Silencing of the Liberal American Jew

We've Allowed Noisy Minorities To Censor Our Voices

Silencing Liberal Voices: A Miami synagogue recently scrapped a talk by Debbie Wasserman Schultz after a powerful member who is a Republican complained.
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Silencing Liberal Voices: A Miami synagogue recently scrapped a talk by Debbie Wasserman Schultz after a powerful member who is a Republican complained.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published June 05, 2012, issue of June 08, 2012.
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It’s often claimed that the changed stance of the community’s leaders must somehow reflect a changing mood in the pews. Not so. Two new surveys of American Jewish opinion, one conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute for the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the other by Professor Steven M. Cohen for the Workmen’s Circle, portray a community as committed as ever to its famously liberal values.

A confession is in order here, and a disclosure. I wrote about the Cummings survey a few weeks ago and got it wrong. I argued that because support for social issues — gender and minority rights — is stronger than economic liberalism, we’ve become a community of limousine liberals. I missed the fact that economic liberalism, while weaker, still runs above a healthy 60%. Social liberalism without workers’ rights represents just a thin slice of the community. And the disclosure: I found my error when comparing the Cummings survey with the soon-to-be-released Workmen’s Circle poll, to which I got an advance peek while doing consulting work for the Circle (I didn’t work on the survey).

Both surveys found majorities of around 90% favoring legal abortion in all or most cases and 70% to 80% backing same-sex marriage. No surprise there.

The surprise: The Cummings Foundation survey found that 73% of American Jews believe the nation’s economic system unfairly favors the wealthy. In the Workmen’s Circle survey, 62% agreed that the power of financial institutions poses a “major threat” to the nation’s economy (only 8% saw “no threat”). Both surveys found majorities or clear pluralities in favor of tougher environmental protection, “even at the cost of jobs.”

Both found overwhelming majorities favoring higher taxes on the wealthy. Tellingly, fewer than 50% in the Cummings survey were willing to pay higher taxes to increase aid to the poor — but that shifted as income rose. Among wealthier respondents, a majority were willing to pay more.

Most unexpectedly, the Workmen’s Circle survey asked whether respondents’ “first reaction” upon hearing of a strike is to side with the union or the company and found 61% backing the union, versus 39% for the company. By contrast, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey of Americans overall found 40% siding with the union and 43% with the company.

We’re often told that Jews are an insignificant minority of the American population, politically important only because of their money. In fact, current research indicates a Jewish population numbering about 6.5 million and rising — fewer than Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans or Methodists, but greater than Presbyterians, Episcopalians or Mormons. They represent close to 5 million votes, mostly concentrated in 11 states with a combined 177 electoral votes. They have long been an important voice for justice. It’s a pity that they let their voice be hijacked, diverted or cut off from allies by an unrepresentative minority.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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