Why Jews keep voting against themselves

More than three-quarters of U.S. Jews voted for Obama. Only four per cent of Israel’s Jews support him.

Remember when there were seats to lie down on in airports? Now everything has fixed arms, a barrier to anything but stern upright positions. A 10-hour delay last Saturday in Fort Lauderdale airport was quite a stretch with naught to stretch on except two tiny units of armless seats coveted by 154 stranded passengers.

Happily, I had just purchased a jolly good book. Less fortunately, it had a flypaper title: in bold large letters on a white background it read Why Are Jews Liberals?

Now I know it is possible loads of people, perhaps a majority, have never met a Jew as far as they know, couldn’t care less about Israel and are sick of Jewish talking-and-writing heads endlessly discussing themselves. But I was in Florida.

“Is it a good book?” asked a fellow strandee. Absolutely terrific, I replied, which it is because Norman Podhoretz is a splendid writer, and irrespective of politics that surface in the second half of the book, the first half is a fascinating synopsis of Jewish history. “What’s the reason you’re a liberal?” I asked, knowing instinctively he was Jewish and if American, a rigorous Democrat and if Canadian, never further right wing than the Liberals—even when they were carefully supporting most UN condemnations of Israel or at best abstaining. “I suppose,” he replied, “it’s a Jewish tradition to care about the underprivileged and policies to help them.” Bingo.

Generally speaking, most Jews justify their voting this way. About 80 per cent of Jews vote Democrat in the States and Liberal or NDP in Canada, largely in the belief they are voting for the party that has best helped the oppressed—a big leap—and will continue to do so—an even bigger one. Podhoretz’s thesis is that they are, unlike any other group, voting against their own best interests and survival, or in the epigram of professor Milton Himmelfarb, “They earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans” (though as Podhoretz points out, Episcopalians may no longer be the richest nor Puerto Ricans the poorest). I’d add that in voting left these days, Jews are also voting against the interests of the poor and the underdogs of our society.

I suppose most Jews vote against their own interests for the simple reason they don’t know their own interests. Jews vote for affirmative action for disadvantaged groups. This supports quotas, which disadvantage Jews given their percentage in the population and their achievement educationally. Quotas and the barriers they erect to equality are one of the reasons their grandparents came to America. Jews vote left for “tolerance,” not heeding that at present, intolerance flourishes most strongly on the left, which censors speech, debate and Israel. They vote for the left because they believe it will take care of the poor without understanding that left-wing economic policies today cripple the ability of society to help the poor as well as the ability of the wealthy, Jewish or Gentile, to earn the money they want to donate.

More than three-quarters of American Jews voted for Barack Obama and even now 64 per cent support him. In Israel, according to one recent poll, only four per cent of their Jews support him. Israelis, for whom the selection of an American president could always mean life or death—and at this moment in history with a nuclear Iran and Islamism on the march never more so—are not inclined to vote on the basis of fashion or oratory.

North American Jews may think that American policies toward Israel are not high on their worry list for all sorts of reasons. These include a determination never to be accused of dual loyalties; a desire for social acceptance that the support of Israel may preclude in some quarters (Barbra Streisand cancelled her long-standing appearance last year at Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations for unspecified reasons); even a personal embarrassment over the existence of Israel. There may even be some who feel that Israel is not good for the Jews: it has become a lightning rod for anti-Semitism instead of the lifeboat it was intended to be. Jews seem not to understand that whatever their views about Israel’s policies—which can most certainly be the subject of legitimate dispute—the elimination of Israel now, whether by force or demographics, would constitute a crippling blow to Judaism inside and outside the country. If eliminating the Jewish state is successful, Islamism will have won a major victory. Without a homeland, Jews will have no coherent defence against the lies and calumnies that will then be circulated about the former Israel and rebound on the world’s remaining Jews. Burgeoning anti-Semitism, barely restrained now, will have clear sailing.

How did we get here? Podhoretz’s theory is that the Jewish intellectuals and political leaders from eastern Europe who came to America had stopped believing in the God of Judaism and replaced it with the Torah of Marxism. When that failed it was replaced by an unshakable belief that contemporary liberalism was identical with the impulses of the Torah. But whatever tikkun olah (Hebrew for “repair of the world”), always cited by Jews as the reason for their support of the left, means in the Torah, I doubt that it means supporting anti-business policies, anti-family values and a growing movement that is inhospitable—to say the least—to Israel.

Jews have an understandable worry built in from their history about religious fanaticism and right-wing politics. This leads them to spurn their strongest allies, which today are evangelical Christians. In postwar politics they never voted in any numbers for Israel’s strongest presidential allies, Nixon and Bush Jr. But Jews might be wise to remember Lord Palmerston’s observation about England having no eternal friends, only eternal interests. There is little point worrying about who was the enemy last decade or who is going to be the enemy the day after tomorrow. They need to find out who is the enemy—or friend—today. Fast.

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