Posted by Steven Windmueller
Over the course of history, Jews would operate in the public sector adopting various political behaviors.
In contemporary times, several of these competing ideas remain in play, influenced by different elements of Jewish experience and practice. Five of them are being introduced here:
Nationalist Orientation vs. Accommodational Behavior: Historically, Jews operated in one of two political spheres, either understanding their political destiny as tied to a national (i.e. Jewish) perspective, seeking to create a Jewish state or to work toward sustaining it, or striving for some type of acceptance by making political compromises whereby they would accommodate to the social environment around them. In other terms, we might describe these characteristics, as “going it alone” vs. “fitting in”.
Judaism as Americanism: Over the course of the 20th century a body of political thought would emerge that would define Jews as full partners in the American story and where “Judeo-Christian values” would frame the social fabric of this nation. This “melting pot” concept would allow Jews full access into the mainstream of the society.
“Be a Jew on the Street and an American at Home”: Historian David Biale has suggested that unlike the mindset of the Enlightenment where Jews publicly shed their Jewishness, the American context represents precisely the reverse idea, where one can reject the melting pot viewpoint in favor of a Jewish political assertion.
Never Forget: “The commanding voice of Auschwitz” would not allow a Jew to forget his/her historical and political distinctiveness. One may understand this concept best when viewing it in the following terms: “failure to support Israel represents a denial of the lessons of the Holocaust.”
Rule of Marginal Effect: Jewish influence is centered only in those selected areas, such as Israel-United States relations, where the interests of the community go generally unchallenged by other interest groups or are offset by broader policy priorities of the United States.
These ideas are part of a body of literature on Jewish political behavior and reflect the historical engagement of Jews with power.
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August 10, 2012 | 10:43 am
Posted by Steven Windmueller
Every voter has his/her own motivations and passions related to the nature of their vote. Yet for 2012 two distinct viewpoints frame the collective “Jewish vote.” We can actually study these two political contrasts by exploring the stories of two individuals. For our purposes, we have “Naomi” and “Sam.” So, let’s meet them:
Naomi lives in Southern California. She is a 30 something single professional. An Ohio native, Naomi came to Los Angeles following graduate school.
A businessman in his 60’s, Sam is a resident of Florida, who is married with three grown kids. Sam has lived in South Florida all of his life. Following college, he opened his own construction and real estate firm.
Naomi’s family has long ties to the Democratic Party and to various social causes in Cleveland.
Sam is a first generation American. His parents were nominally “Democrats.”
Naomi grew up in the Conservative Movement but now is involved with an alternative Minyan.
A member of a Reform congregation, Sam in more recent years has become active in and supportive of Aish HaTorah.
Describing herself as a “Liberal Democrat,” Naomi intends to support President Obama and volunteer for his campaign in one of the “swing” states this fall.
Switched party affiliations a number of years ago, Sam now considers himself a “Moderate Republican.” He has contributed this year to the Mitt Romney campaign and to the the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Naomi is a J Street Supporter but has a broad set of political interests that align with her general liberal values.
Sam is a supporter of AIPAC and other Pro-Israel organizations, including Stand With Us. Sam sees Israel’s security and well-being as a central political interest.
Naomi is active in an array of liberal initiatives that involve the environment, health care, international human rights, etc… She tries to support organizations and causes that reflect her priorities.
Pro-Israel Priorities: Sam supports a number of Jewish and civic groups that are focused on Israel and US security interests.
Naomi supported Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination but supported Barack Obama in the fall campaign.
Sam had been a long time supporter of John McCain, so he was active on behalf of the Senator from the outset.
For the most part, Naomi’s friends share her politics.
Sam’s friends are divided politically. A group of his friends share his political positions, yet a number are long standing Democrats; others are still uncertain how they will vote this fall.
For both Naomi and Sam this election cycle has been particularly contentious as they each have encountered political conversations that they describe as difficult. Friendships in some cases have been strained, and conversations around Israel have been problematic. Sam has noted that dinner conversations frequently now avoid the “I” (Israel) word, while Naomi reported that she has witnessed scenes where name calling replaced civil discourse.
The political divide that we read about in American politics in general is also being played out within the American Jewish community, as clearly two distinctive political perspectives have emerged over Israel in particular and Jewish interests in more general terms. Probably many of us can identify with the above descriptions.