To the Editor:
I do not know how old Jay Lefkowitz is, but he certainly could not have been relying on memory when he categorized President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a Jewish favorite because he “seemed most likely to support Israel, with military force if necessary” [“The Election and the Jewish Vote,” February]. Who among those old enough to have voted in the 1950’s can forget Eisenhower’s blunt threat to take away the United Jewish Appeal’s tax-exempt status as he marched ten Jewish leaders into the White House and demanded that Israel vacate the territory it had conquered in the 1956 Suez crisis?
Mr. Lefkowitz mentions Jimmy Carter’s unremarkable call in 1977 for a “Palestinian homeland,” but it would have been fair also to note that Carter was the first President to describe Israel as a “strategic asset.” Mr. Lefkowitz also shades the story a bit when he describes the relationship between George H.W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir as “frigid.” It is doubtful that any American president could have had a warm relationship with an old-line Irgun/Lehi Revisionist who made his stated policy of foot-dragging into a political art.
Mr. Lefkowitz never actually spells out that 75 percent of Jewish voters went against Bush last November. He is probably correct to say that the percentages will not change. The quip that Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans remains accurate, and is a sign that most Jews continue to take the message of Isaiah to heart.
Shaker Heights, Ohio
To the Editor:
A few footnotes should be added to Jay Lefkowitz’s survey of the Jewish vote. One of the main reasons for the 1928 swing in Jewish voting toward Al Smith and the Democrats was that Smith was a decisive voice in beating back the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was a major force in the Democratic party during the 1920’s, and Smith became a champion in Jewish eyes for opposing it. Then came FDR’s appeal to brotherhood and helping the poor, and Jewish voters were hooked. Today, Jews over the age of sixty are still mesmerized by the aura of FDR, and continue to punch the Democratic ticket.
On the other hand, it now appears that younger Jews are becoming more aware of the intrusion of government into their lives, and they are more willing to consider which party represents their views on issues like taxes and educational choice. It seems to me that the Orthodox Jewish constituency, which leaned toward George W. Bush and the Republicans in the last election, has a good sense of what Jewish interests are in a country that has always granted maximum freedom to Jews.
Still, Milton Friedman summed things up accurately when he wrote: “The basic beliefs of Judaism are one thing; the way Jews vote is very different. Jews and Judaism prosper in a world of economic and human freedom. The Jews in the United States overwhelmingly vote for measures designed to limit economic and human freedom.” I continue to hope that more Jews will begin to connect the dots that link the principles of Judaism with conservative philosophies that promote freedom.
Larry F. Sternberg
Santa Ana, California
To the Editor:
I am in my seventies and live in a retirement village in New Jersey, where in the year leading up to the election the display of bitterness toward George W. Bush was unbelievable. Dennis Prager once said that liberalism is the true religion of the majority of Jews in America. Among members of my own generation, I would be more tolerated if I were to declare myself an atheist or a Marxist than if I were to declare myself a Republican. It is a bad sign for Judaism when Jews care more about their liberalism than about the war on terror and the survival of Israel.
Monroe Township, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Jay Lefkowitz’s article broke out the Jewish vote in the 2004 Presidential election in terms of its Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and even Russian components, but he did not focus on the Sephardic vote. I have to guess that at least 5 to 10 percent of Jews in the U.S. have origins in Arab lands, where Jews were subjected to abuse, intimidation, and mistreatment. They support Bush’s waging of the war on terror because they understand the culture of hate created by the despotic regimes of the Middle East.
Jay Lefkowitz writes:
Harold Ticktin strives mightily to understate the importance of Jimmy Carter’s call in 1977 for a Palestinian homeland, less than four years after Arab nations tried to drive Israel into the sea in the Yom Kippur war. But American Jews were, on the whole, under no illusions about Carter. While he may have paid some lip service to the notion that Israel was a “strategic asset,” his actions betrayed his true feelings. Then, as now, Carter thought that the U.S. role in the Middle East was to serve as a mediator between two morally equivalent sides. In the 1980 presidential election, despite the support he may have received from people like Mr. Ticktin, Carter got less than 50 percent of the Jewish vote—the poorest showing for a Democrat since the 1920’s.
Mr. Ticktin correctly notes that Eisenhower put great pressure on Israel to withdraw from territory it had captured in the 1956 Sinai war and even threatened to take away the tax-exempt status of the United Jewish Appeal. Still, the fact remains that Eisenhower received sizable percentages of the Jewish vote in both of his elections. Indeed, whatever ill will he may have generated in the Jewish community probably redounded more to the electoral detriment of his Vice President, Richard Nixon, in the 1960 campaign. The Sinai war itself was fought less than two weeks before the 1956 election, and probably had little impact on the vote.
I appreciate the sentiments of Larry F. Sternberg and Irwin Davis, both of whom are concerned that American Jews often embrace political liberalism at the expense of certain Jewish values. Secular humanism, the philosophical underpinning of liberalism, is clearly in conflict with the Jewish belief in divine moral authority. Mr. Sternberg is right that Jews benefit enormously from the economic and political freedoms that America stands for and that President Bush is trying to promote; Mr. Davis is equally correct that among older Jews, being a Republican is still seen as a badge of shame. Unfortunately, many older American Jews have a hard time seeing beyond FDR, whose party they believed was squarely in their corner.
Mr. Sternberg points out that Al Smith’s strength in the Jewish community was due in part to his strong stance against bigotry at a time when anti-Semitism (largely from the political Right) was a problem in the United States. Today, the Jewish community needs to recognize that it is mainly liberals with “nonjudgmental” approaches to matters like the Middle East conflict who encourage political anti-Semitism.
I know of no exit-poll data on the voting trends of Sephardic Jews in America, but my own experience from giving speeches in Sephardic communities confirms what Albert Algazi says.