Jews love Israel but don’t vote on it, and other things everyone gets wrong
This week, the non-partisan Jewish Electorate Institute released a poll squarely aimed at the politics of Jewish American voters. Its conclusions offer a roundhouse refutation to the alarmists of all political stripes who insist that American Jews are a community in need of a politics of extremism.
The first major finding is that American Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic, this despite overt Trump Administration efforts to court Jews, and even the President’s own claim that Democratic affiliation is a prescription for disloyalty.
This tenacity suggests that party affiliation is remarkably sticky; the ascension of Democrats like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, each of whom has flirted with anti-Semitism, seems to have made little difference. Likewise, President Trump’s pro-Israel foreign policy swerve has not overturned the electoral table.
Is the persistent identification of Jews with the Democratic Party a thriving long term relationship, or a community suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? You’ll find people arguing for both. But it’s undeniable that by and large, American Jews see the Trump Administration as more foe than ally in the fight against anti-Semitism; 56% of Jews believe he is “at least partially to blame” for the attacks on synagogues that have left 12 Jews dead.
In other words, despite much ink spilled of late about the political homelessness of American Jews, with predictions abounding that they will be switching sides and voting for Trump, American Jews don’t see themselves that way. The poll suggests a deep tie to the Democratic Party that neither “the Squad” nor Bernie Sanders has shaken.
But if the right is wrong about the homelessness of American Jews, the left is wrong that anti-Zionism is a gathering wave. The poll also found that 91% of American Jews describe themselves as pro-Israel.
This means that the claims of groups who have adopted an attitude of extreme hostility to the Jewish State are firmly out of the mainstream. Their efforts to urge boycotts of groups like AIPAC is not a push towards being representative; it is an attempted coup.
It also means that the effort to disentangle Zionism from Judaism so that the former can bludgeoned in isolation runs up against the vast, vast majority of Jews who see them as entirely intertwined. There is precious little torment or existential dread to be found, despite a healthy share of criticism.
But certainly the most remarkable thing the poll uncovered is the coexistence of this near unanimous support for Israel with the fact that American Jews rate it as their least important issue when choosing a candidate; as top issues, Jews, like other Americans, rated healthcare, social security, and jobs. They also ranked anti-Semitism, gun control, reproductive rights, and climate change above Israel. 32% ranked Israel as not at all important to how they select a candidate.
This paradox, of being overwhelming pro-Israel while refusing to honor that sentiment with a vote, show that the charge of dual loyalty is not wrong because it is a smear; it’s wrong because it’s factually incorrect.
Like Messiah-watchers, there are always those on the lookout for the big shift in Jewish American politics, but American Jews are more boring and steady than many would have us believe: We vote like we are in arranged marriages rather than swiping on Bumble. And there might be good reasons for this, a kind of hardwired set of values that persist over time, and are resilient to more immediate calculations of loss and gain.
But perhaps this placid surface is misleading. If the Jews aren’t changing, the world around them is. Sometimes, a community’s mettle is earned by its ability to pivot, its ability to see the seeds of the future confusingly scattered in the muddle of the present. These numbers suggest a Jewish world in steady state, locked in cruise control. They’re sticking with the Democrats and sticking with Israel, although let’s not be crazy, of course social security comes first. They’ll vote against Trump en masse. They’ll stick with Bernie, when push comes to shove.
Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist for the Forward.