Jewish voters stray from religious right
The religious right has been an influential group in American politics throughout the last 30 years, and increasingly so with the Bush administration.
That religious right, though, does not include Jewish American voters, even though many conservatives devote millions of dollars to American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobby that has found many friends among neoconservative members in the Bush administration.
While the religious right considers Jews a part of their Judeo-Christian brethren, Jews are far less responsive to the religious conservative rank-and-file in the Republican Party and are more likely to side with the Democratic Party, said Ken Waltzer, MSU director of Jewish studies.
Although Waltzer said many Jewish voters side with the Democratic Party because of New Deal reforms that aided Jewish immigrants in the 1930s and 1940s, the Republican Party had a chance at collecting the Jewish vote this election. Then Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., teamed up with the religious right that many Jews do not respond to, he said.
“I think the Jewish community was pretty well dispositioned toward him, but he’s been manic since he put on the Republican candidate costume,” Waltzer said. “I think the Republicans had a chance.”
The religious right will find support among America’s Orthodox Jews because of the commonality of family values, said Rabbi Yonaton Sadoff of the Hillel Jewish Student Center. Most American Jews, however, are more secular in nature and view Judaism as a social and cultural tie.
David Mindell, president of the MSU Jewish Student Union, said he has seen a wide range of religious involvement among Jewish students on campus, but that most enact a more relaxed practice.
Mindell said what ties all Jews together is Israel, and he and Waltzer said both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., have proven they will protect Israel.
Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, said Obama “doesn’t seem to understand” the plight Jews have had to endure as they have been continually exiled throughout history.
Kahn, who lost several family members in World War II concentration camps, said the preservation and protection of a Jewish state is something only McCain can provide because he has lived through many Israeli wars.
“When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, all you heard about is whether Jews will get annihilated again,” Kahn said. “And anybody who wasn’t even old enough to remember that does not get my support, and I’m disgusted that any Jew would support somebody like that.”
An Oct. 20 report released by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University-Wagner, however, said Israel was mostly a very low to moderate concern among Obama voters, although Jews were twice as likely to consider themselves Democrats than other whites in the 3,116-person study.
Sadoff isn’t surprised by these results. Since most American Jews are only moderately religious, he said Israel and other Jewish considerations won’t be as important.
“Liberal Jews, their life is not focused as much on the Jewish aspects, and subjects like Israel will not be the main issue for the liberal Jew,” he said.
Sen. Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods, said the Jewish value of “tikun olam” — repairing the world — is a better ideological fit for most American Jews, which could explain the Jewish emphasis on education, health care and an overall lean to the left.
“It means you’re responsible not only for yourself, but also for others,” Jacobs said. “You have to lift people up. It’s a very strong Jewish value and the Democratic Party is more in tune with that than the Republican Party.”