Why do American Jews vote for Democrats?

For all those who have wondered how American Jews could support the Democrats, let me explain.  It has to do with history and psychology.

First, let's remember that humans are entirely emotional creatures.  We make almost all of our decisions based on emotions and then use logic and reason to justify our emotional choices.  Jews, being human, do the same thing.

When the Jews began immigrating to America by the millions between 1880 and 1920, they were escaping the pogroms (anti-Jewish riots that included arsons, rapes, and murders) in Russia and Poland (then part of Russia).  They arrived in New York City with just about nothing and found themselves living in the impoverished and violent slums of New York's 5-Points and Lower East Side neighborhoods.  The only jobs they could get were in the garment industry's sweat shops, where they toiled for 12 or 14 hours a day for only pennies.  Life was miserable, and there was no way to escape.

But then, on March 25, 1911, something happened that changed everything.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught on fire while it was filled with impoverished Jewish workers, almost all of whom were women.  Those workers were unable to leave the building because the emergency exits had been locked to prevent the workers from stepping outside for a smoke.  One hundred forty-six garment workers died that day due to fire or smoke or jumping through windows several stories high down to the cold, hard pavement.

The Jewish community in NYC then exploded in outrage.  New York was overwhelmed by demonstrations demanding reforms.  The Jewish community joined the movement to unionize New York's garment industry, a movement that was strongly supported by the Democrats but resisted by the Republicans.  The decision to do that was, of course, totally emotional.  And those strong emotions became part of the American Jewish psyche.  Democrats were presumed to be for the little guy, and Republicans were assumed to be rich, white men.  The Jewish community (other than the Orthodox) and the Democrats became joined at the hip.  The majority of Jewish families taught its kids to vote Democrat for justice for the little guy.  Voting Democrat became a part of Jewish culture in America.

That Jewish emotional attachment to the Democrats has continued for generations even though most American Jews today have never heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  As time went by and the community became less religious, "progressive" politics replaced Judaism and God.  Their new gods (idols, really) became Democrat leaders, and their new religion became progressivism.  Emotionally, the community is still right where it was back in 1911, despite the fact that America has changed and the Democrats have really changed.  Most of the Jewish community is now so identified with progressivism that 70 percent of American Jews now vote for Democrats.  To do that, they have to deny the Democrats' Jew-hate and Israel-hate, and so they do.  Like all humans, they see what they want to see and ignore that which they don't want to see.

That's why, if you ask a Jewish Democrat how he feels about the Jew-hate in the Democratic Party, he will probably scream insults at you but never touch the subject you brought up.  (That's happened to me numerous times.)  These Jews just can't let anything disturb the comfortable delusion that they inherited from their parents and grandparents that the Democrats are for the little guy, especially the Jews.

But times have changed, and they are wrong.  Today, the big issue is the survival of Israel, and it is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who are on our side.  

Nonetheless, due to the long historical and psychological connection between American Jews and the Democrats, it's likely to be a long time before that link is broken.

Pete Cohon is a retired attorney living in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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