Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of several Jewish newspapers and is currently a foreign affairs writer based in Washington, D.C. This piece reflects solely the opinions of Seth.
When Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver got involved in pressing the cause of Zionism and the plight of the world’s Jews in World War II, he advised the American Jewish community against becoming pure Democratic partisans.
“He believed that both major political parties should be made to vie for Jewish support,” write Allis and Ronald Radosh in A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. “It was a mistake, he thought, to be in the pocket of the Democratic Party and be taken for granted.”
The Jewish community didn’t listen, of course—they were mostly an unquestioning legion of Franklin D. Roosevelt supporters. And while we can’t say for certain what would have happened otherwise, we do know what followed: a refugee policy that closed the borders; a refusal to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz; and the infuriating and humiliating treatment of the St. Louis.
Today, Jews vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Is this wise?
First of all, being a Jewish Democrat is a study in contradictions. Jewish Democrats say they want to keep strong the separation of church and state, yet implore us to support everything from government-run health care to cap-and-trade environmental policy in the name of tikkun olam and Torah values. They say they want a world free of discrimination, but then support policies that institutionalize race-based hiring and college admissions.
Then there is the issue of Israel. It’s pretty clear which party has a better record on standing up for Israel’s security—the GOP. But many Jewish Democrats mistakenly believe that Israel is strictly a foreign policy issue. It is not—ask anybody who prays daily. We mention Israel, Zion, and Jerusalem throughout davening, praying for our return. How do we conclude our Passover seders each year? By repeating the phrase, “Next year in Jerusalem!” The concepts of Jerusalem and Zion appear throughout Psalms, with only the most famous being the one that begins “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem….”
And we also have the notion that what happens in Israel doesn’t stay in Israel. This was acknowledged beautifully in a Jerusalem Post editorial during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009. The editors noted how Israel’s fight often becomes world Jewry’s fight, and that during Operation Cast Lead the security of Jews all around the world became a concern when anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rallies everywhere presented with a violent hue. Yet, Jews rallied in support of Israel’s right to defend herself.
“We Israelis don’t tell our Diaspora brethren often enough how grateful we are for their support, or how cognizant we are that what we do to defend ourselves sometimes complicates their lives,” the editors wrote. “So we’re telling them now: Toda raba!”
It’s also why Daniel Gordis writes, in Saving Israel, that the state of Israel represents the Jewish people’s sense of hope for the future and the very concept of Jewish survival. Therefore, he writes, there is “almost no chance” the Jewish people could survive if Israel does not.
Israel’s survival is thoroughly intertwined with our own. Support for Israel is not “dual loyalty,” it is self-preservation.
And while there are many “Jewish issues” on which the GOP is superior to the Democratic Party, even if we put aside the cultural issues like the right to life the GOP still wins out. School choice offers opportunities to Jewish day schoolers and their families throughout the country. Advocacy of the free market system is a defense of what has allowed Jews to thrive as never before. And the GOP’s defense of religious belief creates an atmosphere in which Jews can feel comfortable with public expressions of their faith.
Jews in America should be open to what the GOP has to offer. Once they are, the choice will be clear.