Les juifs gagnent comme des épiscopaliens et votent comme des Portoricains. Milton Himmelfarb
Fuck the Jews ! They don’t vote for us anyway. James Baker (1992)
Voulez-vous que je retourne à mon avion? Jacques Chirac (aux agents de sécurité israéliens, octobre 1996)
Aujourd’hui, Sarkozy va encore plus loin qu’Obama dans la critique d’Ahmadinedjad ou dans la vénération d’Israël. Il est devenu, avec une guerre de retard, un « Bush à la française », comme l’a dit récemment l’hebdomadaire Marianne. Paul-Éric Blanrue
Et où une large majorité d’électeurs juifs (qui ont d’ailleurs voté pour lui à 78%) semblent continuer à soutenir quelqu’un qui est, du point de vue israélien et sans parler de son programme anti-économique, le pire président américain depuis Carter …
Retour, avec le commentateur Norman Podhoretz qui vient de lui consacrer un livre, sur cette fascinante communauté qui, selon le célèbre mot de Milton Himmelfarb, « gagne comme des Episcopaliens mais votent comme des Portoricains » …
Why Are Jews Liberals?
I’m hoping buyer’s remorse on Obama will finally cause a Jewish shift to the right.
The Wall Street Journal
September 10, 2009
One of the most extraordinary features of Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain was his capture of 78% of the Jewish vote. To be sure, there was nothing extraordinary about the number itself. Since 1928, the average Jewish vote for the Democrat in presidential elections has been an amazing 75%—far higher than that of any other ethno-religious group.
Yet there were reasons to think that it would be different in 2008. The main one was Israel. Despite some slippage in concern for Israel among American Jews, most of them were still telling pollsters that their votes would be strongly influenced by the positions of the two candidates on the Jewish state. This being the case, Mr. McCain’s long history of sympathy with Israel should have given him a distinct advantage over Mr. Obama, whose own history consisted of associating with outright enemies of the Jewish state like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the historian Rashid Khalidi.
Nevertheless, Mr. Obama beat Mr. McCain among Jewish voters by a staggering 57 points. Except for African Americans, who gave him 95% of their vote, Mr. Obama did far better with Jews than with any other ethnic or religious group. Thus the Jewish vote for him was 25 points higher than the 53% he scored with the electorate as a whole; 35 points higher than the 43% he scored with whites; 11 points higher than the 67% he scored with Hispanics; 33 points higher than the 45% he scored with Protestants; and 24 points higher than the 54% he scored with Catholics.
These numbers remind us of the extent to which the continued Jewish commitment to the Democratic Party has become an anomaly. All the other ethno-religious groups that, like the Jews, formed part of the coalition forged by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s have followed the rule that increasing prosperity generally leads to an increasing identification with the Republican Party. But not the Jews. As the late Jewish scholar Milton Himmelfarb said in the 1950s: « Jews earn like Episcopalians »—then the most prosperous minority group in America— »and vote like Puerto Ricans, » who were then the poorest.
Jews also remain far more heavily committed to the liberal agenda than any of their old ethno-religious New Deal partners. As the eminent sociologist Nathan Glazer has put it, « whatever the promptings of their economic interests, » Jews have consistently supported « increased government spending, expanded benefits to the poor and lower classes, greater regulations on business, and the power of organized labor. »
As with these old political and economic questions, so with the newer issues being fought out in the culture wars today. On abortion, gay rights, school prayer, gun control and assisted suicide, the survey data show that Jews are by far the most liberal of any group in America.
Most American Jews sincerely believe that their liberalism, together with their commitment to the Democratic Party as its main political vehicle, stems from the teachings of Judaism and reflects the heritage of « Jewish values. » But if this theory were valid, the Orthodox would be the most liberal sector of the Jewish community. After all, it is they who are most familiar with the Jewish religious tradition and who shape their lives around its commandments.
Yet the Orthodox enclaves are the only Jewish neighborhoods where Republican candidates get any votes to speak of. Even more telling is that on every single cultural issue, the Orthodox oppose the politically correct liberal positions taken by most other American Jews precisely because these positions conflict with Jewish law. To cite just a few examples: Jewish law permits abortion only to protect the life of the mother; it forbids sex between men; and it prohibits suicide (except when the only alternatives are forced conversion or incest).
The upshot is that in virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews. Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right. And to the dogmas and commandments of this religion they give the kind of steadfast devotion their forefathers gave to the religion of the Hebrew Bible. For many, moving to the right is invested with much the same horror their forefathers felt about conversion to Christianity.
All this applies most fully to Jews who are Jewish only in an ethnic sense. Indeed, many such secular Jews, when asked how they would define « a good Jew, » reply that it is equivalent to being a good liberal.
But avowed secularists are not the only Jews who confuse Judaism with liberalism; so do many non-Orthodox Jews who practice this or that traditional observance. It is not for nothing that a cruel wag has described the Reform movement—the largest of the religious denominations within the American Jewish community—as « the Democratic Party with holidays thrown in, » and the services in a Reform temple as « the Democratic Party at prayer. »
As a Jew who moved from left to right more than four decades ago, I have been hoping for many years that my fellow Jews would come to see that in contrast to what was the case in the past, our true friends are now located not among liberals, but among conservatives.
Of course in speaking of the difference between left and right, or between liberals and conservatives, I have in mind a divide wider than the conflict between Democrats and Republicans and deeper than electoral politics. The great issue between the two political communities is how they feel about the nature of American society. With all exceptions duly noted, I think it fair to say that what liberals mainly see when they look at this country is injustice and oppression of every kind—economic, social and political. By sharp contrast, conservatives see a nation shaped by a complex of traditions, principles and institutions that has afforded more freedom and, even factoring in periodic economic downturns, more prosperity to more of its citizens than in any society in human history. It follows that what liberals believe needs to be changed or discarded—and apologized for to other nations—is precisely what conservatives are dedicated to preserving, reinvigorating and proudly defending against attack.
In this realm, too, American Jewry surely belongs with the conservatives rather than the liberals. For the social, political and moral system that liberals wish to transform is the very system in and through which Jews found a home such as they had never discovered in all their forced wanderings throughout the centuries over the face of the earth.
The Jewish immigrants who began coming here from Eastern Europe in the 1880s were right to call America « the golden land. » They soon learned that there was no gold in the streets, as some of them may have imagined, which meant that they had to struggle, and struggle hard. But there was another, more precious kind of gold in America. There was freedom and there was opportunity. Blessed with these conditions, we children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these immigrants flourished—and not just in material terms—to an extent unmatched in the history of our people.
What I am saying is that if anything bears eloquent testimony to the infinitely precious virtues of the traditional American system, it is the Jewish experience in this country. Surely, then, we Jews ought to be joining with its defenders against those who are blind or indifferent or antagonistic to the philosophical principles, the moral values, and the socioeconomic institutions on whose health and vitality the traditional American system depends.
In 2008, we were faced with a candidate who ran to an unprecedented degree on the premise that the American system was seriously flawed and in desperate need of radical change—not to mention a record powerfully indicating that he would pursue policies dangerous to the security of Israel. Because of all this, I hoped that my fellow Jews would finally break free of the liberalism to which they have remained in thrall long past the point where it has served either their interests or their ideals.
That possibility having been resoundingly dashed, I now grasp for some encouragement from the signs that buyer’s remorse is beginning to set in among Jews, as it also seems to be doing among independents. Which is why I am hoping against hope that the exposure of Mr. Obama as a false messiah will at last open the eyes of my fellow Jews to the correlative falsity of the political creed he so perfectly personifies and to which they have for so long been so misguidedly loyal.
Mr. Podhoretz was the editor of Commentary from 1960 to 1995. His latest book, « Why Are Jews Liberals? » is just out from Doubleday.
Analysis: Obama and the Jewish vote
The Jerusalem Post
Aug. 27, 2009
There is a saying attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to the Chinese: « May you live in interesting times. » It is meant as a curse. The sage who sardonically coined the phrase may not have foreseen the calamities of our own day. Had he been so prescient, he might instead have opted for « May you live in riveting times » as more suitable for today’s zeitgeist.
Two issues are particularly interesting in our riveting times: radical Islam’s war against modernity and the West, directed primarily against the US and Israel, and government’s proper role in the world’s most innovative and prosperous economy, a question of acute resonance for a nation buffeted by an economic tempest.
The policies now crystallizing in the Obama administration will potentially have a long-term impact on America’s security, Israel’s security and Americans’ prosperity. The implications for the American Jewish community will likely be profound, meriting introspection. The fundamental question: Did American Jews, who overwhelmingly cast their lot with Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in the last election, vote in accord with, or contrary to, their foreign policy and economic self-interests?
Obama has signaled that he intends to « reset » US relations with the Muslim world. His premise, suggested both on the campaign trail and in office, has been that the rhetoric and actions of the Bush administration caused a sharp deterioration in US relations with much of the world, and that a more genial approach by the US will result in greater accommodation by America’s friends and foes. (Unabated Iranian and North Korean bellicosity, in spite of the change in presidents, points to a rapidly spreading crack in this premise, but the administration, for now, seems prepared to continue along this line of reasoning.)
Two different outcomes, located on opposite poles, may result from the administration’s approach. Under the optimistic scenario, the reset will pave the way for a diminution in discord in US-Islamic affairs and a reinvigorated Arab-Israeli peace process, one that will lead to long-term regional stability. Under the pessimistic scenario, radical Islamic forces will be emboldened by US appeasement, the US-Israel relationship will experience increasing friction and possible degradation and Israel will be pressured into making concessions that compromise its security.
The administration’s strategy consists of three elements. The first, the spearhead, is constructed of an adamantine faith in the power of dialogue and diplomacy and entails rhetorical appeals to the Muslim world. Instances of such outreach are by now legion: Obama’s first interview post-inauguration, on Arab television; his videotaped greeting to Iran earlier this year, sent for Iran’s holiday of Nowruz; his Cairo speech before the Muslim world; his reference to the « Islamic Republic » of Iran; his use of the honorific « supreme leader » in reference to Iran’s theo-dictator; his genuflection to the Saudi monarch; and a rhetorical shift that has all but banned talk of « terrorism » and the « war on terror » from the administration’s lexicon.
The second element, a corollary to the first, is its approach toward Israel. The signs of a change in tone have accumulated: the administration’s public statements on the cessation of natural growth in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank (in apparent contravention of oral understandings entered into between the Israeli government and the Bush administration); the public pronouncement by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller that Israel’s accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a goal of US policy; the linkage of efforts to stymie Iran’s deployment of nuclear weapons to Israeli flexibility in the peace process; the appointment to senior security positions of individuals who have exhibited antipathy toward Israel; and the exclusion of a stopover in Israel during the president’s trips to Turkey and Egypt. Indeed, some of the leaders of 16 Jewish organizations who met with Obama at the White House on July 13 expressed their concerns with his approach to Israel.
The third element, the bracket linking the Islamic and Israeli legs of the Obama strategy, consists of a deemphasis of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East, a strategic shift which nascent democratic movements in this troubled region may regard with some chagrin.
To be sure, the administration’s approach to Israel and the Muslim world has entailed a number of pronouncements that supporters of Israel and advocates of a muscular response to Islamic radicalism would applaud. In Cairo, Obama did offer criticism of the Muslim world. Furthermore, he reiterated before the Muslim world the strength and importance of the US-Israel relationship, describing the bond as « unbreakable. » Moreover, he offered encouraging words following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent speech in which he declared his conditional support for a two-state solution.
But the administration’s thinking on the great Middle Eastern trifecta of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran and the threat emanating from radical Islam appears often to be defined almost self-consciously in contradistinction to the policies of the Bush administration. And given that president George W. Bush was a staunch supporter of Israel and unabashedly confronted terrorism in his rhetoric and actions, it is not difficult to imagine that a foreign policy partly fashioned to distinguish itself from his policies could translate into a US stance less supportive of Israel and generally less favorable to Diaspora Jewish security interests.
Some would argue that none of this should come as a surprise to supporters of Israel, not least to those American Jews who voted for Obama. Robert Malley, one of Obama’s foreign policy advisers during the campaign, had penned political commentary for The New York Review of Books acrobatically absolving Yasser Arafat of primary blame for the breakdown of negotiations at Camp David in 2000 (on the heels of which the bloody second intifada followed). Obama’s long-time pastor Jeremiah Wright was considered to hold views hostile to Israel.
And Obama had an association at the University of Chicago with Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor of Middle East studies who was quoted as a PLO spokesman in some news reports from Beirut in 1982. (Khalidi does not deny that he was in Beirut and was quoted by the press at the time, but he does claim he was misidentified as a PLO employee in those various instances in which he was quoted.) Has a pattern developed that should concern supporters of Israel?
IRA FORMAN, chief executive officer of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), a group that promotes the Democratic Party in the Jewish community, and a former employee of AIPAC, thinks not. He sees no dissonance between the Jewish vote for Obama and Jewish self-interest with respect to Israel. Forman refers to Israel as a « threshold » issue for American Jews, and for the vast majority of American Jews, « Obama makes that threshold. »
Furthermore, he dismisses the contention that Obama’s past associations imply he is less than empathetic to Israel, arguing this is easily refuted by the close relations Obama has maintained with the Chicago Jewish community. And he strongly takes issue with the claim that a change in US policy toward Israel is in process, arguing that « the basic policy of the Obama administration is in line with the previous five administrations. »
With respect to Obama’s vigorous promotion of a peace process that some critics have seen as a process of unreciprocated Israeli concessions, Forman argues, « The absence of a peace process is detrimental not only to our [America’s] interest, but to Israel’s interest as well. »
Forman sees hypocrisy in those critics who fault Obama for pushing the peace process again. Some of the loudest voices from the Right attacking the Obama administration’s reinvigoration of the peace process, he points out, were silent when the Bush administration engaged in a revival of the peace process at Annapolis in 2007.
While Forman is an ardent defender of the Democrats’ stance on Israel, a number of nonpartisan surveys offer a decidedly less flattering picture of the views on Israel held by liberals and Democrats. One recent poll, conducted by Pew Research Center in January 2009, indicated significantly greater support for Israel among conservatives and Republicans than among liberals and Democrats. Sixty percent of self-described conservatives stated that their sympathies lie with Israel versus only 8% with the Palestinians. By contrast, only 33% of self-described liberals declared their sympathies lie with Israel versus 21% with the Palestinians. Viewed from a different perspective, close to twice as many conservatives as liberals sympathize with Israel. Breaking out the poll results by party affiliation, 69% of Republicans stated they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians; only 42% of Democrats stated they sympathize more with Israel.
Other surveys concur with these results. A study published in October 2008 by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University concluded that « the most committed Jewish supporters of Israel come in a variety of political colorations; but when they engage with their most passionate pro-Israel allies among non-Jews, they find counterparts with decidedly Republican and conservative inclinations. »
In addition, the Israeli public is highly skeptical about Obama’s views. A recent poll by Smith Research, sponsored by The Jerusalem Post, found that only 6% of Israelis believe Obama to be pro-Israel.
Counterintuitively, in spite of the greater sympathy Israel elicited among the Republican and conservative rank-and-file, 52% of American Jews surveyed by the American Jewish Committee in its 2008 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion said the Democratic Party « is more likely to make the right decision » regarding American support for Israel; only 32% believed the Republican Party would do so. (16% said they were « not sure. »)
MATTHEW BROOKS is executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a group that represents the Jewish community to Republican officials (but is not affiliated with the Republican Party), and is executive director of the Jewish Policy Center, a conservative think tank. In Brooks’s view, supporters of Israel should be very concerned about Obama’s stance on Israel. Obama has « taken the US-Israel relationship away from the policies of Bush, who was the most pro-Israel president in US history, » and brought about a « reincarnation of the Carter years. »
Brooks says that « this administration has a very different way of looking at the US-Israel relationship in a broader context in the Middle East, » a way that « doesn’t bode well for Israel. »
He cites as worrying signs the significant pressure the administration has applied on the issue of internal growth of settlements, pressure to conclude a peace agreement without regard for the costs to Israel, willingness to deal with a Palestinian unity government that will include Hamas and various pronouncements on Iran.
Brooks also argues that while one mustn’t lose sight of the distinction between peace and a peace process, whether or not a peace process is a virtuous activity « depends on whose peace process and what peace process. If you force the parties together regardless of issues of security and real peace, then that’s a bad peace process. » In contrast to Obama, « Bush understood you need a partner for peace and an end to the incitement for terror. »
Brooks does not see a viable partner on the Palestinian side today – not when rockets are fired from Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas is weak and Hamas rules.
THE DOVISH sentiment of the American Jewish mainstream may serve as one explanation for Jewish voting patterns that some say seem to run contrary to Jewish self-interest on the issue of Israel. This sentiment has deep roots in the Jewish community. When Jews were asked in the 1984 National Survey of American Jews if president Ronald Reagan « displayed poor judgment in calling the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,' » 66% agreed that he had displayed poor judgment, 25% disagreed with the statement and 9% were unsure.
In attempting to understand why so few American Jews could bring themselves to agree that the Soviet Union – an enemy of Israel, Judaism and Jewish cultural expression, not to mention freedom generally – was evil, Milton Himmelfarb, an astute observer of American Jewish political and social trends, wrote, « The cause of this oddity is that so many Jews are doves. »
Little has changed in 25 years. The following question was posed in the 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion conducted by the American Jewish Committee: « Would you support or oppose the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons? » Fifty-seven percent of Jews responded that they would oppose military action. Only 35% were supportive of military action.
The Jewish community’s dovish orientation is one among several explanatory factors. Here’s another: Many American Jews do not rank Israel particularly high in their assessment of their self-interest. The New York University study found that Israel ranked only eighth in importance out of 15 issues for Jewish voters, and that only 15% of Jewish voters ranked Israel among their three most important issues. (The study found a positive correlation between a respondent’s ranking of Israel as an important issue and the likelihood that the respondent would vote for John McCain, the Republican candidate, for president.) Furthermore, a decline in the strength of American Jewish sentiment toward Israel appears to have occurred over the last few years. In 2006, in a survey of American Jews by the American Jewish Committee, 37% said they felt « very close » to Israel. In 2007, the percentage dropped to 30%. In 2008, it dropped again, to 29%.
THE REDISTRIBUTION of wealth through higher taxes on the upper-middle class and on the affluent is one of the ideological lodestars of modern liberalism. It is difficult to gainsay that, in line with that ideology, the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress are attempting the greatest expansion of government’s role in the economy since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The administration is seeking to remake the health care and energy sectors, which constitute a very significant share of the economy; has taken ownership stakes in banks, insurance companies and car companies; and plans to oversee a massive increase in personal and capital gains taxes to pay for an unprecedented wave of federal spending. Additional taxes, such as a health care surtax on high earners, are now also under discussion in the Congress.
Some observers have sought to understand in what way is it in the interest of Jews, many of whom are members of the upper-middle and affluent classes, to vote for policies that will erode their own prosperity? Himmelfarb once highlighted this point by commenting that Jews « had the income of Episcopalians but voted like Hispanics. »
Forman maintains that Jewish voting patterns do not run in opposition to Jewish economic self-interest. He prefaces his argument by explaining that while income indeed correlated strongly with Republican voting patterns in the 1980s among the general population, the correlation no longer holds so tightly today. Instead, education level is correlated with Democratic voting. Therefore, the phenomenon of the affluent voting to give away a greater portion of their earnings is not just a Jewish phenomenon but one occurring more and more widely among the affluent across ethnic groups.
Furthermore, Forman argues, cultural factors are much better predictors of voting patterns than earnings. His argument concludes on a somewhat theoretical point: « The gap between the highest earners and others is inimical to the stability of society. Reducing the gaps is much more in the interest of the people who are doing the best, including American Jews. »
If that is not entirely convincing to the man on the street who wishes to maximize his economic well-being, to make matters more confusing it is not altogether clear that American Jews do actually favor the redistribution of wealth. When asked by the American Jewish Committee if they favored a « government reduction of income differences, » only 38% of Jews responded affirmatively, among the lowest of the 15 groups surveyed in the 2005 study.
For Matthew Brooks of the RJC, larger government and higher taxes are clearly not in the Jewish self-interest. Furthermore, redistributive policies are not the only, or best, way to bring about improvements in the lot of the disadvantaged. « Liberals don’t have a monopoly on tikkun olam, » Brooks says in reference to the Jewish tradition of repairing social ills. « Jack Kemp understood that as a conservative Republican you can apply conservative principles in a compassionate way to solve social problems. » (Brooks once worked for the well-known conservative Republican politician.)
In fact, Brooks points out, some of Obama’s policies run contrary to the stated social goals of Jewish voters. For example, while Obama wants to ameliorate some of the social problems in America, « proposing limits on the deductibility of charitable giving will turn off the spigot for a lot of organizations in the Jewish community that rely on [charitable] support. »
ACCORDING TO a survey recently conducted by two professors at Stanford University, 32% of Democrats blamed Jews for the current economic crisis versus only 18% of Republicans, adding another data point to a trend that points to a less hospitable intellectual home for Jews among Democrats and liberals than among Republicans and conservatives.
What then accounts for American Jews’ seemingly unshakeable attachment to liberalism? Several decades ago, Irving Kristol, in a rich and complex essay in Commentary magazine, argued that this attachment is rooted in two sweeping factors: Jewish political history and the evolution of Jewish religious history over the last two centuries.
In the political-historical realm, according to Kristol, Jews were more heavily influenced by the Continental radical liberalism of the French Revolution with its emphasis on economic equality than by the Anglo-American liberalism of the American Revolution with its emphasis on individualism and social and political equality. It was inevitable that the French Revolution would have a greater influence on Jews than the ideas animating the American Revolution since, according to Kristol, « It was the ideology of the French Revolution, incarnated in Napoleon, that liberated European Jewry from confinement in the ghetto. »
European Jews were grateful for this, and some of the descendants of Jews who saw emancipation in the ideas of the French Revolution emigrated to America, bringing with them political beliefs that « still dominate the thinking of most American Jews, » Kristol held. Writing in 1988, Kristol noted that « Jewish political attitudes in the 1980s have a more direct connection with Jewish political thinking in the 1880s than with current social, economic or even political realities in the United States. »
In the realm of religion, Kristol noted a transformation in the spiritual outlook of Jews beginning in the early 19th century, a shift away from the legalistic notions inhering in traditional rabbinic Judaism in favor of a focus on the teachings of the biblical books of the prophets with their emphasis on the downtrodden and universal peace. Jews came to see a close correspondence between liberalism and the prophetic form of Judaism which had come to dominate their religious life; in some respects, the two identities fused.
WHAT CAN we conclude from the complex, and sometimes contradictory, data describing Jewish perspectives? To begin to make sense of it all, we must admit that self-interest is a slippery concept. Various individuals in a group may define it differently; some do not properly identify their self-interest; others intentionally ignore their self-interest to pursue what they perceive to be the greater good. Each of these factors, as well as complex historical factors, come into play in understanding what drives the Jewish vote and whether or not Jewish voting patterns truly suit Jewish interests (assuming we can agree on what those Jewish interests are).
On foreign policy, Jews indeed believe they are voting in their self-interest, as they perceive it, when they vote for liberal candidates who seek to shrink the military budget, search out multilateral responses to international issues (often at a United Nations that is unreservedly hostile to Israel), support a less muscular US foreign policy and uphold peace processing even in the face of repeated and costly failure. As discussed, American Jews tend to be dovish in their views. Obama’s foreign policy orientation, and that of the majority liberal wing of the Democratic Party, is similarly drawn from a wellspring of thought on America’s proper place in the world that could be termed dovish.
The critical question though, is whether Jews are accurately assessing their self-interest. Arguably, the answer is no. It is natural for Jews to be concerned about Israel. To the extent that that concern is waning, Jews are misperceiving their self-interest. And if they are indeed concerned with Israel’s security, dovish attitudes are incompatible with that concern. Dovishness, ultimately, will not serve well an ethnic group that is the target of a global radical religious movement. Nor will such attitudes serve to enhance Israel’s security, since Israel relies upon America’s military technologies, and ultimately America’s military might, as a counterweight to its many enemies.
On the question of economics, the argument, common to liberal thought, that government should redistribute wealth to achieve social justice and guarantee social stability is rooted in social theories which, more often than not, have caused damage to Jews’ economic interests in the past. If today not only affluent Jews but affluent non-Jews vote for higher taxes, then one can convincingly say that Jews do not have a corner on the market for altruism; less convincingly can one assert that Jews vote in their economic self-interest. And ultimately, all Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, must ask what price they are willing to have the US pay in lost dynamism, forgone innovation and erosion of economic freedoms for the abstract goal of economic egalitarianism, a goal which of necessity can only be brought about through coercion.
The historical factors underlying the Jewish attachment to liberalism perhaps offer the most robust explanation for Jewish voting patterns that so confound some observers. Liberalism in a certain respect, and for some Jews, has become intimately wrapped up with their identity, regardless of the suitability of liberal nostrums in addressing Jewish concerns. It reminds one of another saying attributed to the Chinese: « May you find what you are looking for. » That, too, is meant as a curse.
The writer is a corporate finance consultant based in New Jersey.
The Bushes and the Jews
Explaining the president’s philo-Semitism.
Anne E. Kornblut
April 17 2002
In 1998, George W. Bush took his first and only trip to the Holy Land. During a helicopter tour—guided by none other than Ariel Sharon—Bush was astonished to discover how tiny Israel is compared to its Arab neighbors. He later described the visit as one of the most meaningful experiences of his life. A photographer captured a striking image of Bush, in a yarmulke, standing reverently at the Wailing Wall.
The picture may be a symbol of Bush foreign policy these days, but it speaks to an even more startling truth: Bush is the first in his family of politicians to craft a pro-Jewish image. Starting with accusations that Prescott Bush was a Nazi collaborator before Pearl Harbor, the Bush dynasty has generally been viewed with suspicion and at times outright hostility by Jewish Americans. The elder President Bush outraged the Jewish community with a series of perceived insults. Before he became president, the younger Bush, who once expressed doubt about whether non-Christians could get into heaven, seemed likely to follow in the family tradition.
The charges against Sen. Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the current president, went beyond the disdain for Jews and discriminatory practices that were characteristic of New England WASP culture in his day. Prescott Bush was a director of a New York bank where rich Germans who supported the Nazis stashed millions in personal wealth. He was still a director at the bank, Union Banking Corp., when its assets were frozen under the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1941—a fact that has provided endless fodder for leftists and conspiracy theorists since it came to light in the 1990s.
George Herbert Walker Bush shared the same exclusionary pedigree as his father, starting with Yale and the secret society Skull & Bones, and had extensive ties to Arabs through the oil industry as well. But most Jews did not consider him unfriendly to their interests so long as he served under Ronald Reagan. Reagan was the first Republican in 80 years to win a sizable share of the Jewish vote. There were a variety of reasons for this, but the key issue was Reagan’s hard line on the defense of Israel, which he considered a crucial democratic outpost in the fight against Soviet communism. In the 1980 election, Jimmy Carter won 45 percent of the Jewish vote. Reagan won 39 percent.
That remarkable shift, however, began to be undone almost as soon as George H.W. Bush took over in 1989. Bush was a self-described pragmatist in international affairs, and in the giddy early days after the end of the Cold War, it was no longer fashionable to view the world in binary terms. As a result, many conservative ideological causes—among them Israel—no longer found a champion in the White House. The point was made most clearly when Bush demanded, in 1991, that the Israelis stop building new settlements in Palestinian-controlled territories. Unlike previous presidents, Bush sounded serious, threatening to block millions in loan guarantees if Israel disobeyed. (Later, when his re-election was in doubt in 1992, Bush promised to press Congress for the loan guarantees unconditionally.)
Just as damaging was the elder Bush’s knack for seeming as out of touch with Jewish voters as he did with everyone else. Once, during a 1991 White House press conference, Bush Sr. complained about the strength of the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill—the implication being that « Jews work insidiously behind the scenes, » as David J. Forman wrote in the Jerusalem Post. On another occasion, Bush reminded his critics that the United States gives « Israel the equivalent of $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, » a remark that detractors took as an allusion to the stereotype of Jews as money-obsessed and greedy.
And then there was Secretary of State James Baker’s infamous « fuck the Jews » remark. In a private conversation with a colleague about Israel, Baker reportedly uttered the vulgarity, noting that Jews « didn’t vote for us anyway. » This was more or less true—Bush got 27 percent of the Jewish vote, compared with 73 percent for Dukakis, in 1988. And thanks in part to Baker, it was even truer in 1992, when Bill Clinton got 78 percent of the Jewish vote and Bush got only 15 percent—the poorest showing by a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In 2000, as Al Gore hit the campaign trail with the first Jewish vice presidential running mate in U.S. history on his ticket, George W. Bush seemed to make only a half-hearted attempt to compete for Jewish votes. He paid the obligatory dues, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and visiting the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles (where, after touring the sobering Holocaust exhibit, he incongruously signed the guest book, « God bless this world! »). But Bush reserved his real pitch for Arab-Americans, whom his strategists viewed as an increasingly powerful voting bloc. Repeated trips to Michigan, a swing state, gave Bush ample opportunity to meet with Arab-American leaders, heavily concentrated around Detroit. Ironically, he made a campaign pledge to examine « secret evidence » cases against foreign suspects, a matter of great concern among Arab-Americans (and one that fell by the wayside after Sept. 11).
Like his father, Bush failed during the campaign to win over neoconservative Jewish intellectuals—most notably William Kristol, who openly backed John McCain. The problem wasn’t just the assumption that he shared his father’s coolness toward Israel. It was also his perceived insensitivity toward Jews, as characterized by the only-Christians-in-heaven remark. Bush later joked about the uproar caused by the exchange. Asked by a reporter what he planned to tell the Israelis as he prepared to embark on his 1998 trip to the Middle East, Bush replied, obviously in jest, « Go to hell. » Gore got 79 percent of the Jewish vote. Bush got only 19 percent.
But unlike his father, who never managed to repair his relationship with the Jewish community despite several attempts, Bush has only risen in the esteem of many prominent Jews since taking office. The biggest factor is probably the Sept. 11 attacks. After a brief flurry of activity to win Arab support for the war on Afghanistan, Bush began to connect America’s struggle against terrorism with Israel’s fight against Palestinian suicide bombers. Though he was criticized for sitting on the sidelines as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict worsened, Bush arguably took sides by dropping the standard call for the Israelis to « show restraint. » After briefly responding to international pressure to demand an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Bush quickly backed off.
Another factor is shrewd political judgment. At pains to avoid repeating political mistakes his father made, Bush has actively courted conservatives within the Republican coalition. That includes Jewish neoconservatives such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who hopes to encourage Bush to avoid another mistake of his father’s—failing to topple Saddam Hussein. It was Wolfowitz who Bush sent to address the big pro-Israel rally that took place at the Capitol on April 15.
But the biggest reason Bush has been able to win over Jews may be personal. Despite his own Skull & Bones pedigree, the president is far less WASP-ish in his tastes and manner than past generations of Bushes, making him less suspect in the eyes of some Jewish Americans. Moreover, he is openly religious in a way that conveys deep respect for religious believers of all kinds. He may even be influenced by the view of Gary Bauer and other fundamentalist Christians who believe that the Jews are biblically ordained to live in the Holy Land. And unlike his father’s administration, George W. Bush’s is prominently filled with members of the tribe. Most notably, the public face of the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer, is a practicing Jew.
But whatever the impetus, Bush appears to be entirely sincere in his warmth toward the Jewish people. Since Sept. 11, he has resisted condemning his old tour guide, Ariel Sharon, as harshly as his father condemned former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. He has also applied the « Bush Doctrine » to Israel, saying in his April 4 Rose Garden address: « Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death. » It’s hard to imagine any Bush from a previous generation taking the side of the Jews so unequivocally.
Anne E. Kornblut is the senior political correspondent for the Boston Globe.
Blaming The Victim
The New York Times
March 19, 1992
WASHINGTON— Terrorists are blowing up Israeli embassies. A fanatic urged on by Iranian mullahs slashes and kills Israeli schoolchildren. In Washington, George Bush declares that unless Israel knuckles under to his demand that only Arabs and no Jews be permitted to move to the West Bank, refugees from the former Soviet Union will have to shift for themselves.
This terror-bombing, throat-cutting and arm-twisting is supposed to give Israelis the confidence necessary to take risks for peace.
Mr. Bush’s unprecedented rejection of humanitarian aid to a democratic ally — while continuing loan guarantees to dictatorships with no strings attached — followed the revelation that his Secretary of State said, » [ Expletive deleted ] the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway. »
At a Bush speech the other night, a White House aide sought me out to say, « You know, Baker never said that. »
Though constrained by the rules of deep background, I can confirm that Mr. Baker did say that, with the same vulgarism that made it so memorable, to two high officials on two different occasions. President Bush and his top staff know he did; it has been agreed that everybody would deny it was ever said. But James Baker said it — twice — and meant it. (Years from now, memoirs will confirm this; I’ll remind you.)
By extraordinary coincidence, just before the announcement of the Bush decision to scuttle all Senate compromises to house the refugees, a spate of stories was leaked from the State and Defense departments to justify the Bush-Baker intervention in Israel’s election.
Defense leakers worked through The Washington Times, which provided a banner headline, « China may have Patriot from Israel »; State and Defense had been working for six weeks through The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau, which the next day cited an unnamed official’s « overwhelming » evidence that Israel had re-exported U.S. technology.
ABC News trumpeted an anonymous allegation about the Copperhead missile. And old reliable Evans and Novak had Israel abandoning America for China. (Don’t Jews like Chinese food?)
The Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Arens, in Washington to get the bad news on the loan guarantee, said that « there is not a grain of truth » to the missilery allegations from ambush.
When he asked our Defense Secretary where this intelligence speculation was coming from about the resale of Patriot missiles, Dick Cheney told him it was classified; that probably meant our Defense Intelligence Agency was too busy spying on Israel to be able to track a slow missile freighter through the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Arens offered to take a team of U.S. military men to Israel to count Patriot missiles; he is certain that all the not-very-accurate missiles are there, accounted for. But a State Department man was assigned to do the counting, enabling the Joint Chiefs to scoff at the inspection.
When that specific story is laid to rest, it will be discovered that some component of some Israeli missile or tank contains some U.S. technology that some inspector acting at the behest of Baker, Scowcroft or the Joint Chiefs considers unapproved for re-export. A loud « A-hah! » will change the subject from the headlines about selling the Patriot — the charge that most offends Americans.
Here is what is going on: We are watching bureaucratic elephants fighting under a huge tarpaulin.
The pro-Israel elephant is part of the technology control establishment at the Pentagon, which fought for decades against accommodating dictators with our most modern arms; their Cocom allies are a handful of State officials at the fringe of policy and a few C.I.A. men who rely on Mossad to fill in gaps in our humint.
The pro-Arab elephant, embarrassed at having supported Iraq before Kuwait, and irritated at criticism of the intelligence blunder that ended the war prematurely, is out to seize control of mid-level policy planning. It claims Israel took in naive Bill Casey on Iran-contra, and is now emboldened by serving a President with a lifelong pro-Arab tilt.
This bureaucratic breakout cries out for a profound study of fault lines and old grudges, of prideful Arabist starkers and intimidated supporters of Israel.
But first, let the Pentagon issue an inventory of Patriot missiles in Israel. Let objective media do the on-site inspecting. Reporters can count.