-affirmative-action white ethnic group in America. Jews worry publicly about a continuity crisis caused, in large part, by high divorce rates, intermarriage, and low fertility; many strongly pro-Israel Jews I know think the most important thing for Israel is to increase the Jewish birth rate. And yet Jews largely favor a strong pro-contraception, pro-abortion, anti-family-formation agenda in law and in public education. Jews were the white ethnic group that was most supportive of President Clinton in his impeachment, in spite of the fact that the trigger for the whole process was his exploitative relationship with a young Jewish woman who worked in his office. What is wrong with these people??? Do they have no brains at all?
I fully understand that Judaism has a strong social-justice streak. I approve of it. So does Catholicism. That has not stopped Catholics - particularly faithful Catholics - from migrating to the conservative party in America, the Republicans. I do not understand why so many extremely smart Jews I know are unable to think, and are unaware that they are unable to think, when the subject is their own political interests. But, then again, I'm a Republican, so how could I understand.