Which party better represents Jews? No easy answers

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of 10 books on international and American politics.


There is the old saw that “where there are two Jews, you will find three opinions.” A case in point is the ongoing debate over whether it is the Republican Party or the Democratic Party that better represents Jews today and, more particularly, which is more likely to fight against anti-Semitism. 

Just last month, I had an email exchange with my Jewish friends from Baltimore who, like more than 70% of American Jews, are good liberal Democrats, where three different viewpoints on this issue were discussed. 

The exchange started when one person, wanting to provoke comments, sent a FrontPage Magazine article entitled “Jewish Voters Beware,” making the argument that the Democrats have become the party of the far left, including well-known anti-Israel critics such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Linda Sarsour, whose vocal anti-Zionism and support for the BDS movement amounts to anti-Semitism. Hence, Jews would be foolish to vote Democratic in the upcoming presidential election.

My friends all pushed back and defended the Democratic Party as the traditional home of Jewish voters, arguing that the party still deserved Jewish support more than the GOP. As one friend stated, “How Orthodox Jews can support Trump, whose behavior is inimical to the very core of Jewish values, totally befuddles me.” Another added, “Trump would sell Israel down the river if he came to the conclusion it would be good for him to do so.”

I offered a third, middle of the road opinion: “Any reasonable observer would note that the picture is complicated. That is, some very high-profile Democrats, such as AOC, as well as Democratic supporters, including Sarsour and many Black Lives Matter leaders — read the BLM manifesto of three years ago that they have never renounced — are clearly anti-Israel and even are sympathetic to Louis Farrakhan. At the same time, Joe Biden historically has been pro-Israel. On the other side, obviously there are some right-wingers as well, including neo-Nazis, who are virulently anti-Semitic and vote Republican, although you can hardly include Trump in that category.”  

Anti-Semitism itself is a complicated phenomenon. 

On the one hand, as Bari Weiss notes in her new book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism”: “Some 74 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Israel. Americans feel ‘warmer’ about Jews than any other religious group, just ahead of Catholics, according to a 2017 Pew poll. We are loved so much that non-Jews want to marry us. Around 70 percent of non-Orthodox Jews now marry outside the tribe.”

On the other hand, Weiss also notes that more than half of all religion-motivated hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews. The Anti-Defamation League has noted a recent surge in anti-Semitism in the United States, as there were more than 2,000 such incidents across the country in 2019, the most in any year since it began tracking them four decades ago (The New York Times, May 12).

I recommend reading Weiss’s book if you want a truly serious, balanced examination of which side of the political spectrum and which party is guilty of promoting anti-Semitism. As suggested above, both sides can be equally criticized. Weiss has chapters titled “The Left” and “The Right” as well as a chapter on “Radical Islam” as a third source of anti-Semitism. 

She writes: “Is the anti-Semitism that posits that Jews are evil capitalists who control the world different from the one that posits they are evil communists who control the world? … Is the anti-Semitism that says that Jews are secret betrayers of the white race different from the anti-Semitism that says they are secret white supremacists? Is the anti-Semitism that asserts Jews have upended tradition any different than the anti-Semitism that asserts that they stand in the way of progress?”

Weiss recognizes that “American Jews tend to be much more attuned to anti-Semitism when it comes from the political right,” which is largely “a function of Hitler’s long shadow.” However, she writes, today, “in order to be welcomed as a Jew in a growing number of progressive groups, you have to disavow a list of things that grows longer every day.” 

She elaborates: “Whereas once it was enough to criticize Israeli government policy, specifically its treatment of Palestinians, now Israel’s very existence must be denounced. … Whereas once Jewish success had to be explained, now it has to be apologized for. … It is why Jewish leaders of the Women’s March were subjected to anti-Semitic attacks and exclusion by the movement’s other leaders,” why more and more university campuses are “hostile to certain core Jewish ideas” and why Israelis and Jews are considered “oppressors” in “intersectionality” circles even as North Koreans and far worse evildoers get a pass.

Regarding the 2020 presidential election, liberals have made much of Donald Trump’s association with Steve Bannon, Breitbart and other right-wing elements accused of anti-Semitism. Never mind that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as Barack Obama’s vice president, cannot hide his association with notorious anti-Semites such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who paid more than 100 personal visits to the Obama White House, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had been Obama’s pastor in Chicago spewing racist bile in his Sunday sermons for years. 

Just this month, Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, effusively praised Jacob Blake Sr. and the family of the young man shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., despite Blake’s vicious anti-Semitic comments, including explicit support for Farrakhan; it was enough that Blake fit the Black Lives Matter narrative.

Despite efforts to link both Trump and Biden to dark characters, there is no evidence that either one is an anti-Semite or have promoted hatred of Jews.  To the contrary, both have explicitly spoken out against anti-Semitism on numerous occasions. Trump in his actions arguably is the most pro-Israel president in memory, his daughter and son-in-law are Orthodox Jews, and for other reasons as well it is patently absurd to accuse him of trafficking in anti-Semitism. Likewise, it is unfair to question Biden’s support for Israel and his strong bonds with the Jewish community over his 50 years in politics. 

The bottom line is that, for American Jews, it is silly to base one’s voting decision in November on which candidate or party is pro-Jewish. If you want to factor in each candidate’s position on policing, gun control, health care, immigration or dozens of other issues where there are major differences, that would make sense. 

Better yet, rather than mindlessly being driven by Trump (or Biden) Derangement Syndrome, as so many people today are, try understanding the complexity of the world we inhabit and the absence of simple choices.