Young US Jews are Sticking with the Democrats

What will it take for the Republicans to gain the trust and support of the Jewish voters? It seems that it requires more than the Republicans and Jewish community leaders are willing to do.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier

OpEds Dr. Harold Goldmeier
Dr. Harold Goldmeier

Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies reports 61% of Israelis polled do not trust President Obama to safeguard Israel.  Nevertheless, American Jews are sticking with the Democrats. The Algemeiner, a right-wing newspaper, concludes “that Democrats will continue to receive the vast majority of Jewish votes.”

What will it take for the Republicans to gain the trust and support of the Jewish voters?  More than the Republicans and Jewish community leaders are willing to do.

First, Jews less than 30 years of age are drawn to the Democrats by shared commitment to a solid liberal agenda. The international university students I teach in Tel Aviv overwhelmingly support progressive social policies: government must ensure a decent standard of living, guarantee civil rights and social justice for all citizens, establish a livable wage, access to health care for all, gay marriage, free choice regarding abortion, money for women and children’s shelters, public education, and environmental policies based on science not politics. Keep religion and religious leaders out of politics.  

This generation is the product of several generations of intermarriage and isolation from Jewish communal organizations, synagogues, and Jewish community news...yet they have an affinity for Israel.
Second, this generation is the product of several generations of intermarriage and isolation from Jewish communal organizations, synagogues, and Jewish community news. The Pew Report calls it “a massive generational shift in identity and practice” (The Jewish Daily Forward, October 2013).  Most I encounter are ignorant of Judaic traditions and theology lacking religious identity. They are not bound to marry a Jewish mate. Their Jewish identity is stirred by pride in Israel, not Jewish culture or Judaism. Yet, they have an affinity for Israel.

My students feel ambivalence to anger about the Israel-Palestinian divides, but are solidly behind Israel’s right to exist. The real problem is they feel alone on their home campuses.  Some are fearful physically avoiding confrontations with anti-Israel student groups. Students relate a seething personal hatred of Jews and Israel supporters. They expect violence. They get no comfort, support, or protection from school administrations and teaching staffs hiding behind the curtain of academic freedom for pro-Arab demonstrators. Fear aloneness are heightened with anti-Israel Jewish students taking over Hillel Houses.

When they get to Israel, they are shocked and dismayed (by their perception) of the government treatment of black illegals, tent cities housing homeless people, racist remarks of young Israelis about Arabs and black minorities. They get red-faced about reports of Ashkenazi Haredim excluding Sephardic children from schools.  They are most turned off by the alleged religious control of civil society that discriminates against women and the non-religious.  Israeli politicians promoting Arab expulsions from Israel smacks of ethnic cleansing to them. Nothing is more abhorrent to young Jews, and weakens their resolve.

My experiences and impressions are anecdotal, but confirmed by The Pew Center’s survey. The New Yorker concludes from the study, “only thirty-eight per cent of American Jews believe that the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace; forty-four per cent believe that the construction of new settlements damages Israel’s national security. In a Gallup poll in late July, only a quarter of Americans under the age of thirty thought that Israel’s actions in Gaza were justified. “

Finally, Jewish communal organizations are irrelevant to young Jews. Students might know AIPAC from the news, but are not familiar with other Zionist organizations. Their presence is found in the halls of Congress and fancy dinners. Organizations are MIAs on college campuses where kids are on front lines.

Take for example the Zionist Organization of America.  One commentator in The Jerusalem Post describes ZOA “as the front-runner of American Jewish organizations,” with leader, Mort Klein transforming it “into a dynamic political machine.” 

ZOA dinner awardees and dignitaries included an assemblage of Jewish tycoons, Pastor Hagee representing the largest Christian evangelical movement in the world, and Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a very social conservative likely to run for President. Cruz represents the antithesis of young Jews, but he is the older generation’s fair-haired boy with his outspoken pro-Israel positions.  Republican staunch support of Israel is not enough to pull young Jews away from the Democrats. At the ZOA dinner there were few in “the all-star lineup” under 70 years of age (Rabbi Shmuley Boteach excluded).

What traction with young Jews does Klein believe he is going to get when he calls the President, “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” in his speech to the cheers of the attendees? The scene represents the ideological irrelevance of Jewish organizations.

When I show students video clips of Zionist NGO gatherings, the most common response from students is, “everyone is so old, the speakers and the audience.” Shimon Peres claims, “My impression is that AIPAC is weaker among the younger people. It has a solid majority of people of a certain age, but it’s not the same among younger people.”

Who will takeover the community decision-making roles and when? Klein, Harris of AJC, and Foxman of the ADL maintain a tight-fisted grasp on the organizations for decades. 

There need to be mandatory term limits for executive staffs. They must diversify their ranks becoming inclusive affirmatively taking action to attract the young, middle class, singles, religious, academics, and make room for diversity of opinions. Otherwise, the divide in the community will continue to widen.

On the whole, Dr. Seuss best describes this generation of young Jews: “you’re in pretty good shape for the shape you are in!” On the other hand,

Jewish organizations can learn some things from candidate Obama who inspired the young to sweep him into office twice: relevance, willingness to change the system, and community organizing skills.