September 3, 2004


Black Hat Trick: WHY BUSH LOVES ORTHODOX JEWS. (Noam Scheiber, 09.02.04, New Republic)

The underbelly of the Bush campaign's pitch to these voters is the idea that, even if John Kerry, who gets a stellar rating from aipac, is a reliable supporter of Israel, and even if he says he'd prosecute the war on terrorism aggressively, there are structural forces within the Democratic Party that make a Kerry administration dangerous. At just about every Jewish-themed event I attended this week--and there were multiple events each day--someone has drawn attention to the rise of the antiwar, anti-Israel left within the Democratic Party. Usually, the conversation begins with Michael Moore, who has left a long trail of anti-Israel comments, continues on to and former supporters of Howard Dean, and ends with the observation that, in recent years, it has been the far left of the Democratic Party, not the far right of the Republican Party, that has been awol on votes in Congress regarding Israel. "That's going to be a major theme going into the stretch run," says one Republican strategist. "The point is, who do you surround yourself with? ... [With the Kerry] campaign, the focus is on Michael Moore, Jimmy Carter." One Jewish Republican close to the White House, who occasionally serves as a Bush campaign surrogate, told me he makes this pitch explicitly. "Even if Kerry means everything he says about Israel," he tells Jewish audiences, "the question is whether his constituency--today's Democratic Party--would really let him go there."

There are signs this strategy is working. A leader of a major Jewish organization told me, "After the Democratic convention, they may well have driven Jews into the Republican camp.... I was there. I saw the reaction ... to seeing the whole thing revolve around Michael Moore." Others attribute the increasing willingness of young Jews to vote Republican--Republican pollster Frank Luntz has data suggesting that only 60 percent of Jews under 35 vote Democratic--to a reaction against campus anti-Israel and antiwar activism.

Ironically, though, the Bushies may be making their greatest inroads among a group of Jews who aren't within 5,000 miles of Madison Square Garden. Estimates suggest there are about 200,000 American citizens living in Israel, making it the fifth-largest source of American expatriates in the world. Over 100,000 are eligible to vote. Americans in Israel--and Israelis in general--tend to be favorably disposed to Bush thanks to his close relationship with Ariel Sharon. A Tel Aviv University poll conducted in early August found that Israelis prefer Bush to Kerry by a 49-18 margin. So a 527 organization called Republicans Abroad Israel has identified several thousand expats eligible to vote in each of the major swing states (about 25,000 in all) and is frantically trying to register them before a self-imposed deadline arrives in two weeks. Bush may not be playing well in Peoria. But, this year, he might gladly exchange Peoria for Tel Aviv.

...or Zionist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 3, 2004 8:13 AM

Once again, I'm the vanguard of the future.

Also, 200,000 Americans in Israel is only the fifth largest expat community? Wow.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 3, 2004 8:59 AM

There are several other changes going on in the community. First, the percentage of observant Jews is increasing. Over the last generation or so, it has become possible to be an observant Jew and go to medical school, law school etc., without having to compromise one's principles. Touro and Yeshiva change the landscape. This community of observant, successful professionals demonstrates that the traditional American Jewish view of having to de-Judaize in order to achieve the American dream is no longer the case.

Second, a Jewish day school network from K-12 which provides quality education exists in many metropolitan areas. In the old days, if you went to a Jewish day school it was like going back to the Middle Ages, today they are often cutting edge. Jewish parents don't want their kids in the cesspool that is public education any more than anyone else wants his kids there. The Solomon Schechter system is particularly good at this. Many of my younger relatives go to them and some of my co-workers send their kids to them or even went there themselves. The mixture of traditional Jewish values and modern learning seems to work, and serves as a conservative pressure on kids.

Reform seems to be dying out. As someone who is resolutely Reform, I understand what a believing Episcopalian or Unitarian must go through. I can't ever imagine keeping Kosher (you can take that lobster out of my cold, dead hands). But I find that even on the High Holy days that the temple is mostly older people. B'nai B'rith is a senior citizens club.

As we move out of the traditionally major Jewish population centers, we discover that Christians aren't evil. If your main exposure to Christians has Irish Catholics in American metro areas, it is a revelation. Jew hatred in America almost always has a pasty Irish face. I spent a year in Hattiesburg MS and had a blast, learning that Southern Baptists and Cajuns don't think we have tails and eat babies. Sure, I was often the target of attempts at conversion, but such forays were always respectful and intelligent. Any comparison between a clean-shaven, well-dressed, well-spoken Baptist or Mormon missionaries with the Black Hundreds or with the thuggish behavior of the drunken Irish gangs who used to beat up Jews every Sunday is unwarranted. Paraphrasing Jules Winfield, 'Same ballpark? Ain't no ballpark that big. Hell, that isn't even the same f***ing sport.' The old attempts by liberals to scare us into being afraid of Christians just won't work as well anymore.

Finally, the old Jewish hard left ain't even Jewish today. They either intermarry or drop out of the community on their own, ceasing to identify in any way with Judaism.

Posted by: Bart at September 3, 2004 10:32 AM

I endorse Bart's analogy to Episcopalianism. It's unbelievable what's happening to that (formerly) worthy strain of Protestantism. Proof indeed that all institutions that aren't explicitly right-wing drift leftward over time.

Off topic, but I think Mexico has the largest expat population.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at September 3, 2004 11:00 AM


I really look forward to your postings--excellent.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at September 3, 2004 11:35 AM

Maybe the decline of non-Orthodox Judaism is evidence that we really do have to strain at gnats.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at September 3, 2004 1:18 PM