Readers Write: Jews’ political views reflect history

Readers Write: Jews’ political views reflect history

Since my undergraduate days as a political science major, I have been interested in voting patterns.
We know that race, religion, gender, educational level, and economic strata all play a part in how we vote.
We are probably familiar with the fact that minorities — tend to vote Democratic.
And it can be argued that blacks and Latinos have an economic reason to support the more liberal of the two major parties.
But for Jews this is not the case; they appear to vote against their economic interest.
As Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg wrote in the New York Times on Nov. 2, 1984: “In America…the comfortable and the rich usually vote their pocket-books. A notable exception to this rule has been the Jews who, despite their striking economic and social rise  in the last generation, have continued to vote with ‘have-nots.’”
This phenomenon occurs both on the left and the right.
Author Frank Thomas writing in What’s the Matter with Kansas points out that residents of this very “red state” do themselves a disservice whenever they cast a Republican vote.
The question now becomes — what motivates people to cast ballots for those who will reach into their pockets by raising taxes?
These thoughts led me to ask two questions. First, is there demonstrable proof that most Jews are liberal, and if so, why is this the case?
What follows is an attempt to provide evidence which answers the queries above.
Historically, how have Jews voted in presidential elections?
The political shift to the Democratic Party began in 1928 when, among Jewish voters, Al Smith defeated his Republican opponent by a 72 percent to 28 percent margin.
Franklin D. Roosevelt won as much as 90 percent of the Jewish vote in 1940 and 1944.
This trend has continued to this day. 1984 Mondale 67 percent;  1988 Dukakis 64 percent; 1992 Clinton 80 percent;  1996 Clinton 78 percent;  2000 Gore 79 percent;  2004 Kerry 76 percent;  2008 Obama 78 percent;  and 2012 Obama 69 percent.
Regardless of whether the Democrat won or lost, was popular or not, he always garnered a significant majority of the Jewish electorate’s vote.
The only voting bloc to rack up consistently higher Democratic percentages was African-Americans.
More evidence as to the correlation between Jews and liberalism comes from the United States Senate.
Keep in mind that there are two senators from each state for a total of one hundred.
Jews constitute only 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, but hold 10 percent of the Senate seats.
Who are these women and men?
Michael Bennet (Colo.); Richard Blumenthal (Conn.); Barbara Boxer (Calif.); Ben Cardin (Md.); Diane Feinstein (Calif.); Al Franken (Min..); Barbara Mikulski (Md.); Brian Schatz (Hi); Charles Schumer (N.Y.); Ron Wyden (Ore.).
The percentage of Jewish Senators rises if you add Bernie Sanders (Vt.) who is, officially, an Independent although he organizes with the Democrats.
These Senators are all liberal and all Democrats.
There isn’t even one Jewish conservative senator!
There is a scientific study which also sheds light on this topic.
It comes from the well-respected Pew Research Center. “Jews are among the most strongly liberal groups there are more than twice as many self-identified Jewish liberals as conservatives, while among the general public this balance is nearly reversed.”
All of the above proves that American Jews are found left of center on the political spectrum.
Now for the question — Why is this the case?
The answer can be found in the Bible and in history.
Part of the Jewish heritage is the injunction “tikkun olam” or repair the world.
Jews take seriously the directive “to be a light unto the nations.”
The Torah is explicit in its mandate to help the stranger.
Exodus 22:21 says: “You shall not mistreat a stranger nor oppress him for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Thus, once every year, Jews celebrate the holiday of Passover and remind themselves that their experience of oppression should lead to ethical political action.
And in the words of Rabbi Alexander Schindler: “To be a Jew is to be a goad to the conscience of humankind, to bear a heart of flesh and blood and not of stone.”
Most Jews take these admonitions seriously. One of the clearest voices espousing this position is Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine.
He eloquently writes about the link between Judaism and social justice:
“We at the Tikkun Community use the word “spiritual” to include all those whose deepest values lead them to challenge the ethos of selfishness and materialism that has led people into a frantic search for money and power and away from a life that places love — non-violence, awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation — at the center of our lives.”
To be sure, there are Jewish conservatives who believe that the Bible can lead to other conclusions.
Dennis Prager writes: “If you believe that the Left is morally confused and largely a destructive force in America — then the Jews disproportionate involvement on the Left is nothing less than a tragedy.”
If the Bible points Jews toward social activism, what does history teach us?
The record is one of repeated and unrelenting anti-Semitism.
Hatred of the Jews goes back to Roman times.
Pogroms in Russia and Odessa were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It has been estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 were slaughtered.
The Crusades, an anti-Muslim movement, led to the death of between 3,000 and 10,000 Jews.
In 1492, the expulsion of Jews from Spain accounted for tens of thousands of Jewish deaths.
There are ghastly tales of Spanish sea captains who charged Jews exorbitant sums for safe passage and then dumped them overboard.
But the worst was yet to come. Between 1933 and 1945, approximately 6,000,000 Jews died at the hands of the Nazis.
In 1942, at the infamous Wannsee Conference, the term “final solution” was introduced to describe the systematic annihilation of all European Jewry.
And Hitler did succeed murdering two-thirds of all Jews who had been living in Europe before World War II.
This horrific 2,000 year history of discrimination, persecution and murder goes a long way toward explaining why Jews are sympathetic to minorities and underdogs the world over.
It is remarkable that these centuries of persecution were directed against a people who, at no time, constituted more than 16,000,000 of the world’s population.
In spite of overwhelming odds, Jews have survived. Leo Tolstoy addressed this anomaly when he wrote: “What is the Jew?…whom all the rulers of all the nations would have…crushed and expelled…persecuted, burned and drowned
and who — continue to live and flourish.”
Having explored Biblical injunctions and the history of persecution, there is one further explanation for Jewish progressivism.
This one requires connecting many dots. It assumes that Jews value education more than many other ethnic and religious groups which leads them to embrace liberalism.
To be sure, there are conservative Jewish intellectuals like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, but I maintain that these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The most revered Jews living in the European “shtetles” were the Talmudic scholars. The value of education was not lost upon long-suffering Jews.
This idea carried over to the New World. Who has not heard the many jokes about “my son the doctor” attesting to the desirability of an advanced degree?
In my own family, there was an expectation that I and my cousins would attend college even though my grandmother spoke broken English.
But there is more to the equation. It must be shown that being well educated correlates with being progressive.
Brett O’Bannon of the political science department at DePauw University did an analysis of the Bush-Gore presidential election.
He found a  “strong correlation between education and ideology…26 percent of high school dropouts see themselves as conservatives — completing the twelfth year of schooling has a demonstrably liberalizing effect on the population.”
In the current 2016 presidential campaign, polls indicate that college graduates are more likely to support Clinton over Trump.
A survey by the U.S. Politics On-Line Forum drew similar conclusions. The more years of school completed the more one identified as “liberal/leftist.”
Conversely, the fewer years spent in school, the greater the number of people who identified themselves as “conservative.” Finally, an article titled “Are Professors Actually Liberal?” states that “American professors are generally more liberal or left-wing than the general population.”  
Two reasons given to explain this predilection are, first, pedagogues are likely to question authoritarianism, fundamentalist ideology and traditional values.
Second, many teachers belong to a union and support labor rights.
Always in a minority and having experienced throughout our long history expulsions, pogroms and the holocaust,  we are sensitive to the needs and wishes of those who suffer.
We identify easily with blacks, Latinos, and members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.
This explains why Jews have been in the forefront of  the civil rights, anti-war, gay and lesbian, environmental, trade union and feminist movements.
Everything I have read leads me to conclude that Jews are, in fact, predominantly liberal and given their history and heritage should be.
I am proud of this fact and hope my co-religionists are as well.
Dr. Hal Sobel
Great Neck

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