The Clare Spark Blog

June 17, 2011

The famed “Jewish vote”

Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook

Roger Simon, Pajamas Media CEO, interviewed members of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles, and posted a short video of his sampling (http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/pjtv-could-obama-lose-jewish-voters-in-2012/).  Interviewees included such prominent Republicans as Andrew Breitbart and Frank Luntz. At one point, Roger Simon asked one person if voting Democratic was “in our DNA?” Luntz, in a different interview, opined that Jews in Florida, Nevada and Ohio could sway the next election, implying that a majority of Jews did not have to switch parties to change the outcome of the election of 2012.

This blog is about the conception of “the Jewish vote” and an historical suggestion as to the apparent loyalty of a majority of “Jews” to a political party that is now openly hostile to Israel.  In no particular order:

The very conception of “the Jewish vote” is ideological and often racist in its assigning of a collective identity to “the Jews”.  For instance, Truman’s famous de facto recognition of Israel, barely beating out the Soviet Union’s recognition in May 1948, is sometimes  attributed to the concentration of Jews in New York City, and the importance of that constituency to his campaign for president. Or sometimes, his old Jewish friend and business partner Eddie Jacobson gets the credit for swaying Truman into accepting a meeting with Chaim Weizmann—an encounter that is said to have revitalized Truman’s sympathy for the plight of the stranded displaced persons who wished to emigrate to Israel, and who had incurred his wrath as overly pushy in their American representatives (Peter Bergson or Abba Hillel Silver).   What is left out of such narratives is the Cold War and the strategic position of Israel, a new state that was being ostentatiously wooed by the Soviet Union, and which could not have beaten its enemies without arms shipped secretly from Czechoslovakia.  (On the ever-expansionist Soviet Union: it expected Israelis to lead the Arab lower classes into revolution against the U.K. and its cooperating Arab elites.)

The bad part about predicting that Jews may switch parties because of Israel and its growing unpopularity among academic elites is this: it buttresses the antisemitic notion that Jews have dual loyalties, that they are indeed “ a people apart,” the Wandering Jews (rootless cosmopolitans) who never put down roots but adhere to tribal loyalties and the directives of their domineering, militaristic, and angry Jewish God as represented in the (Christian) Old Testament.  The irony is that few if any American presidents (relying on the Arabist State Department) have put the interests of Israel above the national interests of the U.S., notwithstanding the allegedly omnipotent “Jewish lobby.” (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/11/oil-politics-and-obamas-view-of-israeli-history/.)

The second point is the long memory of Americans who are allegedly “Jewish” and who are liberal or Marxists through cultural (not biological) inheritance.  It is true that Tikkun Olam is a critical component of the Jewish faith and “Jewish” cultural identity (though its meaning is disputed, with many arguing that personal repentance and reparations, not a broad social activist mandate was intended), but possibly more important as a factor influencing “the Jewish vote” is this:  the vast majority of Americans of Jewish descent look back to grandparents and great-grandparents who were of Eastern European origin, and who made their way in America as workers and small businessmen.  They were often greeted by the nativism of WASP elites, or the antagonism of rival ethnic groups (Irish, Italian, Polish) in the tough neighborhoods where the penniless immigrants landed. Since many WASPs and progressive Catholics occupied powerful positions in the professions and in government, playing ball with the progressives was a route to assimilation and escape from the ghettoes. As for the famous Jews of Hollywood, whatever their personal feelings may have been, they catered to the populism of the American majority, which was profitable if masochistic, since populists have always hated “the money power,” a force that is unmistakably “Jewish,” as repulsive and aggressive as the “Jewish” God. And populism is more palatable in the Democratic Party, where successful persons of Jewish descent can continue to fight for the underdog and the outsider.

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