Why Are Jews Liberals? By David Forsmark


Why Are Jews Liberals?By: David Forsmark 
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Are Jews Liberals? 
By Norman Podhoretz

Doubleday, $27.00, 337pp.

In recent years, political polling has recorded undeniable gains for the pro-life movement.  What used to be a 2 to 1 advantage for the term “pro-choice” over “pro-life,” has now shrunk to basically 50-50.  But even in the early years of polling on the abortion, when intensity as a voting issue was gauged, the pro-life side generally enjoyed a 3-5 to 1 edge.


The exceptions to this rule have always been A: major cities and college towns which tend to have more young and single people, and B: areas with large Jewish populations.


In 20 years of working with candidates, I have only had one candidate who regularly took major flak for having a spotless pro-life voting record—a Jewish State Representative whose district included townships with Michigan’s largest Jewish communities.


After one public meeting I attended, he was harangued by two women who got in his face for his pro-life stand.  Their arguments included more than a touch of Margaret Sanger-esque rhetoric about filling the welfare roles with “unwanted children.”  As we left my client muttered, “You’d think Jews would be done with eugenics by now.”


Struck by the incongruity myself, I asked him why he thought this was such a firm point with so many Jewish voters.  “Two reasons,” he answered.  “First, Jewish girls are told from about the time they learn to talk, `the first thing Hitler did was outlaw abortion.’  Second, they are afraid that the Christian Right is going to use the issue to take over the country and then, I don’t know.  We would have Israel’s most loyal supporters in charge?”


However, at the time in 2003, my client was fairly optimistic that the foreign policy of George W. Bush would lead to at least some realignment with Jewish voters.  The local Chaldean community was celebrating the liberation of Iraq, and post-9/11 pro-War on Terror sentiment was still running pretty high in the Jewish community making for remarkable political unity.  Thinking that the relentlessly pro-Israel statements of conservative Evangelical voices, combined with Bush’s unabashed faith would break down those barriers, he saw light at the end of the tunnel.


But it was not to be; the feelings of goodwill and partisan bridge building were short lived, and in the last election, the district my long-since term-limited client was once easily elected and re-elected as a Republican in, voted Democrat by double digits.


In his provocative and passionately argued– but remarkably nonjudgmental– new book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, one of our great thinkers, Norman Podhoretz, author and former editor in chief of Commentary,attempts to answer a question that, among political types, has been considered as unknowable and eternal as Freud’s “What do women want?”


Or why, in the famous witticism of Milton Himmelfarb “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” His answer, in short, is that liberal ideology– particularly the values of so-called tolerance and equality—trump all other considerations, from self-interest to religion.  


But, as Podhoretz argues, voting against what would seem to be narrow self-interest—things like taxes on the upper class or affirmative action—is a part of the point, and a source of pride.


In Podhoretz’s words there is a new “Torah of liberalism.”


 “To most American Jews, then, liberalism is not, as has often been said, merely a necessary component of Jewishness: it is the very essence of being a Jew. Nor is it a ‘substitute for religion’: it is a religion in its own right, complete with its own catechism and its own dogmas and, Tertullian- like, obdurately resistant to facts that undermine its claims and promises.” [Tertullian was an early Christian philosopher who said he believed what he believed because he believed it.]


The first half of Why Are Jews Liberals?  is a Thomas Sowell-like social history of anti-Semitism and the forces that pushed Jews—particularly European Jewry—leftward, from medieval wars among Christendom to the establishment of the State of Israel. 


The second half is more of a memoir, chronicling Podhoretz’s own political journey and his prominent political battles with an increasingly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Left.


After chronicling the various ebbs and flows of Jewish persecution in Europe, Podhoretz summarizes: “The reason Jews had been attracted to the Democratic Party in the first place, was that it represented the closest American counterpart to the forces on the left that had favored Jewish emancipation in Europe.”


The Enlightenment—and even the French Revolution—were forces of emancipation for Europe’s Jews and on the Left and even radical side of the spectrum.  In the early part of the 20th century, and late 19thcentury, masses of Jews were emigrating to the U.S. with that influence.


Jews from Russia were particularly radicalized, as under the Czars they were kept the poorest of the poor and downtrodden, making them ripe for Communist recruitment. 


(This cultural background also meant that postwar anti-communism on the Right was poorly received by many in the Jewish community, despite the evidence that Jews faired badly under Soviet rule.  Later Ronald Reagan would fight for the rights of Jewish dissidents in the USSR, which were largely ignored by American liberals.  A brief blip of support for Reagan was the only noticeable political result.)


American Jews had a completely different historical experience than their European brethren, Podhoretz points out.  He shows that whatever the attitudes might have been among some elites at various times, theUnited States was a land of opportunity for Jews, especially those willing to brave the frontier.


Podhoretz makes the same point that Michael Oren’s great history of America’s relationship with theMiddle East, Power, Faith and Fantasy, illustrates in much greater detail.  It has actually been the most evangelical or literal Christians who have been most likely to embrace both Jews as neighbors and of the state of Israel, beginning with the Puritans (who, Podhoretz wittily points out had a great affinity for Old Testament names) and continuing through the early 20th century.


As someone who grew up in Baptist Sunday School and never heard an anti-Semitic word before adulthood (at a union meeting) this makes sense to me.  Any form of devout Christianity spends at least half of its youth ministries in the Old Testament—that’s where most of the good stories are.  So from the time they can talk, fundamentalist kids are brought up with Jewish heroes. 


And as Mark Tooley reports on this site on an ongoing basis, it is the Left side of American religion, like the National Council of Churches, which comes out of meetings and conventions  declaring  that “Zionism is racism.”


Podhoretz entertainingly—and scathingly—reports on his battles with both Gore Vidal and Pat Buchanan over their anti-Jewish and anti-Israel positions and writings.  However, he concludes that while Vidal has far more prestige on the Left than Buchanan still has on the Right, Gore Vidal is dismissed as an exception, while Pat Buchanan is feared as a vanguard of the Fourth Reich just waiting to emerge from the Republican National Committee.


While Podhoretz addresses issues in which Jews seem to vote against their self-interest like affirmative action—which can take us back to the quota days of limiting the amount of Jewish students in some schools or professions—he mentions over a dozen times that abortion is very important to liberal Jewish voters, but does not try to explain why. 


He does point to some indications that more religious Jews vote more conservatively, just as Catholics who attend Mass regularly are more conservative than those to whom Catholicism is more of a cultural heritage than a spiritual one—despite the fact that few media pollsters account for such differences in their reporting.  That’s interesting, but not terribly encouraging, since if there is a trend that American Jews are becoming more, rather than less religious, I’ve not heard about it.


Even though he gives a solid historical basis for Jews’ political preference, Podhoretz does not buy it as a legitimate reason—not any more.  Since the 1967 Six Day War, he contends, there is simply no contest as to whether its conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats, who have chosen to defend Israelagainst the barbaric forces that seek its extermination.  (Obama’s insistence in his big U.N. speech that Israel return to the 1967 borders is considered potentially suicidal by many military strategists.)


In his conclusion, Podhoretz is less than optimistic about realignment I the near future, despite the fact that anti-Semitism and coldness toward the interests of Israel’s national defense is growing on the Left. 

“Let me state the… point more nakedly and more brutally: contemporary liberalism demands, unlike any other people, that Jews justify the space they take up on this earth  Furthermore, they must do so not, as they are commanded in the Bible, by loving God with all their hearts and all their souls and all their might, but rather by clinging with the same intensity to certain currently fashionable conceptions of what constitutes progress and how to define justice—even if these conceptions are highly questionable, and even if, as most blatantly in the case of Israel, obedience to them could be tantamount to committing suicide.”

(As I write this, it is being reported that Zbigniew Brzezinski is advising the Obama Administration that the U.S. should shoot down any Israeli Air Force bombers that might fly over Iraq to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities; but I wonder if Glenn Beck’s misguided attempt to call for a national day of prayer and fasting on the same day as Yom Kippur will be remembered longer and with more rancor—though admittedly, Brzenzinksi was partially responsible for Jimmy Carter’s record low vote totals among Jewish voters.)

Norman Podhoretz has provided a terrific service by asking and answering a provocative question in a way that clears the way for an open, honest, and more informed conversation.  Whether that leads to any change in the short run may be doubtful—and Podhoretz, himself, is pessimistic about the prospects— but this book lays a solid foundation for the discussion that must take place before any such realignment could possibly happen.

As in Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, Norman Podhoretz has given us a book in Why are Jews Liberals? that is in many ways long overdue, and which has the potential to change the way people talk about the topic—or, in this case, to get them taking about it.  At every turn, smart, informative, witty and honest, it is perhaps the season’s essential book.

  • thult

    Why is FrontPageMag deleting or otherwise censoring the previously posted comments?

  • brenanc

    Damn good question thult. I'm guessing it might have something to do with their “new and improved” web page.

  • Bellerophon

    It seems strange that while bible stories are credited with making fundamentalist children pro-semitic, there are no bible based reasons named for Jews to be liberal.

    Modern liberalism isn't classical liberalism which few Jews ever supported. It is progressivism lite which is, in essential terms, a form of collectivism. All collectivisms subordinate the individual to the group. Whether that group is the proletariat or the race or the community at large in not important except in understanding how the various collectivisms are distinguished from each other.

    Biblical Judaism is avidly collectivist. What is emphasized is that after loyalty to god comes loyalty to the tribe. Biblical wars are tribal slaughters. The Amalekites and the Midianites are exterminated in genocidal wars waged by Jewish tribes at the behest of Yahweh. There is no identity save tribal membership. Circumcision is the tribal mark of Jewish men.

    Faithfulness to God was expressed by abject servitude to tribal chieftains. To be true to the tribe was to be true to God.

    Even when many Jews abandoned belief in a god that intervened in human affairs, their loyalty to the group remained and still does remain. Subservience to the tribe is still the law of God even when belief in Him has waned.

  • michaelgarfinkel

    Why are Jews Liberals? may very well be the season's “essential” book, with much to recommend it, but I take issue with one important point: there is no “new Torah of liberalism” for the people of the book.

    The attitudes that inform Mr. Podhoretz's metaphor are neither new, Torah like, nor liberal. In fact, they are nothing more than a manifestation of an age-old problem: the narcissistic rebellion against authority, recounted perfectly in Exodus 32 – the story of the worship of the Golden Calf.

    Indeed, since the issue of abortion was discussed, one could argue persuasively that the worship of the Calf provides feminists with the appearence, at least, of a reprieve from the proscriptions of Genesis 3:16.

    Regarding the reviewer's accurate comment that “Brzenzinksi was partially responsible for Jimmy Carter’s record low vote totals among Jewish voters”, it is important to note that Carter and Brzenzinski might never have gotten near the White House without the 71% of the Jewish vote and the material support Jews provided in 1976.

    After four ruinous years, as Carter signaled an impending betrayal of Israel, he still garnered 45% of the Jewish vote, while Anderson received 14%.

    I submit that Jews don't “vote against their own interests” out of a desire to pursue a higher, universal “liberal” good; they vote against their own interests because they are in rebellion against the burden that G-d and history has imposed upon them. In an important sense, they find themselves compelled by anti-semitism itself.

    Once this is understood, the mystery of vast numbers of Jews in the precincts of the anti-semitic Left is dispelled.

    Abetted by the 78% of the Jewish vote received by Mr. Obama, the political situation as it exists today, so clearly evident at the U.N., must be viewed with the utmost gravity. Indeed, It appears that the Jewish people are again on the precipice of catastrophe.
    Again, I refer to Exodus, 32:34 “Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.”

  • Grachus

    Podhoretz is right that many Jews subscribe to a new 'liberal' religion that has filled the spiritual vacuum left from their rejection of real religion. But that's not how they see it. They DO know they adhere to a substutute for religion – but they think it's rationalism. They suffer under the delusion that rationalism = modern liberalism.

    Since we are not going to see a return to real religion among these Jews anytime soon, the proper tactic is to disabuse them of their delusion. Hammer them with the facts about left-wing abandonment of Israel, conservative support for Israel, left-wing subversion and abuse of science in areas such as education, nutrition, public health, anthropology, and energy, left-wing ahistoric and non-empiric approaches to foreign policy, the equal and opposite presence of left-wing kooks (of which they tend to be completely unaware) to match if not exceed those on the right and so on.

    As the 'liberal' monopoly on sources of information loosens, and we force these people to face up the the meaning of their STATED and admitted beliefs, we do have a chance.

  • LucyQ

    “As someone who grew up in Baptist Sunday School and never heard an anti-Semitic word before adulthood (at a union meeting) this makes sense to me.”

    As someone who has been in many churches including Baptist ones, you are a LIAR. I've often wondered what if the anti-Semitism, such as the lie that Jews killed Jesus, a committed rabbi, was taken out of Christianity, would there be anything of substance left?

    As far as the usual pro-choice position taken by most Jews: they are following the Original Testament that Jesus followed too which states that one who is not born yet isn't human until he can live independently of his mother, either by being born or by C-section. Sounds very reasonable to me. Why did David Forsmark exclude the position
    advocated by the Bible?

    I am a pro-choice Jew for the reason above and the following reason: I'm not anti-unborn children; I am pro-born children. I know for a fact that in the US, less available legal abortion creates more born orphans living in orphanages. That means taxes would have to be raised and the right-wing Christians are against having taxes raised.

    Thus, the right-wing Christian position regarding abortion is phony. How can America properly raise millions of new orphans if a large population of our society doesn't want to pay for it?

    • Morrisminor

      Yeah, I laughed when he, Forsmark, a Southern Baptist, said he never heard an anti-semtiic remark till he went to a union meeting. He must have selective hearing problems. Also his proxy quote about Jewish mothers teaching their daughters as soon as they learned to talk Hitler banning abortions is utter rubbish. It's people like Forsmark with his innate bigotry who drives Jews away from conservatism.

  • WFB2

    “…[Jews] vote against their own interests because they are in rebellion against the burden that G-d and history has imposed upon them.”

    This leaves open the vexing question of what it is that defines being a Jew. As a non-Jew I've had to do some reading to try to find a meaningful answer. The closest I got was an exellent book by Sylvia Barack Fishman titled “The Way into the Varieties of Jewishness” Note the key word “varieties” and the term Jewish”ness”.
    Both imply a vagueness which the book does not dispel despite being very interesting and well-written. My “take away” from Fishman's book was her description of being Jewish as a “sense of peoplehood”. Still vague.
    Judaic piety has been in decline since Marx so that's obviously not a key element either. My only conclusion is that family lineage is what links Jewish identity. So just what is “the burden” that Jews, in all their variety, are rebelling against?

  • michaelgarfinkel

    Well, the issue is not Jewish “ness” at all, and the race for the exits began in earnest with the Enlightenment, a century before Marx.

    The burden I speak of is the obligation imposed upon the Jewish people through their covenant with God; indeed without the Covenant, there is no Judaism.

    Check this for a quick reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jews_as_a_chosen_p

  • WFB2

    Thanks a lot for your response. I'll check the wikipedia ref. you provided. Shalom

  • AlFranken1

    Being a rebel of a sort of this website and having controversial opinions, I have experienced this sort of censorship before.
    I once pointed out that the person they interviewed was viewed as a liberal and they kept deleting me. I would change the wording and try to be more friendly but they kept deleting it.

    I figured that if I wait at least eight hours, maybe a new watchman would take over.

    Sure enough, that worked.

    There seems to be at least one watchman who doesn't appreciate our American values and seems to be threatened by adversarial remarks.