OCALA, Fla., December 31, 2013 — As America lurches into 2014, expect the midterm elections to dominate the news. Among the many stories of this election cycle will be the voting power of American Jews.
For nearly a century, the Democratic Party has enjoyed support from a supermajority of Jewish voters. Within the last decade, however, that has begun to change. It is difficult to quantify just how extensive this shift is, however, and some now deny that a “Jewish vote” even exists.
“In my view, there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish vote,’” says political columnist Allan C. Brownfeld, who serves as the American Council for Judaism’s publications editor. “Americans of the Jewish faith do not vote as a bloc any more than Americans who are Catholic, Baptist or Episcopalian. Some special interest groups such as AIPAC, which lobbies in behalf of Israel, try to convince politicians that there is indeed a Jewish bloc vote that they can appeal to by adopting particular positions, but all of the available evidence indicates that this is not the case.”
Whether or not the Jewish vote is real, American Jews are far from uniform in their political opinions.
“The Jewish community is hardly monolithic in either its religious or political views,” Brownfeld says. “Jews have been active participants in both conservative and liberal political movements.
“Historically, Jews were prominent in the civil rights movement, while some southern Jews were vocal supporters of segregation. In the pre-Civil War years, a prominent New York rabbi gave a sermon in defense of slavery while another well known rabbi, David Einhorn, was a vocal abolitionist who had to flee Baltimore because of his anti-slavery views.
“Jews were prominent in the New Deal, and also active in the conservative movement which emerged in the post-World War II years. In recent years, Jews have been leaders in the neoconservative movement which promoted the war in Iraq and were also among that war’s most vocal critics.
“Today, Orthodox Jews oppose abortion and gay marriage, while Reform Jews take a more permissive view. There is clearly no single political approach that unites all Jews.”
Regional and economic factors may dominate the way American Jews vote more than religious or cultural identity. If that is true, efforts to appeal to a Jewish vote will be a waste of resources. Whether leaders in both major parties agree with this remains to be seen.
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