Good luck, Newt Gingrich. You'll need it

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, December 15, 2011
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Ratcheting up the debate: Gingrich

Ratcheting up the debate: Gingrich

President Newt Gingrich will not be inclined to favour the demands of an invented people, as he defined the Palestinians in recent remarks. President Mitt Romney will make Israel his first foreign trip and President Barack Obama had a big Chanucah dinner.

Every four years, this ritual repeats itself - Republicans think Jews may be persuaded to vote for their candidate and go out of their way to prove their credentials. Democrats know Jews will vote for their candidate but still go out of their way lest there will be significant defections.

There are reasons why, when all is said and done, Jews have historically voted for the Democratic party. These were eloquently dissected in a recent book by Norman Podhoretz, Why are Jews liberals? It stands to no reason that US Jews, who tend to be upper-middle income, family-oriented and pro-Israel, should lean so overwhelmingly towards the left wing of the Democratic party. And yet they do.

Jews have voted consistently for Democratic candidates when US non-Jews with comparable socio-economic backgrounds swung to Republicans and, even in years of sweeping Republican triumphs, like in Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide, Jewish defection from the Democrats was relatively low.

This year, Republicans think it will go differently. And it may well do. After all, even as younger Jews are less sanguine about Israel than their parents and grandparents, disaffection with Obama's foreign policy is high. So is disaffection with the economy. Equally troubling for many Jews is the slide of the left wing of the Democratic Party in the direction of European progressives - which can be best characterised as "Israel is always wrong" - especially on US campuses.

Besides, while many younger Jews have become lukewarm towards Israel, the growing Orthodox community is swinging the Jewish vote to the right, and as they continue to grow and non-Orthodox US Jews continue to diminish through assimilation and Jewish illiteracy, the balance within the Jewish community will become gradually more favourable to Republicans.

That is why Republicans, whose historic insularity from Israel and Jewish concerns is by now largely a thing of the past, think they have a chance.

Except that they are wrong.

Convincing a mostly liberal Jewish electorate to vote Republican is harder than changing the course of the earth around the sun - because even those among them who still care about Israel think that being Jewish is the equivalent of subscribing to progressive social causes and continue to rank the defence of reproductive rights and the crusade for gay marriage as more important than the Israel issue. Which is why all Obama had to do was organise a party and light a candle.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

    Last updated: 1:57pm, December 15 2011