US Jews ‘more pro-choice than pro-Israel,’ new study says
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US Jews ‘more pro-choice than pro-Israel,’ new study says

Ruderman Family Foundation report finds most American Jews solidly support Jewish state, but are more invested in their liberal identity

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative. Young American Jews participating in a Birthright event in Jerusalem. (Dudi Vaknin/ Flash90)
Illustrative. Young American Jews participating in a Birthright event in Jerusalem. (Dudi Vaknin/ Flash90)

WASHINGTON — A new report released found that most American Jews consider a sense of “liberalism” central to their Jewish identity, and their voting patterns this November will gear more toward a concern for “liberal causes” than for Israel.

“American Jews are perceived as voting for Jewish interests, especially regarding Israel,” said Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University who conducted the study, released by the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa. “However, American Jews are more pro-choice than pro-Israel when voting.”

“This doesn’t make American Jews anti-Israel, on the contrary, they perceive the Democratic Party as taking a strong pro-Israel stance, proving that progressive Zionism is not an oxymoron,” he added. “Thus, we can say that American Jews are more pro-choice than pro-Israel in the voting booth, but pro-Israel nevertheless.”

Breaking down the history of American Jewish voting patterns, the study noted that, since 1928, the vast majority of US Jews have voted for the Democratic presidential nominee — with the figures usually hovering somewhere around 70 percent.

In 2008, for instance, Barack Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote; in 2012, he received 69 percent.

Despite concerns certain segments of the American Jewish community had with Obama in 2008 — specifically his association with Chicago Pastor Jeremiah Wright, who had a history of making controversial statements regarding Israel and Jews — the study noted that the demographic group nonetheless largely flocked to Obama at the polls.

Sarah Silverman speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sarah Silverman speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Troy cited the comedian Sarah Silverman’s viral 2012 video “The Great Shlep” — which was designed to mobilize Jewish voters — as an example of how US Jews regarded voting Democratic to be “as much cultural as it was political.”

“If Barack Obama doesn’t become the next president of the United States, I’m gonna blame the Jews … I am,” Silverman said in the ad.

“And I know you’re saying like, ‘Oh my God, Sarah, I can’t believe you’re saying this. Jews are the most liberal, scrappy, civil rights-y people there are.’ Yes, that’s true. But you’re forgetting a whole large group of Jews that are not that way, and they go by several aliases. Nana, Papa, Zaide, Bubbe, plain old Grandma and Grandpa. These are the people who vote in Florida. And the Florida vote can make or break an election. If you don’t think that’s true, why don’t you think back to two elections ago when a little man named Al Gore got fucked by Florida.”

Silverman was a major supporter of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary, but has since embraced the party’s nominee Hillary Clinton.

Troy also found that although Jews make up just roughly 2 percent of the American population, the prominent role many Jews hold in public life gives them a “megaphone effect” in the electoral college system.

“Jews stand out politically because there are disproportionate numbers of Jewish office holders and Jewish activists,” the study said.

“Since the 1930s, American Jews have been woven into the fabric of the American political landscape. From civil rights to women’s rights, Jews have been on the frontier of liberal political movements, spearheading social reforms and shaping American policies from within,” it said. “Jews in America are disproportionately wealthy, charitable and politically engaged, making them critical donors standing out both among wealthy donors and among more modest mass donors.

Jewish donations to political campaigns also play a “disproportionate” and important role, it said.

“In the 2016 presidential race, the Jewish financial vote remains disproportionately important — with estimates that Jewish donors contribute 50 percent of the funds to the Democratic Party and and 25 percent to the Republican Party.”

In the report, Troy quoted certain scholars perplexed by the affinity such a large swath of American Jews feel toward a progressive political orientation and the Democratic Party.

“Many American Jews see their liberalism as part of their Jewish inheritance, along with rags-to-riches stories of success, candlesticks from the Old Country, and grandma’s matzoh ball recipe,” he explained.

“Understanding the Jewish vote helps explain American Jewish identity,” he added. Later in the report, he continued: “American Jewish liberalism has become a mentality, a sensibility, an ideology, a cultural identity.”

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