Jewish Voters are Overlooking Israel
By Dan Schnur
June 5, 2019
grade school student learns in social studies class that democracy is based on
the concept of majority rule. But as we get older, we realize that it is
actually a system of minority rule with majority acquiescence. To put it another
way, small numbers of true believers who care passionately about an issue can
almost always prevail over a larger group with greater numbers but less
is a concept that descendants of Joshua, David and Judah Maccabee should
understand with little additional explanation. The more we care about something
— a cause, a concept or a country — the more likely we are to achieve our
goals. But the converse is true as well.
is why a recent poll from the Jewish Electorate Institute is so disconcerting.
When 1,000 Jewish American voters were asked to prioritize 16 policy issues as
to their importance in the 2020 elections, a candidate’s stance on Israel
ranked dead last. While most American Jews still would classify themselves as
pro-Israel, the safety and security of the Jewish homeland scarcely caused a
ripple in the collective political consciousness of our community.
last. It seems that the Diaspora is complete — not just geographically but
voters’ disdain for President Donald Trump and discomfort with Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are contributing factors to the diminished import of
Israel to their votes. It has become easier for many American Jews to simply
deprioritize the issue to avoid sorting through their complicated feelings and
conflicting cultural, historical and political loyalties.
Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently demonstrated the difficulties that emerge
when attempting to articulate a pro-Israel anti-Trump point of view.
Garcetti’s careful but largely futile efforts to explain that wanting the U.S.
Embassy to be in Jerusalem on one hand and opposing the manner in which Trump
accomplished that goal on the other were perfectly logical. But the criticism he
took from true believers on both sides of the debate is an excellent example of
how murky the waters have become for American Jews who would like to continue
their support for Israel without lining up next to the president.
many years now, Jewish voters have paid more attention to domestic policy rather
than issues related to Israel. Some of this is based on the belief that most
(but not all) candidates in both major parties can be counted on to support
Israel’s needs when necessary. But much is also based on the growing cultural
divide between American and Israeli Jews, as evidenced by controversies in
recent years regarding conversions of the non-Orthodox, the role of female
rabbis and regulations for prayer at the Western Wall.
greater concern is the possibility that the diminished interest in Israel among
Jewish voters here is simply the passage of time. The existential threat to Jews
that led to the creation of Israel seems less real to many whose experience with
anti-Semitism is limited to news reports and history books. So it’s not
surprising that the attitudes of American Jews are much different than our
Israeli counterparts when it comes to issues of safety and security.
the same reason, it’s equally unsurprising that the most dauntless pro-Israel
voices among American Jews tend to come from the Persian Jewish community. The
atrocities that forced so many Jews from Iran are 30 years more recent — and
one generation less removed — and so the horrors seem more real. If the
American Jewish community is going to reassert ourselves more forcefully on
behalf of Israel, I suspect that effort will be led by Sephardic Jews.
it’s worth noting that America’s most virulent opponents of Israel do not
share our lack of focus or motivation. While public opinion polls show that most
American voters consider themselves to be supporters of Israel, our adversaries
are growing both in numbers and intensity. An increasingly diffident American
Jewish community will face much more difficult challenges — and threats — in
the years ahead unless we regain that lost commitment.