Explaining Jewish Liberalism

Whenever I spend time with fellow conservatives at an event, I always come away inspired and optimistic about the future. If you don't periodically take the time to mingle with like-mindeds, I suggest you give it a whirl. You will emerge invigorated, infused with a sense of validation, and feel so grounded in your principles that you will be empowered to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

But most of all, as an American Jew who is conservative politically, I’m always heartened by the enthusiasm conservatives express for Israel. Their embrace of the tiny Jewish state serves as a kind of safe zone amidst the unjust accusations, revised history, threats, and acrimony. Surrounded by this nurturing force field, stands an alliance whose long-awaited arrival is born of generations of misunderstandings and barriers that have finally crumbled. Our collective love of G-d, respect for the rule of law, and desire to be guided by our better angels has proved a powerful force that, like Dorothy’s ruby reds, was there all along.

When I’m in attendance at conservative events, I’m invariably and understandably asked the proverbial question: Why are so many Jews liberal and why do they support Obama? I always try to answer as best I can, given the fact there is no simple answer. Jews are no different than any other group -- we have free will and independent thought, and do not act, think, or vote in lockstep any more than Catholics, blacks, or homosexuals do.

But I think what is really lurking at the root of the question is wonderment at whether America's Jews truly love Israel the way America's conservatives do -- many of whom are Christian or had a Christian upbringing.

The short answer is yes, the majority of Jews in America love and support Israel. But, at the risk of sounding Clintonian, it depends on what you mean by "Jews".

Before I proceed, let me just state that this article is not a dissertation on what it is to be Jewish or even to answer the question posited above. Briefly, what makes a person Jewish is a complex question that has endured for centuries with many debatable answers. For some it’s whom you marry, for others it’s about bagels and lox; for some it’s about the extent of your piety, for others simply whether you had a Bar Mitzvah and were circumcised; for some it’s primarily a religion, for others a nation, for some a race; for some it’s about your support for Israel, for others whether you are kosher and observant. No wonder we coined the exclamation “Oy Veh!”

What many people -- even Jews themselves -- don’t realize, is that far left, progressive American Jews are generally secular and have little, if any, connection to or affinity with Judaism and Israel. Their stance on Israel is consistent with the usual progressive tropes about Israel's place in the geopolitical world -- as an oppressive, apartheid-like force illegally occupying Palestine. The Land of Milk and Honey has no religious or historical significance for these deracinated Jews, most of whom are agnostics and/or atheists, or just completely secularized. Although they readily acknowledge a Jewish heritage when probed, that heritage bears little, if any relevance, to their lives or world outlook. They simply share a past -- a culture and traditions, maybe religious worship, and perhaps even a gene pool, with G-d’s Chosen People. For them, “Jewish” is merely a designation that, only through the accident of birth and name, connects them to Einstein and Rubinstein.

With 58% of Jews intermarrying, close to 70% of non-religious Jews marrying non-Jewish spouses, and only 25% of their offspring self-identifying as Jewish, someone with the name Goldberg voting for and supporting Obama (or any other Democrat) might not be Jewish at all. 

This entire inquiry is akin to wondering why lapsed Catholics would vote for a president who supports gay marriage and abortion when such positions go against the Church -- a Church to whom they are no longer tied, espousing religious values and tenets that no longer guide their lives. Simply because one’s parents were engaged Jews or Catholics with a worldview informed by their religion, it is not a foregone conclusion that their religiosity and commitment will have translocated down to their offspring.

The point is, many people we assume are Jewish and have voted for Obama (and will probably vote for Hillary), really aren’t. Not all of America’s 5.7 million “Jews” identify as Jews or are motivated to vote in accordance with traditional Jewish values. Not only that. It is also quite likely that the millions of religious Jews who do vote for conservatives and support conservative principles, aren’t as vocal or politically engaged as their liberal counterparts and simply haven’t crossed paths with the millions of conservatives who are politically active.

As for America's run-of-the-mill liberal Jews -- Democrats who fully support Israel and self-identify as Jewish, are married to Jews, raise their children as Jews, and belong to a synagogue or participate in Jewish life -- there is undoubtedly a schism between their domestic and national security stances, and their concern for Israel. For conservatives, all three are inextricably connected but not so for the liberal who sees domestic politics through rose-colored glasses, national security issues through foggy lenses, and Israel through what appear to be crystal clear optics.

These are the Chuck Schumers and Dianne Feinsteins of America. As much as conservatives disagree with them, we should not lump them together with the secular progressive Jews when it comes to Israel -- even though their views are admittedly confounding. Do they love Israel? Yes. Do they want their president to support Israel as fervently as they do? Yes. Are they concerned when he does not? Yes, for the most part. Will that change their party affiliation or voting patterns or support for Obama? Probably not -- at least not until something cataclysmic happens.

Thankfully, support for Obama isn’t static among America’s Jews.As I write this, the latest Gallup Poll reports that the 77% of Jews who supported Obama in 2009 has plummeted to 54% today. Let’s hope they aren’t seduced by the false promises of Hillary.

I “get” secular progressive Jews -- their brand of “liberalism” is the only religion they follow. I don’t waste my breath arguing with them about Israel, or anything else. Like many of you, though, I don’t understand the run-of-the-mill Jewish liberals. In the best of all possible worlds, they would agree with conservatives not only regarding Israel, but on domestic and national security policies, as well. Alas, they do not.

Fact is, this article isn’t about them. It is about my conservative homies in the trenches who enthusiastically back the only freedom-loving country in the Middle East. These individuals mean the world to me.

At times, the future for Israel looks bleak. But it would look even bleaker if it weren’t for the support of America’s conservatives, Republicans, and the bulk of the Christian community.

These issues are complex and very difficult to write about. One invariably ends up generalizing and exceptions are bound to materialize. I’m sure there are secular, progressive Jews who, hands down, support Israel. And I’m sure there are conservatives, who don’t. But my intent here is not to thrust all of America’s Jews together in one voting basket or to answer the question posed above. I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer that fits all people and all scenarios at all times. And I’m not sure we need to continue to ask a question that has no real answer. If there was a cogent explanation that we could exploit to persuade liberal Jews to switch their vote -- in other words, a magic bullet -- then it might be worth our time and this would be a different article.

The takeaway from this article should be this: Israel-loving Jews stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our conservative, Republican, and Christian friends. We are there for you and you for us. We do not take support for Israel for granted. We understand the courage it takes to support the Jewish homeland and we are grateful for it. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our cholesterol-laden hearts.

Political ideology and party affiliation aside, we do this not because we find ourselves fighting common geopolitical and cultural enemies. We do this because we have mutual respect for one another, because we have a newfound camaraderie, and because we choose to walk down the same path towards a shared destiny, hand-in-hand, even though we might stop to smell different flowers along the way.

And while there has been confusion, torment, death, and discrimination throughout history, those demons are behind us. They serve only to remind us how grim life can be when we don’t understand and love, and how sweet it can be when we choose otherwise.