The Democrats tolerate antisemitism, while the GOP tolerates Trump. There’s nowhere to go.
Nov. 28, 2023 at 6:11 pm ET
A polling station in Winchester, Va., Nov. 7. PHOTO: DOMINIC GWINN/ZUMA PRESS
With antisemitism everywhere on the rise, including in the Democratic Party, there is still no clear sign that American Jews have begun to abandon the Democrats. Past polls have shown 7 in 10 American Jews voting Democratic in recent presidential elections, and my guess is that the ratio may even be higher in 2024. A joke has it that Reform Judaism is nothing more than the Democratic Party platform with holidays added. I don’t hear many Republicans laughing.
How has it come about that the Jews, a people known for their cerebral powers, often vote and act against their own best interests? Might it be that until the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Jews had almost no firsthand or direct experience of political power? Yiddish is said to be the only modern language never to have been spoken by a ruling class. Before the formation of the state of Israel, Jews were perennially political outsiders.
Then, too, the socialist strain among Jews has always been strong. Irving Kristol, in his 1999 essay, “On the Political Stupidity of the Jews,” noted that “the majority of former socialists—in almost every country—remain opponents of capitalism. Socialism today is a political goal that dares not say its name, because socialism as a system has been discredited.”
Most Jews may have given up on socialism—with Jewish socialist thinkers from Leon Trotsky to Harold Laski having been disqualified—but many have been unable to turn away from the sentiments behind it: a sympathy for those it takes to be the underdog, a rough notion of justice that puts them on the side of all minorities, a disregard for political tradition. According to Kristol, himself Jewish, Jews tended to favor theory over practice, so they viewed even anti-Israel institutions like the United Nations favorably.
At the entrance to the nearby synagogue where my own sons long ago had their bar mitzvahs, there is a large sign in support of Black Lives Matter, an anti-Israel movement tinged with antisemitism. I have twice called to suggest the sign be taken down, to no avail.
Meanwhile the Jewish antipathy for the Republican Party goes back to the days of Jewish academic quotas, restricted neighborhoods and corporate discrimination. Those Ivy League and other universities that for decades strictly rationed the number of Jews they allowed in, those neighborhoods with unspoken agreements not to sell or rent real estate to Jews, those large corporations that for decades refused to hire Jews, all were thought to be run, inhabited, owned by Republicans.
During World War II the Republican America-first policy didn’t help. People such as Chicago Tribune publisher Robert “Colonel” McCormick argued that America had no business in the war, while Hitler was killing millions of Jews. Not that the Democrats were so solid on this front either, for we now know that Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his day a heroic figure to many Jews, failed to lift the quotas on Jews being admitted to this country and thus prevented more Jews from escaping the Holocaust. He also decided not to bomb the rail lines leading to Nazi death camps.
With memories of all this, it has been difficult—make that all but impossible—for many Jews to vote for Republicans. And it remains so now, even with Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar claiming that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby.” She is supported in her antisemitism by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has long accused the Israelis of apartheid and more recently has opposed American aid to Israel, whose policies, in her view, were the cause of the massacre of Oct. 7. Another Democrat, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, has been accusing not Hamas but Israel of war crimes. Sen. Chuck Schumer, while speaking in opposition to such views, has failed to denounce those people in Congress of his own party who espouse them. And then there is Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Jew who is no friend to Israel. No, it’s distinctly not our fathers’ Democratic Party.
The Democrats can no doubt count on the Jews voting as a bloc for them yet again. But then, where else, politically, are American Jews to go? As long as Donald Trump is the all but titular head of the Republican Party, voting Republican is not a very appealing option. The critic Dwight Macdonald long ago referred to our two political parties as “Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.” Which, Democrat or Republican, is the dumber? On this complicated question, I’ll let you decide.
Mr. Epstein is author, most recently, of “The Novel, Who Needs It?”