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The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’

by Steven Windmueller

May 29, 2012 | 11:35 pm

A new book, entitled Herbert Hoover and the Jews was recently released; its authors, Sonia Wentling and Rafael Medoff, posit that the 1944 elections represented a potential transformative moment in American Jewish political behavior. Fearing the loss of support for President Roosevelt related to his inaction on behalf of European Jewish refugees, Democratic leaders and Jewish representatives made numerous overtures to the White House, seeking action by the administration to offset such criticism. In part, they argue, the War Refugee Board was established to offset such criticisms.

Realizing that the Jewish vote might be in-play, Republican leaders moved to take action at their Chicago convention by inserting a platform plank endorsing “unrestricted immigration and land ownership” and a “free and democratic Commonwealth” in Palestine.

The writers conclude: “The Republican move put strong pressure on the Democrats, for the first time, to compete for Jewish sympathies and treat the Jewish vote as if it were up for grabs.” The 1944 election may well represent a transformative moment in American Jewish political affairs. Over the years that have followed both parties have been particularly mindful of the importance of being responsive to Jewish voters.

The authors also point to the 1980 elections (Reagan vs. Carter) as a “watershed year for the GOP and Jewish voters,” arguing that for the first time since 1920 that the “Democratic nominee did not win a majority of Jewish voters.”

In light of the current criticism directed at the Obama administration in its management of US-Israel relations, are we likely to see a statement reflecting such concerns emerging from the Republican Party Platform Committee and might we see next fall as well some voter disengagement from the Democratic Party?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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From June 2006 to June 2010, Steven Windmueller served as the Dean of Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles campus.  In March of 2009, President David Ellenson named Professor...

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