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As Jews Worldwide Go Conservative, How Long Will U.S. Jews Buck the Trend?

There has been a spate of articles recently about how Jews in liberal democracies round the world have moved politically rightward in response to the global left’s increasing antipathy toward Israel. In a handy round-up of the trend over at FrontPage Magazine, Daniel Greenfield cites data showing that in Britain, Canada, Australia and France, a majority of Jews now vote conservative. The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.

Greenfield’s answer is that non-Orthodox American Jews care less about Judaism that their counterparts overseas, and therefore inevitably care less about Israel. And certainly, that’s part of the answer: A 2013 Pew poll showed that Jewish affiliation has declined markedly among American Jews, with only 68% of Jews born after 1980 considering themselves “Jews by religion,” compared to 93% of those born in 1914-27. And among the 32% that define themselves as “Jews of no religion,” a whopping 67% raise their children “not Jewish,” 79% have non-Jewish spouses, 54% say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, and 55% feel little or no attachment to Israel.

Nevertheless, young Jews in other countries also intermarry more and are less Jewishly identified than their grandparents. So even if the decline has been steeper in America than elsewhere – an assumption for which Greenfield brings no evidence – it’s hard to see that alone as sufficient to explain this political divergence.

What’s missing from Greenfield’s answer, of course, is America itself: the anomalous fact that non-Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. That certainly isn’t the case in Europe. And as an annual BBC poll shows, it isn’t even true in Canada and Australia, whose current conservative governments are staunchly pro-Israel.

Consequently, Democratic politicians are rarely as anti-Israel as their counterparts overseas, because being anti-Israel is still bad politics in America. Thus, for instance, they routinely support arms sales to Israel, whereas left-wing politicians abroad routinely oppose them. Nor does the American left’s animus against Israel spill over into blatant anti-Semitism as often as it does in, say, Europe. So for now, liberal American Jews still feel as if they can support the left without having to repudiate their Zionism or their Judaism – something that’s increasingly no longer possible overseas.

But even in America, that may not be true for long. As Sohrab Ahmari and Noah Pollak explained in detail in COMMENTARY this month, the Obama Administration and its Democratic cheerleaders have been steadily defining pro-Israel downward. During last summer’s Gaza war, for instance, the administration relentlessly criticized Israel over Palestinian civilian casualties, halted arms shipments in the middle of the fighting and urged Israel to accept a cease-fire dictated by Hamas patrons Qatar and Turkey, all while declaring itself to be unstintingly pro-Israel.

And on American college campuses, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is rapidly disappearing. See, for instance, the case of UCLA student Rachel Beyda, who was rejected for a post on the university’s judicial board solely because she was Jewish, until a faculty adviser intervened.

Thus if American Jewish liberals don’t want to go the way of their counterparts overseas – i.e., if they want to be able to continue voting left without feeling that they are thereby sacrificing their Jewish and Zionist identity – they need to mount an urgent campaign to convince their own political camp that any good liberal should also be pro-Israel. That’s far from an impossible case to make, since it has the advantage of being true, as I explained in detail in a COMMENTARY article in March. But conservatives can’t do the job for them; only liberals can persuade their fellow liberals.

And if American Jewish liberals don’t make that case, then in another decade or two, those that still care about Judaism and Israel are liable to find themselves exactly where their British, Canadian, Australian and French counterparts are now: forced to hold their nose and vote conservative, because anything else would be a betrayal of their Jewish identity.



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6 Responses to “As Jews Worldwide Go Conservative, How Long Will U.S. Jews Buck the Trend?”

  1. PAUL ZISSERSON says:

    I think a very important point is being missed. Europe does not have a very active, evangelical religious right which frightens Jews more than hostility to Israel does. In fact, many Jews see the religious right as a threat to Judaism itself, even though the aforementioned strong support for Israel is most intense among the religious right. Of course it makes little sense, but scratch the surface of a Jewish leftist and what he doesn’t trust about conservatives, and I’ll bet the religious right will come up.

  2. AVRAHAM TEITZ says:

    Re the last paragraph, you left out “…and wondering if recent anti-Jewish violence meant it was time to leave the USA.”

  3. RUTH GRETZINGER says:

    “The one glaring exception, of course, is America – which begs the question why.”

    no, it doesn’t.

    it raises the question. it asks the question. it highlights the question. it does not “beg” the question.

    this is an incredibly common mistake, so much so that there’s a whole website devoted to it. I only bring it up because I hold Commentary to a higher standard.

    begging the question is “a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself.” an example from the site: “He is unattractive because he is ugly.”

    http://begthequestion.info/

    • GORDON MILLER says:

      I’m so glad someone on the internet had the guts to point out this longstanding mistake in grammar, which you constantly hear even on network television. Simply put “beg the question” means to evade the question, not to “raise a question.” This solecism is close to expressing the opposite of the intended meaning.

      • MARK R BATEMAN says:

        Let me add my voice to those who applaud the correction of this common error. Let us also try to focus on another error I have seen in Commentary. “I cannot help but blah blah blah.” Let’s say the intended meaning is “I am compelled to comment. That is, “I cannot do anything other than comment.” To use the “help” construction, one would say, “I cannot help commenting.” To use the “but” construction, one would say “I cannot but comment.” The incorrect “help but” construction “I cannot help but comment” is an illogical conflation of the two.

  4. STEPHANE S LUBICZ M D says:

    The US liberal Jews are moving further away from the rest of the world Jewry. They believe they represent the future of the Jews (by assimilating at their own risks). No matter how much they hide they will be found. History stubbornly repeats itself. Even liberal Jews won’t escape. Liberalism and Judaism, an “almost” oxymoron!




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