In politics, have American Jews rendered themselves unreachable?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.
Decades ago, the sociographer Milton Himmelfarb coined the aphorism that "American Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans." And his words ring as true today as ever. Surveys show that roughly 70 percent of American Jews intend to cast their ballots for President Barack Obama's reelection next month.
Himmelfarb's quip indicated that American Jews abjure their economic interests in favor of their liberal values. Certainly it is true that for American Jews to vote for Obama next month they must act against their economic interests.
Obama's economic policies have taken a huge toll on the economic fortunes of American Jews who invest disproportionately in the stock market. His nationalization of the college loan business has given universities impetus to raise tuition rates still further, thus dooming more young American Jews to start their adult lives under a mountain of debt. And it isn't at all clear how they will be able to pay off this debt since under Obama half of recent college graduates cannot find jobs.
Obama's gutting of Medicare to pay for Obamacare has harmed the medical choices for older Jewish Americans.
His war on tax deductions for charitable contributions has placed synagogues, Jewish schools and nursing homes in financial jeopardy.
So with economics ruled out as a reason to support Obama we are left with American-Jewish values.
But is Obama really advancing those values? What are those values anyway? Well, there's civil liberties.
American Jews like those. But Obama doesn't.
Take freedom of speech. Obama is the most hostile president to freedom of speech in recent memory. He has advocated implementing the so-called "fairness doctrine" for radio to stifle the free speech of his political opponents on talk radio.
He has sought to undermine the freedom of the Internet through federal regulations and intimidation of Internet companies such as Google.
He has made repeated and outspoken attempts to intimidate individuals, groups and businesses including Google to bar freedom of speech as relates to criticism of Islam. He has purged the lexicon of the federal government of all terms necessary to describe jihad, Islamic radicalism and terrorism, and so made it impossible for federal employees to examine, investigate, discuss or understand the nature of the greatest national security threat facing the US.
Then there are women's rights. American Jews like those.
True, Obama has distinguished himself as the greatest ally of abortion-on-demand ever. He even supported infanticide of babies who survived abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature.
But, we women are a bit more than reproductive machines.
We also work and raise families. And Obama's economic programs hurt women as much if not more than they hurt men.
Aside from that, there are females who live outside of the US.
American Jews have long been outspoken champions of women's rights around the world. But here Obama's record is arguably worse than any president in US history.
Obama has abandoned the women most at risk of gender-based discrimination, rape and murder - the women and girls of the Muslim world. Whereas the Bush administration liberated the women and girls of Afghanistan from the maniacally misogynist Taliban regime, the Obama administration is negotiating with the Taliban and setting the conditions for its return to power. If the signature image of the Bush administration's war in Afghanistan was that of women voting, the signature image of Obama's war in Afghanistan is the photo of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai. This week Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for her defense of the right of girls to go to school.
Then there is the cause of good governance. American Jews like that.
But here, too, Obama fails to live up to liberal values of clean politics. Every day seems to bring with it another scandal related to the Obama administration.
This week we learned that the Obama campaign is illegally soliciting funds from foreigners.
According to a report published by the Government Accountability Institute, some 20% of visitors to the Obama campaign's fund-raising site "my.barackobama.com" are foreigners, barred by US law from contributing to political campaigns. So, too, the Obama.com website was registered by Robert Roche, a US businessman living in Shanghai with ties to Chinese state-owned companies. Roche is an Obama campaign bundler. Sixty-eight percent of the traffic on the site comes from foreign users. Obama.com is currently managed by a Palestinian rights activist in Maine.
Finally, there is the cause of Israel and US-Israel relations that American Jews are assumed to care about.
After the fiasco at the Democratic National Convention when the widespread antipathy for Israel raging in the Democratic Party was broadcast on primetime television, the Obama administration has stopped even trying to hide its contempt for the Jewish state and its American Jewish supporters.
Whereas the US refused to walk out of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's obscene address to the UN General Assembly last month, US Ambassador Susan Rice chose to absent herself entirely from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's address before the body.
Adding insult to injury, last week Obama appointed Salam al-Marayati to represent the US at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's annual 10-day human rights conference. Marayati is the founder and executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. As Robert Spencer recalled this week, on September 11, 2001, Marayati gave an interview to a Los Angeles radio station accusing Israel of being responsible for the jihadist attacks on the US.
He is an outspoken supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah.
And Obama appointed him to represent America at a major human rights conference.
So what is it that drives over two-thirds of American Jews to support Obama? The only issues that come easily to mind are social issues - particularly the two flagship causes of American Jews these days - abortion and homosexual marriage.
While it is true that Obama shares their positions on these issues, it is hard to believe that these two issues have become the cri du coeur of more than two-thirds of American Jews.
It isn't that it is wrong for people to support abortions on demand and homosexual marriage. And it isn't wrong for people to oppose them. There are reasonable, Jewish arguments to be made for a woman's right to abort her unborn children. But there are also reasonable Jewish arguments for constraining that right. There are Jewish arguments in favor of permitting homosexuals to wed. And there are Jewish arguments opposing such unions.
Then there is the relative urgency of the issues. With the US economy in a rut and American national security increasingly imperiled, are abortion rights and gay marriage really the American Jewish community's top priorities?
True, there are some American Jewish fanatics who are propelled to near violence when faced with opponents of their beliefs. And they are capable of intimidating a large proportion of their fellow Jews into toeing their extremist lines. Their intolerance has been on display in all of its ugliness at synagogues around the US since the start of the election campaign. In one recent, outrageous incident, one gay marriage partisan managed to intimidate his congregation on Erev Yom Kippur.
On the most sacred evening on the Jewish calendar, at Anshe Emet synagogue in Chicago, congregant Gary Sircus led other congregants in walking out of services when, in keeping with synagogue protocol (and common courtesy), Rabbi Michael Siegel acknowledged the presence of US Rep. Michele Bachmann in the audience.
After staging the walkout, Sircus went home and began an online assault on Bachmann and on his synagogue for extending the outspoken and stalwart supporter of Israel the courtesy of acknowledging her presence at services.
Sircus wrote a letter of support to Jim Graves, Bachmann's deep-pocketed Democratic opponent in her reelection campaign. In it, he referred to Bachmann as "this evil woman."
Rabbi Siegel did not decry Sircus for his shocking behavior. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune Siegel said, "I am aware of the fact that our congregation's policy in regards to [welcoming public officials to the community and honoring their presence] clearly caused pain to some members of our community on the most precious day of reconciliation on the Jewish calendar. That we regret deeply."
In a letter of explanation to synagogue board members, Siegel spoke of the need to welcome visitors even if they don't share the community's "values."
But when did the members of Anshe Emet take a vote to determine that support for gay marriage is their shared value?
Undoubtedly, Sircus's success in embarrassing his entire community owed in part to his willingness to intimidate his fellow congregants with his moralistic sanctimony on Erev Yom Kippur.
But it isn't only gay marriage champions who use intimidation tactics to silence their communities into conforming with their views. American Jewish Democratic partisans have taken a leading role in blocking dissenting voices from their midst.
For instance, this past May B'nai Emet Congregation in Boca Raton, Florida, invited Amb. Susan Rice to address the congregation. Synagogue officials not only rejected offers to have Rice debate opponents of Obama's treatment of Israel. They barred community members known for their opposition to Obama from attending the speech. For these synagogue officials, the idea that their partisan prejudice might be challenged was simply unacceptable.
To be fair, there are some American Jews who have been willing to approach politics with an open mind. For instance, Susan Crown, of the Chicago-based Henry Crown business empire, has transferred her support from Obama to Mitt Romney.
In an interview with Chicago Magazine Crown explained that she switched candidates last May when Obama gave his speech calling on Israel to withdraw from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and contract to within the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. Crown said that her switch was due as well to economic and foreign policy considerations.
Crown's arguments for transferring her support from Obama to Romney are all rational. On the other hand, the positions taken by the likes of Sircus and the management of B'nai Emet are emotional and unthinking.
Unfortunately, the polls indicate that more than two-thirds of American Jews are with the synagogue bullies at B'nai Emet and with Sircus, not with Crown.
For 70% of American Jews, party loyalty trumps all of their conceivable rational interests. For them, partisan loyalty is more important than facts. They do not want to use independent judgment. They just want to be Democrats.
The most disturbing aspect of the surveys of American Jewish voters is not that they are willing to vote for the most hostile US president Israel has ever experienced in order to remain true to their party. The most disturbing aspect of the American Jewish community's devotion to Obama and the Democrats is that it indicates that the vast majority of American Jews have abandoned their faculties for independent thought and judgment in favor of conformism and slavish partisanship. They have rendered themselves unreachable.
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