Judaism Is Not Synonymous With Liberal Progressivism
There is this old Jewish joke about a guy who gets stranded on a desert island. Miraculously, he finds he’s not alone -- another Jew has been marooned there for quite some time. After a tour of the island, the newcomer asks why are there three synagogues on the tiny speck of land. His fellow castaway replies, ‘The first is where I pray regularly, the second is where I go when I’ve had enough of the first, and the third, well, you won’t catch me setting foot in the place.”
To the question about where Jews stand on the ever-widening political divide, the answer is, in classic yeddishe fashion, “it depends on which Jews you talk to.”
A recent poll by the Jewish weekly magazine Ami found that approximately 91 percent of Orthodox Jews support President Trump. In the Jewish Orthodox community, he is a rock star.
Meanwhile, the picture in a recent American Jewish Committee poll of all American Jews is not so warm. A bulky 57 percent disapproves of the president’s policies and long-term agenda.
This comes as no surprise, as American Jews have traditionally aligned themselves with the Democratic Party in lopsided numbers. However, since Trump’s election, the Orthodox Jewish vote has been walking away in droves.
So, what is driving the split?
Several factors seem to be at work, including a mindset much akin to that of the one-time Democrat Ronald Reagan: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.”
The same could be said of many Jews, who no longer feel comfortable with the Democratic National Committee’s growing courtship of the ultra-liberal progressive factions within the party. In a party where the likes of Bernie Sanders and Hamas sympathizer Keith Ellison are seen as harbingers of the future, many Jews feel like they can no longer be at home with a party that outright rejects their values, hopes and dreams.
In a recent example of this trend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, the avowed Democratic Socialist who toppled a veteran congressman -- and the future of the DNC, according Chairman Tom Perez -- called Israel’s defense of its Gaza border a humanitarian crisis and referred to the Jewish state’s “occupation of Palestine.”
She’s not alone, however. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was photographed with a group of pro-Palestinian activists holding a sign equating Israel’s defense perimeter with Trump’s border wall. (Booker later apologized, saying he hadn’t read the sign he was holding.)
And there’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) endorsement of Islamist Palestinian-American Israel-boycotter Linda Sarsour for Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.” The senator’s refusal to support legislation banning the anti-Israel boycott, her support for the Iran nuclear deal and her refusal to support cutting off taxpayer aid to families of terrorists just adds to the feeling of betrayal.
Such policies are increasingly becoming the official party line. Witness the California Democratic Party’s opposition to federal bills outlawing the Israel boycott, and the national Democratic Party’s growing constituency to formally support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as part of the platform of the DNC -- a political organization which four years after booing God at the national convention chucked the prayer service aside due to delegate outrage.
But as repellant as these anti-Israel and anti-God positions may be, they don’t explain the split of American Jewry – or rather, why the #WalkAway movement is off to a solid start.
There is another factor at play.
Many younger, liberal Jews understand Judaism (to the extent they think about it at all) as synonymous with a universalist “social justice” agenda. This Jewish equivalent of liberation theology and the Social Gospel is known as “tikkun olam” and was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s by radicals including Michael Lerner, founder of the left-wing magazine Tikkun.
One aspect of this agenda, neo-Marxist in origin, subordinates national identity to membership in a transnational class based on race or gender, or in the “universal brotherhood of man.”
In contrast, others in the Jewish community, many but not all of them Orthodox, understand nationhood and exceptionalism to be indispensable central tenets of Judaism. Indeed, they are key Judeo-Christian concepts fundamental to Western civilization. The biblical covenant of a Chosen People is the fountainhead of American exceptionalism, the belief that America can be a “shining city on a hill” and “a light unto the nations.”
When Donald Trump says, “I am president of the United States, not president of the world,” he is defending the idea of nationhood and rejecting post-national globalism. Jewish voters identify with his words on many levels.
We hear echoes of the Lord’s ancient promise to Abraham: “I will make you a nation.” He did not promise, “I will make you a global economy,” nor did He borrow a page from John Lennon and command Abraham to “Imagine there’s no countries.” Rather, He told Abraham that the land where he lived would be inherited by his descendants, and within the land’s borders, He would make Israel a people, and commanded them to defend those borders. Nationhood is central to the Jewish experience. To this day, Jews fast on the 9th of Av in remembrance of the loss of their homeland 2,000 years ago.
As Jews, Orthodox or otherwise, we see our Jewish identity entirely congruent with our identity as Americans. With an acute understanding of what it means to achieve American Exceptionalism, we support this nation and want to move the vision of America’s Founding Fathers forward.
America has been exceptionally good to the Jewish people and to Torah-true Jewish practice. America’s laws have protected our lives and our religious freedoms, unlike other places in the diaspora where those countries’ laws did not apply to us. Unlike Andrew Cuomo, who says America “was never that great,” Orthodox Jews often and fondly use the term Malchus shel Chesed – “kingdom of loving-kindness” -- to describe the United States and its relationship to our people.
This viewpoint, of unabashed and proud Americanism, should no longer be silenced or marginalized within the Jewish community. It is time for the Orthodox and others in the Jewish community to stand up for what it feels is right, to promote the biblical values that make Americanism the illustration of what it means to achieve exceptionalism and the right to self-determination. That is the truth, and the longstanding bond between the United States and its greatest ally, the land of our forefathers, the State of Israel.
As a Jewish community that in practice follows the rites and rotes of the Bible, we should express our views, and not be deterred or fearful of the wrath of local politicians -- who are in many cases Democrats. They need our vote more then they let us know.
With the rise of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement and anti-religious freedom sentiments in the rank and file of the DNC, it’s time for Jews to #WalkAway from the shackles of the Democrat ghetto, and its ideologies of ‘identity politics” and post-national globalism.
It’s time that our community embraces its rightful place as a solid voter base for the Republican Party, President Trump and his America First agenda.