Party Line

It is not an easy time to be a Jewish Democrat or a Democratic Jew, depending on which facet of identity is considered primary or secondary. For almost a century, most Jews have considered membership in the Democrat Party to be part of their birthright and a natural expression of their Jewishness, and this from a time when Jews were much more knowledgeable and committed to Torah, Mitzvot, Jewish values and Jewish ideas. These days too many Jews just assume that whatever policies or values are espoused by Democrats or the Party platform must (or should) be Jewish, clear and concise expressions of Torah truth.

To be sure, there was some substance to these claims. Jews felt more at home in a political party that encouraged immigrants and minorities, protected personal freedoms and, especially, supported to some extent Jewish national aspirations in the Land of Israel and under President Truman even recognized the nascent State of Israel. The Democrat Party was home to numerous Jews, especially in Congress and in city politics, and Jews drawn to socialism or least socialist instincts were comfortable in the party of unions and the common man that confronted the party of big business.

Of course, many Jews, especially in New York, were Democrats by default because there was no functioning Republican Party (still generally true). But what if today’s Democrat Party no longer represents those fundamental values, embraces doctrines that are antithetical to Torah, vehemently opposes equality of treatment of public and parochial schools (such that families who send their children to Yeshivot are doubly taxed) and, particularly, has joined Israel’s enemies in opposing the State of Israel, supporting BDS or worse, and seeks to undermine its very viability? This is no longer your grandfather’s Democrat Party.

It has been an oft-repeated shibboleth that support for Israel is and should be bi-partisan, and for many decades that has been true. Indeed, one of the greatest and enduring causes that brought together Republicans and Democrats has been support for the State of Israel. Such still is the recurring theme at every AIPAC conference, and rightly so, even if the claim gets more strained every year. It was always heartwarming to see Dems and Reps who disagree about everything else join together on stage and pledge their support for Israel, and not for votes or money but because they genuinely believed that Israel’s cause was just, its alliance with the United States beneficial for both countries, and their shared values good for the world.

Shall we keep saying that it is still true when we know it not to be true?

While support for Israel in Congress remains largely bi-partisan, the winds of change are blowing – and against the Democrat-Israel alliance. Among the rank and file, a recent poll found that 79% of Republicans support Israel in the regional dispute, while only 27% of Democrats support Israel. That is shocking, and eye-opening, and marks a dramatic shift from even twenty years ago, and probably ten years ago. It should not be hard to remember the debacle at the 2012 Democrat Convention in Los Angeles where a voice vote of the crowd clearly and vociferously opposed the plank asserting that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, only to be overruled by a farcical pronouncement of the chairman. (The crowd also voted against G-d, which makes sense in that context.)

In recent years, Democrat politicians have been emboldened to ally themselves with openly anti-Israel policies and positions and, this year, are fielding a number of candidates, some but not all Muslim, who make no attempt to conceal their contempt for Israel. They pledge to oppose any support for Israel, to undermine the US-Israel alliance and routinely refer to Israel as an apartheid, racist state. While Republicans have had their (small) share of anti-Israel and even Holocaust-denying candidates, they have all been repudiated by the Party and are considered extremists on the fringe who are unwelcome in the mainstream Republican Party. Among the Dems, not only are these avowedly anti-Israel candidates not repudiated, they are also no longer considered to be on the fringe. They are becoming the mainstream of the party and are extremely popular.  For example, the Reps have marginalized and ostracized David Duke and his acolytes while too many Dems pay obeisance to Louis Farrakhan despite his anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish tirades.

Worse, current office-holders like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York unabashedly appear at anti-Israel and pro-BDS forums, with seemingly no consequences. New Jersey’s own Sen. Cory Booker, who already put party above principle by bowing to pressure and endorsing the Obama Iran deal that provided for an Iranian nuclear weapons capability after ten years (if not earlier), was recently photographed with anti-Israel, BDS activists holding a sign that read “From Palestine to Mexico, all walls have got to go.” His later claim that he did not know what the sign said is risible, calling into question his veracity, his judgment or both, all of which should disqualify him from office.

Obviously, for both of them – and others – it is a wise political move. Since the center of gravity in the Democrat Party has shifted to the far left, that is where the votes, financial support, enthusiasm and the party’s moral compass can be found. In today’s Democrat Party, support for Israel has become a losing issue, a victim of the specious dogma of “intersectionality” that propounds that all “victim” groups, however defined, must make common cause with each other, however absurd the consequences. In this bizarre state of affairs, Arabs are always the victims and Israel – having no inherent right to exist in any form – is always the colonial oppressor. (Thus, rallies of radical feminists always include the waving of Palestinian flags and anti-Israel rhetoric, seemingly oblivious to the reality that these same feminists would be tossed from rooftops in Gaza if they ever tried to hold a rally there.)

It is undeniable that younger Democrat politicians have distanced themselves from Israel and Israel’s base of support exists only amongst older Dems (like Pelosi and Hoyer and others), with Josh Gottheimer a notable exception to this trend. Add to this that the Democrat party has become the proponent of policies and moral norms that cannot be reconciled with the Torah or even traditional Judeo-Christian values, one wonders for how long can this instinctive and unquestioning support for the Democrat Party continue in Jewish life? After all, to be a Democrat today means to embrace income redistribution, open immigration, aggressive affirmative action, a diminution of individual religious liberty, an assault on private ownership, sharply increased taxes on the “wealthy,” drastic limitations on free speech and surrender to coercive speech codes, identity politics and a host of other issues that should give any sentient Jew at least some pause.

For most American Jews, alienated from Torah and largely assimilated and intermarried, the Democrat Party is their anchor and even their “spiritual” home. While some might balk at the pervasive anti-Israel bias emanating from their ranks, it is more likely that many of these Jews will turn against Israel to avoid the cognitive dissonance of their party v. their people. To a great extent, that has already happened under the transparent and hollow blather of a “split” between American Jewry and Israel because of (take your pick) conversion, settlements, the Kotel, recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis, the two-state illusion, PM Netanyahu or something else that will occur tomorrow or the day after. The painful reality is that the more assimilated the Jew, the weaker will be his or her affinity for Israel or anything Jewish. This is patently clear to all Israelis except the diehard secular ones who share the same grievances. This is what is unfolding in American Jewish life today and why the Dems have shifted so dramatically in the last decade, certainly aided and abetted by the Obama administration that worked hard to weaken the US-Israel alliance.

And what of Jewish Democrats who are not assimilated and are even Torah observant but are comfortable in that party for a variety of reasons – they are liberal, promote a rigid separation of morality and state, tend to support the welfare state or are just perpetually put off by the Republican Party, with or without, before and after Trump?

They have their work cut out for them. In the best circumstance, they can stand athwart history yelling “stop!” to those who have seized control of their party and moved it away from core Jewish interests. That is not easy to do in the current climate but they have few other options. They could also take a look at the reality before them and draw the natural and appropriate conclusions. Certainly, there are many putative Dems who vote for Reps on occasion, for one reason or another, and that might happen as well. But there is something elevating about Israel being the one bi-partisan issue and it would be appropriate to work for the restoration of that situation.

As it stands now, that is a pipedream. Jewish Democrats or Democrat Jews will have to choose which is the noun and which is the adjective.



8 responses to “Party Line

  1. MYTH: Israel as an apartheid, racist state.

    FACT: Many Arab nations are apartheid, racist states.
    MYTH: Israel persecutes Christians.

    FACT: Muslim nations persecute Christians.
    MYTH: Israel kills thousands of innocent people.

    FACT: Muslim nations kill thousands of innocent people.
    MYTH: Jews are not indigenous to the land called Palestine.

    FACT: Arabs are not indigenous to the land called Palestine.
    MYTH: Women do not get respect in Israel.

    FACT: Women do not get respect in Muslim nations.
    MYTH: Zionism is an intolerant and expansionist ideology.

    FACT: Islam is an intolerant and expansionist ideology.
    MYTH: The news media is biased in favor of Israel.

    FACT: The news media is biased in favor of Muslims.
    Who are the Palestinians?
    Did Captain Kirk believe in negotiating with terrorists?
    Time Magazine vs Truth:
    How Torah Can Defeat Terrorism:
    How to Pray for Tzahal-IDF:
    Rambam Rejected Childless Messiah:
    Was Daniel an Orthodox Jew?

  2. There are two reasons a Jew might choose to be a Democrat (and not just for the sake of voting in the only primaries that matter in his state):

    1- It is easier to get along with people who don’t believe in moral absolutes than people who believe the law should reflect moral absolutes we don’t believe in.

    For example, we do not really agree with the Christian Right on the subject of abortion. And it is impossible for any Pro-Life legislation to allow every mother mechuyeves to have one to save her life as broadly defined as halakahah does. We can’t even get posqim to agree, you expect a law that is going to accomodate exactly the same set of abortions as the din? (According to whom? Rav Moshe? The Tzitz Eliezer?) One mother’s life saved is enough to permit millions of abortions, according to the majority of posqim who do not consider abortion to be actual murder. Someone could choose to argue that it is better to leave the choices open on a legal level and fight this one in the court of discourse rather than in supreme court.

    2- A community that can’t make its ends meet (spelled: Tuition Crisis) might be better served by the party of government handouts.

    Of course, someone might actually believe that a religion that speaks of tzedaqah, from a root meaning “righteousness”, rather than “charity” might even have /more/ in common with the Dem party line than with the Republicans and the Christian Right.

    • I don’t agree with you on either point. Certainly a law can be crafted that prohibits abortion when used as birth control. All the exceptional cases that exercise people amount to fewer than 5% of all abortions in the US. Surely we agree even with the Christian Right that abortion Is more morally significant than clipping one’s nails.
      Secondly, it’s the Republicans who generally favor aid to parichial schools and tuition tax credits, so your reasoning leads in the opposite direction. Democrats are slaves to the teachers unions and the public schools and the foe of aid to religious families.
      Finally, charity is an individual not a governmental responsibility, and even charity represents a failure of the social safety net. We prefer to help someone get a job and support himself than rely forever on handouts. So if the Dems are the party of handouts (“free stuff”), and they are, that too would be a reason for one who believes in Torah values to support the Reps.
      In any event, I wish the Jewish support for each party was 50-50. That would better serve our community. As it is, my emphasis was on the mistaken conclusion for many Jews that has conflated the Dem platform with the Torah.
      Thank you.
      – RSP

  3. Write on Rabbi !

  4. Howard Rotberg

    Excellent column. I am a Canadian pro-Israel Jew who is also an author of four books and publisher of Canada’s only conservative publishing house, Mantua Books ( I wrote a novel set in Israel during the Second Intifada about a Second Generation Orthodox Canadian professor who is finishing a book about Israel when his daughter is injured in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem while studying at Hebrew U. – The Second Catastrophe: A Novel about a Book and its Author. I am a student of political cultures, ideologies and values and have written also a book called Tolerism: The Ideology Revealed, and my most recent book, The Ideological Path to Submission … and what we can do about it. If you want copies of any of them, I would send complimentary review copies. I would like to know if you were related to the late Rabbi Pruzansky and his wife Sybil Pruzansky as he was the Rabbi of the small community of Brantford Ontario, an hour and fifteen minutes from Toronto, for a few years in the late ’50s or early 60s when I was a boy. They were outstanding people. My writings have always been rather prescient of the decline in support for Israel by Diaspora Jews whose values are no longer based on Torah, but on postmodern cultural and moral relativism.

  5. “In January, Pew reported that liberal Democrats side with the Palestinians over Israel by a margin of nearly two to one. Conservative Republicans support Israel over the Palestinians by a margin of more than 16 to 1.”

    SOURCE: Heeding Dem Warnings
    by Caroline B. Glick, 2018 May 25

    Keith Ellison, an anti-Israel Muslim, became Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee by a UNANIMOUS VOICE VOTE of DNC members, according to Wikipedia.

    “…leading members of the Democratic Party like Keith Ellison and luminaries like Linda Sarsour openly espouse anti-Jewish sentiments and propagate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, Democrats ignore, whitewash, deny and minimize the significance of the swelling chorus of anti-Semitism within their ranks.”

    SOURCE: The peril of Politicized Anti-Semitism
    by Caroline B. Glick 2018 June 22

    “Rising stars in the Democratic Party, including Rep. Ellison and Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour along with the Congressional Black Caucus embrace Louis Farrakhan, and defend his notorious, virulent hatred of Jews.
    They demonize Israel and its Jewish supporters.”

    SOURCE: The peril of Politicized Anti-Semitism
    by Caroline B. Glick 2018 June 22

    Mark Steyn said:

    “It is embarrassing that this nut [Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan]
    is a power broker in the Democrat Party, and the media won’t cover it.”

    Why don’t the media care about Democrats’ ties to Farrakhan?
    by Fox News, 2018 March 8,

    Mr. Patrick Condell has no Jewish ancestors
    and no religion that might cause him to favor Jews.

    Please read these short pro-Israel articles that
    expose the Palestinians by Mr. Patrick Condell:

    Thank you!

  6. I did not actually take a political position in my post. I simply pointed out that without taking into account what a Torah-believing Jewish Democrat my actually be thinking, you’re arguing against a straw-man.

    (And communities like Vizhnitz need WIC more than they need tuition assistance. We are asking how reasonable Torah-loyal Jews could align themselves with Democrats, so that you can actually talk to the audience that actually exists.)

    However, since we are going beyond that to what I personally believe, I would also argue that while many Liberal Jews have conflated left-wing Democratic positions (not even mainstream Dem) with Torah under the rubric of “Tikkun Olam”, that doesn’t rule out the reality that many in the Orthodox community are conflating the Christian Right’s version of Republicanism with ours.

    There is no party line in America founded on Torah, and if anyone finds themselves overwhelming agreeing with any sizable American Political camp, they should really be checking whether their exposure to that group’s echo chamber has colored they positions.

    Halakhah has tools for subtle and nuanced positions that aren’t there for Christians. How could we ever possiblly find ourselves in near consistent agreement with either party? All we can do is align on an issue-by-issue basis.

    So, if we really want to see Torah and its values thrive in the US, perhaps the only way is not to try to force its moral stances by legal fiat, but by cultural influence. Lets go back to my example of Pro-Life legislation, which I hadn’t intended to put in my own mouth the first time around..

    “All the exceptional cases that exercise people amount to fewer than 5% of all abortions in the US. Surely we agree even with the Christian Right that abortion Is more morally significant than clipping one’s nails.”

    First, Roe-v-Wade isn’t an abortion ruling, it’s an abortion law ruling. It bans the existence of a kind of law, and its repeal would not be replaced by one that only allows the 95% you agree with.

    And we (at least the overwhelming majority of posqim from the Tzitzi Eliezer to the Satmar Ruv) disagree with the Christian Right in placing the life of the baby ahead of the mother’s sanity — even in cases where that sanity could be known not to be a suicide risk.

    So, how are you ever going to get an American Law that allows that one case? And that one case is piquach nefesh, whereas (R Moshe’s position excepting) those abortion-as-contraception cases certainly are not. (Even those after day 40.)

    Now back to the generalization, that was an example. Because our political voice lacks the volume to get our version of morality into law, I can see someone choosing to not advocate legalizing the better moral choice. To actually allow choice legally, and instead shape the culture to encourage the right choices.

    • Actually a repeal of Roe would return the matter to the states, and then each state could be influenced by its citizens’ moral aspirations. Even before Row, states like NY, NJ and CA already permitted abortions, almost on demand.
      You also exaggerate the poskim who permit abortions based on a woman’s sanity, as well as minimize the extent to which “sanity” is exaggerated to justify the loss of potential human life.
      I believe laws can be constructed in states with moral aspirations that would allow abortions in the relatively-rare sensitive cases and still prohibit it as birth control. And denizens of those states who desire abortion on demand can always go to one of those states.
      But to trivialize potential human life – as the leftist culture does – is an embarrassment, for which the names of R. Moshe or R. Waldenberg should not be invoked.
      – RSP