Twilight of American Jewry
This week marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America. Most of us didn’t realize it at the time, but those attacks also marked the beginning of the end of the golden age of American Jewry – on both sides of the ideological divide.
Most American Jews make their home on the political Left, and together with black Americans they comprise the most loyal Democratic voting bloc. American Jews have clung to the Democratic Party despite the fact that over the past decade and a half, their position in the party has become increasingly precarious.
After the September 11 attacks, the American anti-war movement rose as a force in the party. The movement was quick to conflate its anti-Americanism with hostility for Israel. Jewish anti-war activists were forced to choose between Zionism and pacifism.
And the situation has only grown worse over time.
As Gary Gambill of the Middle East Forum wrote this week in The National Interest, since the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel was founded in 2005, its members have gone from one leftist group to another and demanded that their members embrace the cause of Israel’s destruction.
Group after group – from the feminists, to the gay rights activists, to Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter – bowed to the BDS demand. Members who refused to condemn Israel and join the call for its destruction have been booted out.
As Prof. Alan Dershowitz wrote last month, this state of affairs has brought about a situation where progressive American Jews who support Israel – that is, the majority of American Jews – are increasingly finding themselves isolated, rejected by their fellow leftists.
In his words, “Over the past several years, progressive Jews and supporters of Israel have had to come to terms with the reality that those who do not reject Israel and accept the… BDS movement’s unique brand of bigotry are no longer welcome in some progressive circles. And while both the Democratic and Republican parties have embraced the importance of the US alliance with Israel, that dynamic is under threat more so than at any point in my lifetime.”
The radicalization of the American Left has caused a radicalization of the Democratic Party. This was made clear throughout this year’s Democratic primary season and during the party’s national convention. Today, the anti-Israel Left makes up not just the Democratic grassroots but also the major donors to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The significance of this development for American Jews cannot be overstated. Even if Clinton herself doesn’t share the positions of the Bernie Sanders wing of her party, she cannot govern in defiance of its will.
And if she is elected in November, she won’t.
On the Republican side of the aisle, the situation is very different.
But it is also bad.
It isn’t that anti-Semites have taken over the party of Lincoln. To be sure, white supremacists like David Duke have made clear that they are happy to support Donald Trump. But unlike Clinton and the progressives, Trump never sought nor accepted their support. Moreover, in sharp contrast to the situation on the Democrat side of the aisle, Republican support for Israel is all but unanimous.
All of the Republican primary candidates were pro-Israel to varying degrees. The GOP platform passed at the convention is the most pro-Israel document in its history.
The problem on the Republican side of the aisle then is not that the party has turned against the Jews. The problem is that a large contingent of prominent Jewish Republicans has decided to commit political suicide.
Back in the mid-1970s, disgusted by the radicalization of the Democratic Party, particularly in connection with its prosecution of the Cold War, a significant group of predominantly Jewish intellectuals led by the likes of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz came to the conclusion that they could no longer maintain their loyalty to the Democratic Party – which had been their political home for decades. With the rise of Ronald Reagan on the Republican side of the aisle, these prominent Jews broke with the Democrats, called themselves neoconservatives, and cast their lot with the GOP.
Some members of this group received influential appointments in the Reagan administration. Others used their intellectual skills and their media outlets to set out the intellectual basis for much of Reagan’s foreign and economic policies.
These Jewish Republicans enjoyed a far less congenial relationship with Reagan’s successor George H.W. Bush. But all the same, by and large they remained loyal Republicans. For their efforts they were appointed to significant positions in the George W. Bush administration.
After the September 11 attacks, prominent Jewish Republicans like Bush’s deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz rose to national fame as they were widely credited – and often credited themselves – with shaping Bush’s counter-terrorism policies, including his decision to overthrow the Iraqi government and to make democratizing the Islamic world the goal of his counter-terrorism strategies worldwide.
Their star fell as quickly as it rose. As the public soured on Bush’s war policies, the first to be blamed for his failures were the Jewish Republicans who had been so outspoken about their roles in shaping his policies.
Some of the criticism was substantive and deserved. Much of it was bigoted.
The Republican establishment, for its part, remained staunchly loyal to Bush’s policies. Both John McCain and Mitt Romney supported them to varying degrees during their presidential bids.
That support was not shared by Republican voters, however. Over Obama’s eight years in office, the Republican base and as well as lawmakers became increasing hostile to the democratic interventionism championed by the Bush administration and disaffected with the war in Iraq.
Seemingly unaware of the shift, the same Jewish Republican policy-makers and writers most identified in the public mind with Bush’s failures went into the 2016 race assuming that as was the case in 2008 and 2012, the party would choose a candidate that largely supported their views.
Two prominent Republican candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Jeb Bush, met that expectation.
But contrary to their expectations, Rubio and Bush were flops. The voters rejected them. The two candidates that secured significant support – Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, were outspoken opponents of Bush’s policies.
Rather than repeat their practice from 1992 and accept the will of their fellow Republicans, this year the most prominent members of the Jewish Republican elite have opted to attack Trump and his voters.
That is, they have decided to commit political suicide.
Wolfowitz, along with Bush’s second term Treasury secretary Hank Paulson and several prominent lower level Jewish Republican policy-makers, announced they are voting for Clinton. Most members of the Jewish Republican elite have sufficed with refusing to endorse Trump. Some have become his most outspoken and vituperative critics.
Objectively, their behavior is irrational. With the radical takeover of the Democratic Party, these Republican rebels cannot hope to receive influential roles in a Clinton administration even if she throws some table scraps in their direction. And by attacking Trump and his voters, they are dooming themselves to political homelessness for at least a generation.
The prominence of Jewish Republicans in the Never Trump camp is liable to impact more than their personal career prospects. It is liable to adversely affect Republican attitudes toward Jews as Jews. And to their disgrace, the Jewish Republicans at the heart of the Never Trump camp are playing right into this unhealthy dynamic.
This week the Intelligence Squared debating society held a public debate in New York. The debate was posted on Real Clear Politics website.
Two sides debated the proposition that the American elites are to blame for Trump’s rise. Arguing in favor of the proposition were two Christian journalists – Tim Carney and Ben Domenech.
Arguing against it were two Jewish journalists – Bret Stephens (a former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief) and Jennifer Rubin.
Both Rubin and Stephens voiced their support for Clinton’s controversial assertion that half of Trump’s supporters are deplorable, unworthy of attention, un-American and irredeemable.
For their part, Domenech and Carney argued that Stephens and Rubin were ignoring the social and economic dislocation of the lower middle class. They argued that the suffering of members of this group has caused millions of Americans to feel betrayed by their political elites and turn to Trump to put a stop to a political game they believe is rigged against them.
Two-thirds of the way through the event, Carney brought up religion.
Carney allowed that many of Trump’s supporters are indeed bigoted. However, he said that “as a Christian,” he couldn’t accept that they are irredeemable because Christianity teaches that all men can be saved.
Rather than grant his point or simply ignore it, Rubin chose to respond in the name of Judaism. In so doing, she turned the debate into a contest between Christianity and Judaism.
Incorrectly arguing that Judaism does not believe in repentance as a road to redemption, Rubin pointed to herself and Stephens and said sardonically, “We Jews just believe in good and evil. We don’t believe that everyone is redeemable.”
The Christians won the debate in a knockout.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Jewish Republicans’ behavior is that while attacking the anti-Semites at the margins of the Republican Party, they ignore the anti-Semites at the heart of the Democratic Party.
While Trump has disavowed the support of the GOP’s Jew-hating wing, some of Clinton’s closest advisers harbor virulent anti-Semitic beliefs.
Take Sidney Blumenthal for instance. Blumenthal has been a close adviser to the Clintons for decades. We learned from Clinton’s emails made public earlier this year by Judicial Watch that Blumenthal was one of Clinton’s most intimate advisers throughout her tenure as secretary of state.
Blumenthal’s son Max is a raving anti-Semite. He calls for the destruction of Israel. He compares Israel to Nazi Germany and IDF soldiers to the Nazi SS.
Blumenthal Sr. is a proud father. He regularly shared his son’s ravings with Clinton, and she shared his delight. In eight separate emails over the course of her tenure in office, Clinton enthusiastically praised his Jew-hating propaganda.
In one message email, Clinton wrote, “Your Max is a mitzva.”
On the one hand then, we have the Jewish Democrats who are faced with a party that is increasingly controlled by anti-Semitic forces. And on the other hand we are in the midst of the collective political suicide of the Jewish Republican establishment.
It is hard to know how Israel will be affected by the dramatic enfeeblement of the American Jewish community that we are now witnessing. The fact remains that the vast majority of American support for Israel comes from the evangelical Christian community.
What is clear enough though is that the political waning of the Jewish community across the political spectrum means that the golden era of American Jewry is not only over. It is gone.