Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Did Jews Vote?

See this article in the Forward for a summary of a national poll of Jewish voters commissioned by J-Street which contains some interesting revelations. One not-so-surprising one is that Jews continue to vote Democratic - 2/3 did anyway. Those numbers are down from prior votes, reflecting the rightward tilt of the entire electorate, but still they are significantly to the left of most groups.

But the biggest and perhaps most surprising - even disturbing - revelation is that Israel was virtually a non factor in how Jews voted, and Iran even less so!

See this Jewish Week analysis of various polls of how Jews voted in the contentious Pennsylvania senate race. J-Street's polling, (which on the surface seems self serving, but the Jewish Week reporter found no reason to doubt its veracity) indicated that not only was Israel not a major factor in the Jews' overwhelming support of the liberal Sestak, but the right wing attacks on Sestack for being "bad for Israel," pointing to his J-Street endorsement, were not effective. I've yet to see whether the same held true for Jim Himes, who came under similar attack in our Congressional race - an attack that I believe to have been unfair.

You can read J-Street's polling results for yourselves here. Among their findings:

  • Large majorities of Jews (83 percent) want America to play “an active role in
    helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict
  • Jews think the U.S. should be an impartial broker in order to achieve peace.
  • Arguments for a two-state solution are supported by 79 to 82 percent of American
    Jews. This language cuts across partisan and denominational divides
  • Most Jews seek some form of settlement freeze in the West Bank.

But again, for me, the most shocking result was that for the majority of American Jews, Israel hardly matters - or at least it is dwarfed in comparison to other issues. Go to the power point presentation and scroll down to page 27, and you'll see what I mean. When asked what their TWO top issues were in determining their vote, American Jews overwhelmingly chose the economy and health care, as did most Americans, but then you have to go down seven more issues before Israel appears at all - and Israel was chosen by only 7 percent! Then go down to the very bottom of the list and you'll find Iran - at ZERO percent!

What obsesses Jews on the pages of Jewish periodicals and websites is not evidently filtering down to the "masses." The concern for Israel is not there, even at a time of existential peril. The challenge for us is how to engage the vast majority of American Jews on the question of Israel without resorting to well worn scare tactics. Once again, we see proof that "the establishment" is out of touch.

If this all seems self serving for the J-Streeters, well, it is. But these numbers are so off the charts that it is hard imagine that they are fabricated. In fact, they only confirm what other surveys have been showing, including the important new study released by the Avi Chai foundation, Generation of Change: How Leaders in their 20s and 30s are Reshaping American Jewish Life. This important study brought together the best and brightest demographers, including some with conservative agendas, and it shows clearly that the tilt among American Jews in their 20s, 30s and even older, is away from the "establishment." And this survey was of leaders, those who are most active.

It divides the Jewish world into leaders who are "establishment" and "non establishment," and 2/3 to 3/4 of the leaders in the younger age groups are either "mixed" or "non establishment." Of this group - leaders, mind you - only 23 percent are concerned about threats to Israel's security. What are they concerned about? Global issues and spiritual growth, among other things.

JTS Professor Jack Wertheimer, who wrote the final report, stated (as quoted by JTA) that because they share highly critical views toward key organizations and synagogues, and many work outside traditional communal institutions, these future leaders are leading the Jewish world down a new path. “We have a story of quite dramatic change,” he said.

See initial reactions to the report from Jewschool, JTA, The Jewish Week (on intermarriage) and the Jewish Exponent.

So what have we learned from the elections about American Jews? The Jewry is still out, so to speak, but it appears that the more things change, the more things stay the same AND change. Liberalism is still American Jewry's mantra, despite all the attacks and rightward zeitgeist, but Israel no longer appears to be our rallying cry. What Wertheimer calls the "protective" thread of engagement (Israel, Holocaust, anti-Semitism) has been superseded among the young by what he dubs the progressive (global activism, environmentalism) and expressive (spirituality and cultural expression).

And this year at the polls, they all were trumped by the economy and health care. Except in Bridgeport, where I think they are still voting....

No comments: