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The future of ... Jews in politics
From the left              
by Joel Rubin
Mar 08, 2012 | 2210 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Joel Rubin</i>
Joel Rubin
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WASHINGTON — Democratic Party politics in America has for decades been a safe home for American Jews.  Elected American Jewish politicians are almost uniformly Democratic — 38 vs. one in Congress — and American Jews consistently vote Democratic in overwhelming numbers — 78 percent for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

It’s also no secret — nor coincidence — that the broad swath of Jewish political money and campaign contributions goes to Democrats.

Democrats should be able to count on this level of support from American Jewish voters and donors, as well as interest amongst aspiring American Jewish politicians, for decades to come. 

There’s a simple reason for this dynamic: American Jews like liberal positions on domestic policy and centrist positions on foreign policy.  Democrats are offering these positions in spades this year.  Yet Democrats are also getting a major assist from Republicans, who seem bent on abandoning the center and have taken a sharp turn to the right, essentially ceding votes, talent and money to Democrats. 

What Democrats understand and Republicans miss is that American Jews want the separation of church and state, a clean environment, women’s rights, respect for the rule of law, and economic policies that value hard work and fairness.  They support the State of Israel and prefer an American foreign policy that prioritizes diplomacy over war.  These are all core Democratic positions.

On the other hand, mainstream Republican positions now appear to oppose contraception, seek to insert religion into the government’s operations, denigrate environmental protection, misuse law enforcement on issues such as immigration, ignore economic fairness and promote a war-first mentality to foreign policy.

Worse, Republicans have a simplistic view of what it takes to be attractive to the American Jewish voter.  They see American Jews as overwhelmingly concerned about Israel, to the exclusion of any other issues.  This lack of sophistication about what American Jews care about is stunning, considering that less than 10 percent of American Jews vote for politicians based upon their positions on Israel, according to a 2008 survey by Gerstein-Agne that was done for J Street.

This myopia also means that the next generation of aspiring American Jewish politicians will not be comfortable in the Republican tent.  Republicans have made their brand so limited to the Jewish ear, singularly focused on Israel and the hard right on everything else, that they will have a very hard time recruiting Jewish candidates who feel comfortable with their label. 

Essentially, Republicans are taking political positions that all but beg American Jews to be Democrats for life.  As a result, we can count on a steady stream of future American Jewish politicians to be staunchly Democratic.  We can also count on a consistently high voting rate for Democrats among American Jews.

And when it comes to Jewish political money, Republican politicians appear to be seeking a very limited set of extremely wealthy, single-issue donors.  Now that single-issue wealthy donors can give unlimited contributions to Super Political Action Committees (SuperPAC) that support certain candidates, you can expect Republicans — who already have a limited Jewish donor base — to become even narrower in how they seek to attract Jewish financial support.

The most obvious example of how Jewish political money is a driving force for Republican politicians this year is how casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — an admittedly single issue funder, with that issue being Israel — has provided at least $10 million to Newt Gingrich’s SuperPAC.  And what has attracted Adelson to Newt?  It is Newt’s unabashedly hard-right positions on Israel that advocate a military attack on Iran and denial of a Palestinian state.  These are positions that Adelson publicly shares. 

These positions have a major impact on the policy positions of the Republican Party yet are far outside the mainstream of American — and American Jewish — political life.  If Newt loses in the primaries, it is clear that for the ultimate Republican nominee to get Adelson’s support, both he and his party will have to adopt these same positions.  Unfortunately for Republicans, moving in this direction will only make it more difficult for them to attract Jewish voters and talent.

Republicans, to the delight of Democrats, are playing the wrong political game, choosing short-term tactical financial support over long-term strategic health. 

This short sighted Republican focus on single-issue large donors, hard right policy positions, and shallow understanding of the American Jewish voter will ensure that it continues to be attractive to only a minority of American Jewish voters.  And these same failures will also continue to rebuff the kind of future influx of talented American Jewish politicians that any healthy political party would like to attract.

So as long as Democrats continue to maintain their sensible positions and Republicans drift more and more to the hard right, their hold on the future of American Jewish politics — both the vote and the talent, and yes, even the money — will be safe and secure for years to come.

 

(Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs at Ploughshares Fund in Washington, D.C., and a Pittsburgh native, can be reached at joelr@thejewishchronicle.net. His views are his own and not necessarily those of Ploughshares Fund.) 
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