With the conventions behind us and about 50 days left, the candidates are looking to garner whatever swing voters they can to firm up the election. Not surprising, Florida is a swing state, and appealing to Jewish voters there is pivotal to an election victory. Yet, even with the Republican Party claiming that it may gain as much as 30 percent of the so-called Jewish vote this year, the majority of voting Jews still seem to migrate to the Democrats. It begs the question of why; why do Jews seem more comfortable within the Democratic party and what is it about the changing times that has some fearing a slow migration away toward the right?
I have heard an argument from people who are fairly smart, well studied and truly committed to the Jewish religion that “the GOP of the last 20 years is evil incarnate. No question about it!” I was shocked that anyone who disavows racism, embraces the doctrine of open-mindedness that is often associated to the liberalism that most Democrats champion, could generalize like that about a party of people in a manner they would abhor if it were aimed at other groups of people.
Yet, the fear and apprehension toward Republicans for Jews runs deep, even to people who seem reasonable in any other instance. So rampant is this fear that when a Jewish philanthropist and businessman named Sheldon Adelson openly supports the Republicans, he gets vilified even by Jews. Notwithstanding the unpleasant characterizations, Mr. Adelson and his wife are quite charitable people.
They give significant sums of money to champion many causes related to Israel, education and medical research. They sponsor drug rehabilitation centers, award grants for cancer research and are deeply involved in Jewish continuity through programs such as Birthright Israel and others. Far from evil incarnate, their benevolence represents the best of both Jewish and American values. However, given the criticism of Adelson, it would appear that some very smart people would abandon reason for madness when it comes to the Republican Party, feeling that Jews can find refuge only among the Democrats.
Oddly enough, the Democrats are not traditionally the party of inclusion. There was a time not so long ago when the Democratic Party held what was called “The Solid South.” Their platform included enforcing segregation, maintaining Jim Crow laws and pushing for more racial divides. Democratic President Harry S. Truman’s support of the civil rights movement began the change in the party’s thinking, and it was not until 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the Democrats started to come around.
Jews advanced the civil rights movement that was championed by Republicans, which had been the party that most black people belonged to back then. So the notion of natural seems a bit precarious – convenient, maybe, not inherent.
Every party has its fringes; the GOP is known to attract the likes of white supremacists, or the separatists, while the Democrats attract groups with seemingly counterintuitive platforms like “Queers for Palestine,” and those who managed to get the issue of Jerusalem removed from the National platform before the national convention last week. Neither is very friendly to the Jewish cause and neither party can claim complete harmony with its platform.
There is the school of thought that believes Republicans of today are more aligned with Jewish ideals. Some, maybe, but not all, for sure. The alignment between the religious right and the GOP is not necessarily a Jewish interest. The support for Israel by the GOP is often a result of a deeply rooted belief in Dispensationalist Christianity, where the establishment of Israel in 1948 was seen as the beginning of the return of Jesus. With Jews back in their homeland, all Jews can now return to Israel. Then, as the Book of Revelation predicts, there will be an epic battle that will take place in Israel, commonly referred to as Armageddon, in which good triumphs evil, two-thirds of the Jews in Israel die, the other third converts to Christianity, and then Jesus rules for 1,000 years as king.
That very reason frightens some Jews, and hence, the relationship becomes more terrifying than anything else. If history is any indication of what the future holds, Jews have been persecuted under the pretext of Christianity more than for any other reason. That is what sticks in the craws of those intellectuals who would paint every Republican with one big brush. Notwithstanding, some of the broadest support for Israel today comes from evangelical Christians such as Pastor John Hagee and his 70,000 strong, Christians United for Israel.
As for the issues that often mire these races, like abortion rights or marriage equality, Jews usually align themselves with the Democrats even though personally, most would not support either. These issues do not rank so high for Jews, and one possible answer is that Jews employ a “live and let live” attitude toward politics; believing that, for them to enjoy their rights, they have to fight for every other as well. Another answer, is that issues like those are usually not widespread within Jewish communities, and, when they do come up, are simply dealt with without too much community involvement.
As for Israel and this President, on paper and by all practical measures, President Obama certainly has done right by Israel. Yet he and his aides have managed to say and do things that cause serious doubt even among those who want to believe him. The latest is his refusal to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, even after the Jerusalem fiasco at the Democratic Convention last week, and the apparent apology on Wednesday to the Muslim community after a Libyan mob killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens over a Youtube movie appeared mocking Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
There is this rampant gut feeling going around certain circles that Obama is not a true supporter, and in fact, an apologist for Islamic outrage, and that he just did what was politically expedient. If so, and assuming Obama is re-elected in November, he will be free of ever again having to face Jewish voters. That means that he will be freer than he is now to follow his heart rather than his politics — and if his heart is in a different place from where his politics have been, a second Obama term could be a very bad time for Israel.
The notion that Jews have a party is erroneous. The old-time fear of who and what the Republicans might be is an American, not a worldwide, phenomenon, rooted deeper in many years of political associations than religious dogma – which can be readily aligned with either party, depending on the issue. The attachment to Democrats may be lost if President Obama is seen as a hindrance for Israel and Jews. But in the end, Jews will vote for who they feel can serve their community’s needs better, and also who will act on Israel as they hope.