Where Is the Jewish Money in Democratic Politics?

Reporting on Lamont-Lieberman, the JTA gets at the crucial question of Jewish money in the race: “Jewish fund-raisers canvassed by JTA said they favored Lieberman — even those who profoundly disagree with him on Iraq.” Amazingly, even Steve Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says he would support Lieberman running as an Independent if he loses to Ned Lamont in the Dem. primary. “[T]here has not been a greater champion of Israel and the well-being of the Jewish people,” Grossman said.

The JTA shows that even leaders of the Israel Policy Forum, which marks the “left” wing of mainstream Jewish organizational life, line up behind Lieberman, even when they share Lamont’s opposition to the Iraq War. “I differ with Lieberman on Iraq but I don’t think Democrats can afford to break ranks right now in the face of extreme right-wing control of the entire federal government,” said Alan Solomont, a Boston-based Jewish fund-raiser who is on IPF’s executive committee.

The question of Jewish money is important because so much of political fundraising, in the Democratic party especially, is Jewish: as much as 60 percent, according to the Washington Post. And Israel is evidently central to that giving. Ned Lamont has taken care to say nice things about Israel, but his insurgent antiwar vibe, and his support by the netroots, many of whom question the identification of Israeli and American interests, have made him suspect.

The solidification of big Jews behind Lieberman would seem to draw upon anxiety about the rising tide of questions about the influence of the Israel lobby. The Policy Forum may be fairly progressive, but its National Scholar, Steven Spiegel, a UCLA professor, took an aggressive stance against the recent Walt/Mearsheimer paper, arguing on the Diane Rehm show that the lobby doesn’t need to sell Israel to policymakers because it’s like selling ice cream: the same way “kids like ice cream cones, Americans like Israel”. (Tell that to the Arab-American demonstrators in Dearborn, MI).

One answer to the center-right claim is that mainstream organizational life doesn’t actually represent Jewish opinion. According to JTA’s poll of Connecticut Jews, they’re supporting Lamont over Lieberman 50 to 41. Or consider A Jewish Voice for Peace: the San Francisco-based group that has slammed Israel for its disproportionate response in Lebanon, and that attracts the money of leftleaning Jews (such as Craig Newmark, the populist genius behind Craigslist). The Policy Forum’s “News analysis,” released today, concludes with a moving statement calling for an end to occupation as part of the multilateral solution to the violence.

These voices are still muted ones. And will remain that way, till politicians feel they can raise questions about Israel and still raise money.