Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

Jews and the GOP:
Dalliance or Alliance?

By Jeff Ballabon and Ron Coleman | The press is bubbling over what appears to the first meaningful crack in Franklin D. Roosevelt's venerable New Deal Coalition since the Reagan Democrats: the beginning of a meaningful Jewish flirtation with the Republican party. Notwithstanding years of marginal involvement in the G.O.P., it is a political verity that American Jews are every bit an "automatic" Democratic vote as the African American and labor caucuses.

Evidence that the Democrats can take the Jewish vote for granted is legion and - until now - has for decades appeared to be unrelated in any way to the rational self-interest of the Jews which was the calculus that first brought them in. It is true that, even before the flashpoint of recent events in Israel, there was some evidence of a slow drift among younger Jewish male voters away from automatic fealty to Democrats and toward more sophisticated (and healthy) issue- and candidate-specific voting. Now, however, say the pundits, it's different, thanks to Washington's new approach to Yassir Arafat and his reign of terror.

No one can miss the virtually unanimous chorus of conservative Republican support for Israel, from the White House and both chambers of Congress, as the tiny Jewish state fights for its life against an onslaught of hostile world opinion. The relative silence of the Democrats, as they seek to avoid alienating their far left constituencies, is deafening. American Jews are taking note of the silence, and - it is speculated - beginning to realize who their real friends are.

Unfortunately, it is premature to assume that this flirtation is leading to a serious courtship. We say this not because the GOP lacks sincerity or passion; the depths of Republican commitment to Israel could not better be demonstrated than by the fact that Israel's best friends in the House and Senate are from states with virtually no Jewish electorate or influence. For at least two decades prior to September 11, 2001, it has been an axiom in Washington that the further to the right one goes in the Republican Party, be it in the Congress or in the Administration, the more rock-solid the support for Israel. Painfully, some of politics' most maligned Christian conservatives, in fact have been Israel's best friends, precisely because they support Israel out of high conviction, and not as a political calculation.

Depressingly, most American Jews still appear to believe in an image of Christian conservatives based on one of two stereotypes, and often (however inconsistently) both: One is the majoritarian oppressor of Old Europe, and the other the straw-man parodies of American conservative Protestantism served up by the popular culture. Neither stereotype has anything to do with the genuinely philosemitic community of politically active, patriotic, conservative Christians that comprise much of America. For many of our Christian neighbors, the only question about the Jews is why on earth we aren't more Jewish - for they see in the Nation of Israel the nation chosen by G-d to convey His message to all the world.

If only the Jews saw themselves that way. We have overwhelmingly replaced our proud tradition and profound worldview with faddish "isms". We have raised successive generations of American Jewish children to be ignorant and dismissive of our history and heritage. The resulting product is a Jewish community that rejects the most fundamental underpinnings of our religion and all but the most tepid degree of spiritual commitment outright.

Yet, today, one need only look to the venomous Israel-bashing of academia to see that the false messiah of liberal and progressive ideology has turned on the Jewish people. If the horrific events of the last year are forcing American Jews to reconsider their political assumptions, we would be well served by reconsidering cultural assumptions as well. In the process perhaps we will remind ourselves that we had best seek allies whose values embody the heritage that the Jews have brought to civilization: a recognition of the existence of moral truth, not slippery moral relativism; a willingness to stand for what is right, rather than accede to the opinion of a world with no track record for rectitude; and a commitment to judging individuals not by a programmed set of grievances, but by the content of their character. Standing with the President while he leads the war against terror is necessary, but surely not sufficient. We should be standing with him as well as he seeks to bring back to American policy and public discourse a sense of virtue and decency.

In times of crisis, choices define themselves more starkly. So do real friends separate themselves from the fair-weather variety. This is one of those times, and a moment of great challenge and opportunity for American Jews.

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The authors are founders of Roshem: The Center for Jewish Values Comment by clicking here.


© 2002