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February 7, 2013

Jews Voting Like Jews

Listed in: Israel, Other Domestic Policy, NJDC News, Opinions

By NJDC Executive Director Aaron Keyak

Originally Published in Washington Jewish Week

In 2009, conservative writer Norman Podhoretz published Why Are Jews Liberals? - an attempt to understand Milton Himmelfarb’s famous quip that “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” In his review of the book, Leon Wieseltier was blunt: “Why should Jews vote like Episcopalians? We are not Episcopalians.”

Indeed, we are Jews, a people of strong values and political commitments. One such commitment is to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Another is to the values of tolerance and scientific inquiry, two traits that have defined our people for millennia.

Whenever Jewish-Americans are asked about their policy preferences, we overwhelmingly favor a woman’s right to choose, immigration reform, LGBT rights and foreign aid. As the new interim Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, I will make sure that we are fighting every day for those values - because, frankly, these positions are shared by almost all Jewish-Americans, including Republicans and Democrats alike.

As the Tea Party rises and Republicans veer to the right, Jewish-Americans are hard-pressed to see their values reflected in virtually any product of the Republican Party - whether in the form of a right-wing domestic agenda or oddly unscientific outbursts from Republican leaders on rape and climate change.

Even among Jewish Republicans, according to the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, 77% support abortion rights and they are almost evenly divided on marriage equality—compared to 28% and 30%, respectively, for all Republicans, according to Gallup. Remember, the Republican Party platform banned same-sex marriage and sought to outlaw abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of a pregnant woman.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party is only drifting further right. Indeed, to find a moderate Republican in the U.S. Capitol or at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters is like looking for a nearly-extinct species.

Not only are Republicans becoming more conservative, but the growing influence of the Tea Party means that fringe elements of the GOP are gaining greater influence.

Throughout this last presidential election, the pull of the Tea Party on potential Republican nominees was readily apparent. Ranging from Governors Rick Perry and Mitt Romney agreeing to “start at zero” on foreign aid in the November 2011 foreign policy debate to Governor Romney professing to be “severely conservative,” the rightward shift of the Republican Party has been hard to miss.

More recently, Senator Rand Paul, a top Tea Party icon, was selected by his Republican colleagues to serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - unquestionably one of the most influential panels in government when it comes to supporting a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Yet over the last month alone, Senator Paul suggested a reduction in foreign aid to Israel and questioned the funding of Iron Dome, which has saved countless Israeli lives. This is a troubling sign from the Republican caucus that may be a concerning sign of times to come.

When it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, we must stand together. Because a stronger and more secure Israel means a stronger and more secure America, and visa versa.

As a supporter of President Obama, I am proud of the President’s leadership in spearheading unprecedented funding for Iron Dome, along with our secret and not-so-secret operations, like Stuxnet, to fulfill the President’s promise to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I am proud that the Obama Administration has a 100% pro-Israel voting record at the United Nations, unlike his Republican predecessor. I understand that many Republicans have policy disagreements with our President, but—as has long been the understanding of the pro-Israel community—Israel is ill-served when it becomes a partisan wedge issue.

NJDC will not only continue to fight for the values of the vast majority of Jewish-Americans, but we will be at the forefront of making sure that the mutual interests of our country and the Jewish State are not dragged into the mud by partisan operatives or elected officials looking to score cheap political points. We know that the pro-Israel community is at its strongest when we hold true to our beliefs and leave partisan arguments aside as we advocate for the unifying cause we care so deeply about.

While our common love for Israel unites practically all of us, I would like to remind Jewish-Americans that there is, of course, a political home that would welcome socially moderate Republicans and Independents who believe in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship, preventing a nuclear Iran, protecting women’s rights, expanding LGBT rights, pursuing a responsible fiscal policy, combating terrorism, and ensuring a safe and secure America. That home is the Democratic Party.

For those few remaining brave souls who may have once labeled themselves moderate Republicans or independents, feel free to call my office.