Monday, July 23, 2012
The left can’t scare Jews into supporting it any more
E arlier this week at a Pennsylvania rally sponsored by Jewish Americans for Obama and headlined by Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the 1,000 Jews in attendance in a synagogue auditorium heard one speaker portray the Republican Party as theocratic anti-Semites who didn’t believe in the separation of church and state; another Democrat described his experiences with anti-Semites in Arizona.
The message — that Republicans and their ilk are anti-Semites — is a familiar one. Jews have long believed that right-wingers tend to be anti-Semites, whether they identify as Nazis, members of the Ku Klux Klan, John Birchers, conservatives, evangelicals, or Republicans. At the height of the Tea Party movement, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi characterized the protesters as Nazis, saying “You be the judge. They’re carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care.” On an earlier Bill Maher show, New York’s Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer joked that most anti-Semites vote Republican.
But today, many Jews are no longer laughing along. The anti-Semite card that Democrats have played so deftly over the years — the single-biggest reason Jews provide Democrats with more than 50% of their campaign funding — looks phony to many Jews. When Schultz got up to speak in praise of Obama, the normally sedate Jewish audience heckled her, leaving her visibly rattled.
The upset many Jews feel today is mostly directed toward Obama, whom they see as tolerant of anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan, tolerant of anti-Semitic organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and intolerant, even hostile, to Israel. But Democrats on the whole need beware — more than a presidential election is at stake.
When Jews began to perceive Canada’s Liberal Party as being tolerant of anti-Semitism and unfair to Israel — such as through Liberal participation in the UN Durban conference and the accusation that Israel had committed a war crime — the rock-solid support that the Liberals had long enjoyed from Jews evaporated. Over the last decade, Jewish voters and Jewish money steadily moved toward the Conservatives, helping first to give them minority governments and then, in an election last year, swinging massively, helping to give the Conservatives a majority government. The Liberal Party, which had governed Canada for most of the last century and was considered “Canada’s natural governing party,” became relegated to third-party status. Bereft of Jewish votes and, much more importantly, much of the Jewish funding that in the past had helped sustain it, the Liberal Party, some predict, may disappear.
America’s Jews, who for more than a century were prominent in the union movement and the civil rights movement, traditionally found their home in the Democratic Party, particularly since country club Republicans didn’t consider Jews acceptable company. The left-leaning Jewish community especially took to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a left-leaner himself who appointed numerous Jews to top positions and stood by them, despite intense criticism of his Jewish ties and his New Deal (also known as the “Jew Deal”). FDR also won Jewish loyalty for his decision to fight the Nazis in the Second World War, despite fierce opposition from the America First Committee, whose flamboyant spokesman, Charles Lindbergh, blamed pressure to enter the war on Jews and their “large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.” Anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli views by leading Republicans and by evangelicals in the following decades reinforced the view that Jews weren’t welcome in the Republican Party.
But today the politics is realigning. Anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli venom is on the rise, and it is coming mostly from the left. Anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses is a “serious problem,” concluded the 2006 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “There is more sympathy for Hamas [on U.S. campuses] than there is in Ramallah,” wrote award-winning Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who found during a 2009 speaking tour of the U.S. that it “is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state.”
Surveys by Jewish organizations confirm that anti-Semitism is on the rise, as does a 2009 survey by researchers at Stanford and Columbia University, designed to find explicit prejudice toward Jews as a result of the financial meltdown. To the researchers’ surprise, they found that “Democrats were especially prone to blaming Jews: while 32% of Democrats accorded at least moderate blame, only 18.4% of Republicans did so,” a difference that jars “given the presumed higher degree of racial tolerance among liberals and the fact that Jews are a central part of the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition.” Warning that “we must take heed of prejudice and bigotry that have already started to sink roots in the United States,” the authors noted that “Crises often have the potential to stoke fears and resentment, and the current economic collapse is likely no exception.”
Almost as if on cue, the Occupy Wall Street movement arose, with Jews often crudely singled out for blame, and with prominent Democrats, Obama and Pelosi among them, stoking the anti-1% sentiment. Anti-Semitism is coming close to home for many of America’s Jews, who see themselves in the 1% and who see their children — students at American campuses — too intimidated to speak out against the anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli activities that confront them.
As Jews are reassessing their support for Obama and other Democratic candidates, they are also beginning to warm to Republicans. Much of the credit here belongs to Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, who made it unacceptable for evangelicals to be anti-Semitic. Evangelicals and the American right are now unabashedly in the Jewish and Israeli corner, leading many Jews to end their reflexive opposition to anything labelled right-wing.
In Canada, Jewish alarm at Liberal tolerance of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli policies, coupled with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unequivocal stance against terrorism — “[There’s no] moral equivalence between a pyromaniac and a firefighter” — persuaded Jewish captains of industry who were also Liberal funders and fundraisers to tear up their Liberal membership cards and throw their support behind the Conservatives. In the U.S., where the Democrats are losing their ability to play the anti-Semite card, a similar phenomenon could be underway.