American Jews in politics
While earlier Jewish immigrants from Germany tended to be politically conservative, the wave of Eastern European Jews, starting in the early 1880s, were generally more liberal or left-wing, and became the political majority. Many of the latter moved to America with experience in the socialist, anarchist, and communist movements as well as the Labor Bund, emanating from Eastern Europe. Many Jews rose to leadership positions in the early 20th century American labor movement, and helped to found unions that played a major role in left-wing politics and, after 1936, in Democratic Party politics. For most of the 20th century since 1936, the vast majority of Jews in the United States have been aligned with the Democratic Party. Towards the end of the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 21st century, Republicans have launched initiatives to persuade American Jews to support Republican policies.
Over the past century, Jews in Europe and the Americas have traditionally tended towards the political left, and played key roles in the birth of the labor movement as well as socialism. While Diaspora Jews have also been represented in the conservative side of the political spectrum, even politically conservative Jews have tended to support pluralism more consistently than many other elements of the political right.
The divide between right and left correlates to the various religious movements among American Jews. The more socially conservative movements in American Judaism (the Orthodox movement and various haredi sects, but not the Conservative movement) tend to be politically conservative, while the majority movements (Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist) tend to be more politically liberal or left-leaning.
There are also a number of Jewish secular organizations at the local, national, and international levels. These organizations often play an important part in the Jewish community. Most of the largest groups, such as Hadassah and the United Jewish Communities, have an elected leadership. No one secular group represents the entire Jewish community, and there is often significant internal debate among Jews about the stances these organizations take on affairs dealing with the Jewish community as a whole, such as anti-Semitism and Israeli policies. In the United States and Canada today, the mainly secular United Jewish Communities (UJC), formerly known as the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), represents over 150 Jewish Federations and 400 independent communities across North America. Every major American city has its local "Jewish Federation", and many have sophisticated community centers and provide services, mainly health care-related. They raise record sums of money for philanthropic and humanitarian causes in North America and Israel. Other organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Zionist Organization of America, Americans for a safe Israel, B'nai B'rith, and Agudath Israel represent different segments of the American Jewish community on a variety of issues.
With the influx of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe many members of the Jewish community were attracted to labor and socialist movements and numerous Jewish newspapers such as Forwerts and Morgen Freiheit had a socialist or communist orientation. Left wing organizations such as the Arbeter Ring and the Jewish People's Fraternal Order played an important part in Jewish community life until World War II.
Liberal Jewish Americans were not just involved in nearly every important social movement, but in the forefront of promoting such issues as workers rights, civil rights, woman's rights, gay rights, freedom of religion, freedom from religion, peace movements, and various other progressive causes.
Although American Jews generally leaned Republican in the second half of the 19th century, the majority has voted Democratic or leftist since at least 1916, when they voted 55% for Woodrow Wilson. In 1940 and 1944, 90% of American Jews voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 75% voted for Harry S. Truman in 1948, despite both party platforms supporting the creation of a Jewish state in the latter two elections. During the 1952 and 1956 elections, they voted 60% or more for Adlai Stevenson, while General Eisenhower garnered 40% for his reelection; the best showing to date for the Republicans since Harding's 43% in 1920. In 1960, 83% voted for Democrat John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic, versus Richard Nixon, and in 1964, 90% of American Jews voted for Lyndon Johnson; his Republican opponent, arch-conservative Barry Goldwater, was a Protestant with a Jewish father. Hubert Humphrey garnered 81% of the Jewish vote in the 1968 elections, in his losing bid for president against Richard Nixon.
During the Nixon re-election campaign of 1972, Jewish voters were apprehensive about George McGovern, and only favored the Democrat by 65%, while Nixon more than doubled Jewish support for Republicans to 35%. In the election of 1976, Jewish voters supported Democrat Jimmy Carter by 71% over incumbent president Gerald Ford's 27%, but during the Carter re-election campaign of 1980, Jewish voters greatly abandoned the Democrat, with only 45% support, while Republican winner, Ronald Reagan, garnered 39%, and 14% went to independent John Anderson.
During the Reagan re-election campaign of 1984, the Republican retained 31% of the Jewish vote, while 67% voted for Democrat Walter Mondale. The 1988 election saw Jewish voters favor Democrat Michael Dukakis by 64%, while George Bush Sr. polled a respectable 35%, but during his re-election in 1992, Jewish support dropped to just 11%, with 80%, voting for Bill Clinton and 9% going to independent Ross Perot. Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996 maintained high Jewish support at 78%, with 16% supporting Robert Dole and 3% for Perot.
The elections of 2000 and 2004 saw continued Jewish support for Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry, another Catholic candidate, remain in the high- to mid-70% range, while Republican George W Bush's re-election in 2004 saw Jewish support rise from 19% to 24%. In the 2000 presidential election, Joe Lieberman became the first Jewish American to run for national office on a major party ticket when he was chosen as Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's vice-presidential nominee.
In the 2008 presidential election, 78% of Jews voted for Barack Obama, who became the first African-American to be elected president. Polls indicate during this election, 83% of white Jews voted for Obama compared to just 34% of white Protestants and 47% of white Catholics, though 67% of white people identifying with another religion and 71% identifying with no religion also voted Obama. In the 2012 presidential election, 68% of Jews voted for Barack Obama. In the 2016 Election, 71% of Jews voted for Hillary Clinton.
Of the 2016 and 2020 presidential candidates, many front runners were either married to Jews, had children who were married to Jews, or were Jews themselves. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Michael Bloomberg, and Marianne Williamson are Jewish. Michael Bennet's mother is Jewish. Beto O'Rourke and Kamala Harris are married to Jews. Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and married Jewish real estate developer Jared Kushner. Both have been active in Trump's administration. Bill and Hillary Clinton's daughter Chelsea Clinton married Jewish investor Marc Mezvinsky, the son of U.S. Representative and felon Edward Mezvinsky. Lastly all three of Joe Biden's children who lived into adulthood married Jews.
United States Congress
For Congressional and Senate races, since 1968, American Jews have voted about 70–80% for Democrats; this support increased to 87% for Democratic House candidates during the 2006 elections. Currently, there are 10 Jews among 100 U.S. Senators: 9 Democrats (Michael Bennet, Richard Blumenthal, Ben Cardin, Dianne Feinstein, Brian Schatz, Chuck Schumer, Ron Wyden, Jacky Rosen and Jon Ossoff), and one of the Senate's two independents, (Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats).
During the American Civil War, Jews were divided in their views of slavery and abolition. Prior to 1861, there were virtually no rabbinical sermons on slavery. The silence on this issue was probably a result of fear that the controversy would create conflict within the Jewish community. Jews were pivotal in ending slavery. Some Jews owned slaves or traded them, and the livelihoods of many in the Jewish community of both the North and South were tied to the slave system. Most southern Jews supported slavery, and some, like Judah P. Benjamin, advocated its expansion. The abolitionist Ben Wade, who knew Benjamin in the U.S. Senate, described him as "an Israelite with Egyptian principles". Northern Jews sympathized with the South, and very few were abolitionists, seeking peace and remaining silent on the subject of slavery. America's largest Jewish community, New York's Jews, were "overwhelmingly pro-southern, pro-slavery, and anti-Lincoln in the early years of the war". However, eventually, they began to lean politically toward "Father Abraham", his Republican party, and emancipation.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, many American Jews have been very active in fighting prejudice and discrimination, and have historically been active participants in movements for civil rights, including active support of and participation in the Civil Rights Movement, active support of and participation in the labor rights movement, and active support of and participation in the women's rights movement.
Seymour Siegel suggests that the historic struggle against prejudice faced by Jews led to a natural sympathy for any people confronting discrimination. Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, stated the following when he spoke from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial during the famous March on Washington on August 28, 1963: "As Jews, we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a twofold experience - one of the spirit and one of our history ... From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years, we say: Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages, my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe ... It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is, above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions, a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience."
American Jews (and Jews worldwide) began taking a special interest in international affairs in the early twentieth century, especially regarding their co-religionists persecution during pogroms in Imperial Russia, and later, regarding increasing restrictions on immigration in the 1920s. This period is also synchronous with the development of political Zionism, as well as the Balfour Declaration, which gave Zionism its first official recognition.
During the 1930s, large-scale boycotts of German merchandise were organized; this period was synchronous with the rise of Fascism in Europe. Franklin D. Roosevelt's leftist domestic policies received strong Jewish support in the 1930s and 1940s, as did his foreign policies and the subsequent founding of the United Nations. Support for political Zionism in this period, although growing in influence, remained a distinctly minority opinion. The founding of Israel in 1948 made the Middle East a center of attention; the immediate recognition of Israel by the American government was an indication of both its intrinsic support and the influence of political Zionism.
This attention initially was based on a natural and religious affinity toward, and support for, Israel and world Jewry. The attention is also because of the ensuing and unresolved conflicts regarding the founding Israel and Zionism itself. A lively internal debate commenced, following the Six-Day War. The American Jewish community was divided over whether or not they agreed with the Israeli response; the great majority came to accept the war as necessary. A tension existed especially for leftist Jews, between their liberal ideology and (rightist) Zionist backing in the midst of this conflict. This deliberation about the Six-Day War showed the depth and complexity of Jewish responses to the varied events of the 1960s. Similar tensions were aroused by the 1977 election of Begin and the rise of revisionist policies, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Disagreement over Israel's 1993 acceptance of the Oslo Accords caused a further split among American Jews; This mirrored a similar split among Israelis, and led to a parallel rift within the pro-Israel lobby.
A 2004 poll indicated that a majority of Jewish Americans favored the creation of an independent Palestinian state and believed that Israel should remove some or all of its settlements from the West Bank. Even though some felt that Israeli security was among the motivations for American intervention in Iraq, Jews were less supportive of the Iraq War than Americans as a whole. At the beginning of the conflict, Arab Americans were more supportive of the Iraq War than American Jews were (although both groups were less supportive of it than the general population).
Because of the emotional connection many Jews have for Israel, the issue has generated strong passions among both left-wing and right-wing Jews. There is a significant Jewish presence in the disparate political movement known as the "liberal hawks" or the pro-war Left, which, while strongly committed to liberal or leftist social domestic policy, also supports a liberal interventionist, hawkish or right-wing pro-Israel foreign policy for the United States. (Examples include Joe Lieberman, Christopher Hitchens, many of the contributors to Dissent magazine, and many of the signatories of the Euston Manifesto.) At the same time, there is a significant Jewish presence in the pro-Palestinian movement, including Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, and Judith Butler.
The "Israel lobby" is the diverse coalition of groups and individuals seeking to influence the foreign policy of the United States in support of Zionism, Israel or the specific policies of its elected government. These organizations have included political, secular, and religious groups of Jewish-Americans, as well as non-Jewish organizations of political, secular, and religious Christian Americans. These groups have reportedly increased in size and influence over the years. The term itself has been subject to debate and criticism over the years, concerning its clarity and exact definition.
Jews are divided in their opinion of Trump's handling of the Israel Palestine conflict.
Today, American Jews are a distinctive and influential group in the nation's politics. Jeffrey S. Helmreich writes that the ability of American Jews to affect this through political or financial clout is overestimated, and that the primary influence lies in the group's voting patterns.
According to a 2017 survey, fifty-four percent of Orthodox Jews say they voted for Trump, according to a new survey by the American Jewish Committee, or AJC. That was well above 24 percent of Conservative Jews, 10 percent of Reform Jews, 8 percent of Reconstructionist Jews and 14 percent of respondents who identify themselves as “just Jewish.”
"Jews have devoted themselves to politics with almost religious fervor", writes Mitchell Bard, who adds that Jews have the highest percentage voter turnout of any ethnic group. While 2–2.5% of the United States population is Jewish, 94% live in 13 key electoral college states, which combined have enough electors to elect the president. Though the majority (60–70%) of the country's Jews identify as Democratic, Jews span the political spectrum, and Helmreich describes them as "a uniquely swayable bloc" as a result of Republican stances on Israel. A paper by Dr. Eric Uslaner of the University of Maryland disagrees, at least with regard to the 2004 election: "Only 15% of Jews said that Israel was a key voting issue. Among those voters, 55% voted for Kerry (compared to 83% of Jewish voters not concerned with Israel)." The paper goes on to point out that negative views of Evangelical Christians had a distinctly negative impact for Republicans among Jewish voters, while Orthodox Jews, traditionally more conservative in outlook as to social issues, favored the Republican Party. A New York Times article suggests that the Jewish movement to the Republican party is focused heavily on faith-based issues, similar to the Catholic vote, which is credited for helping President Bush taking Florida in 2004.
Though critics have charged that Jewish interests were partially responsible for the push to war with Iraq, Jewish Americans were actually more strongly opposed to the Iraq War than any other major religious group or even most Americans. As noted above, they were even more opposed than Arab Americans. The greater opposition to the war is not simply a result of high Democratic identification among U.S. Jews, as Jews of all political persuasions are more likely to oppose the war than non-Jews who share the same political leanings. The widespread Jewish opposition to the war in Iraq is also not simply a matter of the majority of Americans now also opposing the war because the majority of Jews already opposed the war in 2003 and 2004 when most Americans did not.
Owing to high Democratic identification in the 2008 United States presidential election, 78% of Jews voted for Democrat Barack Obama, versus 21% for Republican John McCain, despite Republican attempts to connect Obama to Muslim and pro-Palestinian causes. It has been suggested that running mate Sarah Palin's conservative views on social issues may have nudged Jews away from the McCain-Palin ticket. Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, is Jewish, as is his former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel.
American Jews are largely supportive of gay rights, though a split exists within the group by observance. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews are far more supportive on issues like gay marriage than Orthodox Jews are. A 2007 survey of Conservative Jewish leaders and activists showed that an overwhelming majority now supports gay rabbinical ordination and same-sex marriage. Accordingly, 78% percent of Jewish voters rejected Proposition 8, the bill which banned gay marriage in California. No other ethnic or religious group voted as strongly against it.
Jews in America also overwhelmingly oppose current United States marijuana policy. 86% of Jewish Americans opposed arresting non-violent marijuana smokers, compared to 61% for the population at large and 68% of all Democrats. Additionally, 85% of Jews in the United States opposed using federal law enforcement to close patient cooperatives for medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal, compared to 67% of the population at large and 73% of Democrats.
In the 2012 presidential election, support for Democrats fell by 9 percentage, while support for Republicans increased by the same percentage. The American Jewish vote for President Barack Obama fell from 78 percent to 69 percent in 2012. Obama's opponent in 2008, John McCain, received the support of 21 percent of Jewish, whereas Mitt Romney increased that share to 30 percent in 2012.
Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary on February 9, 2016, by 22.4% of the vote (60.4% to Hillary Clinton's 38.0%). "Sanders, a self-identified democratic socialist, has repeatedly described himself as a secular Jew. ... " (Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, was the first winner of Jewish heritage, but was a Christian).
In the 2018 midterms, Jews were again the most Democratic group as designated by religious identity, with 79% voting for the Democrats while 17% voted for the Republicans.
- African Americans
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- List of Jewish political milestones in the United States
- Jewish right
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- List of Jewish members of the United States Congress
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- Danny Ben-Moshe, Zohar Segev, Israel, the Diaspora, and Jewish Identity, Published by Sussex Academic Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84519-189-7, Chapter 7, The Changing Identity of American Jews, Israel and the Peace Process, by Ofira Seliktar, p. 126 .
The 1993 Oslo Agreement made this split in the Jewish community official. Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's handshake with Yasir Arafat during the 13 September White House ceremony elicited dramatically opposed reactions among American Jews. To the liberal universalists, the accord was highly welcome news. As one commentator put it, after a year of tension between Israel and the United States, "there was an audible sigh of relief from American and Jewish liberals. Once again, they could support Israel as good Jews, committed liberals, and loyal Americans." The community "could embrace the Jewish state, without compromising either its liberalism or its patriotism". Hidden deeper in this collective sense of relief was the hope that, following the peace with the Palestinians, Israel would transform itself into a Western-style liberal democracy, featuring a full separation between the state and religion. Not accidentally, many of the leading advocates of Oslo, including Yossi Beilin, the then-Deputy Foreign Minister, cherish the belief that a "normalized" Israel would become less Jewish and more democratic. However, to the hard-core Zionists - the Orthodox community and right-wing Jews - the peace treaty amounted to what some dubbed the "handshake earthquake". From the perspective of the Orthodox, Oslo was not just an affront to the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, but also a personal threat to the Orthodox settlers - often kin or former congregants - in the West Bank and Gaza. For Jewish nationalists such as Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist organization of America, and Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, the peace treaty amounted to an appeasement of Palestinian terrorism. They and others repeatedly warned that the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) would pose a serious security threat to Israel.</blockqoute>
- Danny Ben-Moshe, Zohar Segev, Israel, the Diaspora, and Jewish Identity, Sussex Academic Press, 2007, ISBN 1-84519-189-7, Chapter 7, The Changing Identity of American Jews, Israel and the Peace Process, by Ofira Seliktar, p. 126
Abandoning any pretense of unity, both segments began to develop separate advocacy and lobbying organizations. The liberal supporters of the Oslo Accord worked through Americans for Peace Now (APN), Israel Policy Forum (IPF), and other groups friendly to the Labour government in Israel. They tried to assure Congress that American Jewry was behind the Accord, and defended the efforts of the administration to help the fledgling Palestinian authority (PA), including promises of financial aid. In a battle for public opinion, IPF commissioned a number of polls showing widespread support for Oslo among the community.
Working on the other side of the fence, a host of Orthodox groups, such as ZOA, Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI), and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), launched a major public opinion campaign against Oslo. On 10 October 1993, the opponents of the Palestinian-Israeli accord, organized at the American Leadership Conference for a Safe Israel, where they warned that Israel was prostrating itself before a "an armed thug", and predicted that the "thirteenth of September is a date that will live in infamy". Hard-core Zionists also criticized, often in harsh language, Prime Minister Rabin and Shimon Peres, his foreign minister and chief architect of the peace accord. With the community so strongly divided, AIPAC and the Presidents Conference, which was tasked with representing the national Jewish consensus, struggled to keep the increasingly shrill discourse civil. Reflecting these tensions, Abraham Foxman from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League was forced by the conference to apologize for bad mouthing ZOA's Klein. The Conference, which under its organizational guidelines was in charge of moderating communal discourse, reluctantly censured some Orthodox spokespeople for attacking Colette Avital, the labor-appointed Israel Council General in New York and an ardent supporter of the peace process.
- Middle East Review of International Affairs, Journal, Volume 6, No. 1 - March 2002, Scott Lasensky, Underwriting Peace in the Middle East: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Limits of Economic Inducements Archived April 22, 2002, at the Wayback Machine
The Palestinian aid effort was certainly not helped by the heated debate that quickly developed inside the Beltway. Not only was the Israeli electorate divided on the Oslo accords, but so, too, was the American Jewish community, particularly at the leadership level and among the major New York and Washington-based public interest groups. U.S. Jews opposed to Oslo teamed up with Israelis "who brought their domestic issues to Washington", and together they pursued a campaign that focused most of its attention on Congress and the aid program. The dynamic was new to Washington. The Administration, the Rabin-Peres government, and some American Jewish groups teamed on one side, while Israeli opposition groups and anti-Oslo American Jewish organizations pulled Congress in the other direction.
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