The Kosher Bookworm: The Literature of Politics


Well, it is almost here, Election Day, that is. In just two weeks the nation goes to the polls to elect the next president and the excitement can be felt in just about every social venue, with this column being no exception.

This week, I hope to briefly cover several works that, through the prism of history, will serve to convey the role that our religious community played in previous crucial elections. Personalities count, and we begin with that of Herbert Hoover, whose little known profile is given front row treatment by one of our community’s premier historians, Dr. Rafael Medoff and Dr. Sonja Schoepf Wentling.

Titled, “Herbert Hoover and the Jews,” this book goes into great detail in describing the involvement of the future president in the safety and welfare of East European Jewry after World War I, spanning the years, 1919 – 1922. Till now, little was known of his efforts that saved thousands of Jews from both starvation and murder at the hands of pogromists both left and right. This is followed by a detailed description of his involvement with the yishuv and the Arab riots in 1929.

Some of the most riveting sections in this work deal with Hoover’s long unknown activities during this era, and the follow up in the Holocaust years. Hoover was the first president to be confronted, according to Medoff, with the Arab-Jewish conflict. As a committed Christian Zionist, Hoover resisted much pressure from the State Department to side with the Arabs. This book is the first major literary work to acknowledge Hoover’s historic role in Jewish history.

Also, most relevant to us today, are the chapters dealing with the role of the Jewish vote and its role in the modern day political scene, starting with the political career of Hoover and the Republican Party of his day.

During the Roosevelt years, Hoover and his fellow Republicans consistently challenged FDR and his underlings on such matters as immigration policies for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, especially after Kristallnacht.

Truth be told, it was Prof. Ben Zion Netanyahu who persuaded Hoover and the Republican Party to include an unprecedented plank in their 1944 platform calling for the creation of a Jewish state. This event was to have far reaching implications in the years to come on both the domestic political front and in the conduct of foreign affairs as they concern the Middle East.

By 1944, FDR was most concerned that the Jews in New York State would bolt the Democratic Party and vote for their popular Republican governor, Thomas Dewey for president.

After passage of the pro-statehood plank in the GOP platform, Dewy met with Zionist leader Dr. Abba Hillel Silver on October 12th. As a result of their discussions, Dewey issued a statement affirming his support for a free Jewish state in accordance with the Balfour Declaration of 1917. He further insisted on an unlimited immigration policy, as well as land ownership by Jews in the Holy Land, thus becoming the first presidential candidate in history to ever articulate such a direct policy.

As detailed in an excellent chronology of the 1944 race, “FDR, Dewey and the Election of 1944” by historian David M. Jordan [Indiana University Press, 2011] the following then happened:

“Several days later, President Roosevelt sent a message to the convention of the Zionist Organization of America pledging his aid in finding ‘appropriate ways and means of effectuating establishment of Palestine as a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth.”

Ironically, this was the only time a Jewish issue was ever personally articulated by FDR that year. Please keep in mind that at this very time, the Jews of Hungary were facing their fate in the Holocaust with nary a word of sympathy and concern coming from FDR during his campaigning in New York City that October.

Despite this, by Election Day, 1944, the Jewish vote still went for FDR by more than 90%. However, the GOP plank that year set in motion a growing relationship between Republican leaders and certain elements in the Jewish community that was to grow in the many years to come. The 1944 elections were the first time that both parties competed for the Jewish vote; this, according to Medoff, represented the birth of the “Jewish vote” in American politics. What occurred in 1944 was to play a significant role in 1948, with President Truman’s recognition of Israel, in open defiance of his own secretary of state. Unfortunately, absolutely nothing that year, politically, served to help save the lives of those Jews who were to be doomed to the gas chambers of Europe.


However, the current and disturbing shifting political climate insofar as our nation’s foreign policies in the Middle East are concerned, potentially can have a telling affect upon the behavior of the normally Democratic leaning Jewish vote this year. In an interesting work, titled, “License To Murder” by Dr. Alex Grobman, executive director of the American – Israel Friendship League, the following ideological observation was made:

“The emergence of the anti-globalist Left that is viscerally obsessed with anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism is increasingly hostile to Israel and the Jewish people. Among those who have benefited the least from globalization are the Arabs and Muslims, who blame the Jews and America under Jewish domination for conspiring to control the world, rather than taking responsibility for their own shortcomings.”

Further on, Grobman notes the following historic irony that is starting to make its ideological impact upon the American political scene:

“Sol Stern, a contributing editor to City Journal, and once a prominent leader of the American left, explains that historically, the European left opposed right-wing anti-Semitism and oppression of the Jews, because the Jews were at the forefront of socialist and progressive movements. ‘The left loved Jews when they could be portrayed as victims of monopoly capitalism and its alleged progeny, fascism.’ ”

However, today, we Jews are attacked for just the opposite reasoning and the anti-Semitism that is of liberal/leftist origin is beginning to have the same scent and sense of the Nazi and fascist past. This development is of immediate concern to all committed Jews and is finding its electoral response among many American Jews this fall.