The New Battleground for Jewish Votes: the Right

Jennifer Siegel in The Forward has been doing excellent reporting on the extent to which Republicans are fighting the Democratic Party for Jewish votes by questioning the Dems’ support for Israel. This theme is alive in our partisan politics right now: Joe Lieberman left the Democrats in part because of the issue and now questions whether Ned Lamont is “strong” on Israel. Bill Clinton’s recent appeal to Democratic dollars conspicuously says nothing about Iraq, as I reported the other day. Siegel says that the Republicans are using Cindy Sheehan and Jimmy Carter’s images to tar the Democrats among Jews. I.e., being against the war and for an equitable peace in the Middle East are not in Jewish voters’ interests.

This trend is fascinating for a few reasons. A, It is further evidence that the body of Jewish opinion is shifting to the right politically. I think this is partly a class issue. Jews are, overwhelmingly, privileged; and privilege tends to vote right. B, It suggests that, imshallah, the Israel issue may at last openly enter American politics, outside the pages of the Sun and the Forward and NYLRB, and Americans may get to choose; C, It is implicitly a gauntlet to Jewish Dems that being for stem cell research and abortion can no longer define the alpha and omega of the barricades of progressive politics, and D, therefore represents yet another challenge to the progressive tradition within U.S. Jewish life, symbolized by Schwerner and Goodman, to wake up and face the regressive policies they are tacitly endorsing in the Middle East.

Or, as (the sometimes-great) Leonard Fein writes in the Forward, dismissing the Israeli right: “History has tricked Arabs and Jews, in Israel and across its nebulous boundaries, into cohabitation. That, for better or worse, is their common destiny.” Amen. There really isn’t that much distance between Fein’s view and Tony Judt’s.