Hubert Humphrey once said, or maybe it is just apocryphal, that Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans. Humphrey was a friend of the Jews and of the State of Israel. He was also a partisan Democrat, so that remark was meant as a statement of respect and appreciation. The gist of Humphrey’s statement remains true. Jewish Americans are on the higher end of most economic indices, but we are a solid part of the Democratic coalition. In 2016, we voted for Clinton about as much as Latinos and only very slightly less than self-identified LGBT people did. For different, but not particularly good reasons, neither the left or the right wants you to know that fact about Jewish voting, but it is true.
Jews in Trump’s America find ourselves in a rough spot. Most of us are white, so we look like Trump voters, but we are not. Moreover, the last year has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in the US. It has been exacerbated by a President who, despite adolescent protestations that his daughter converted to Judaism, has hired people like Sebastian Gorka, who have ties to actual Nazis, and suggested that some people marching and chanting things like “Jews will not replace us,” are fine people.
Many American Jews also find that our support for Israel is strained not only by a government there with whose policies we frequently disagree, but by an Israeli leader who has placed disdain for secular American Jews at the center of his domestic political appeal. This has contributed to a situation where a rise in anti-Semitism anywhere in the world is of concern to the Israeli government, except if it happens in the US, the country with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.
The reason for this is that in America, hawkish pro-Israel positions are now part of the Evangelical Christian ideology. Evangelical Christians outnumber Jews by a ratio of about 13 to 1. and they vote overwhelmingly Republican. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not know or care about this, so when they see the US take a hawkish pro-Israel position and try to bully the rest of the rest of the world into supporting it, like we did last week at the UN, many blame the Jews. The result is that when Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, who is thinking about higher office as well, do something to assuage their Evangelical Christian base, the world’s rancor will be turned on the Jews because of it.
Many American Jews will shrug this off because we know that much of the rest of the world doesn’t like us anyway. Given that, how much should we really care if our government feeds anti-Semitic tropes? The answer to that is subjective, but it may well matter. When anti-democratic leaders, fuel anti-Semitism as a way to keep fundamentalist Christian voters happy, which, deliberately or not, is exactly what the US did last week at the UN, it is not good for the Jews.
Last week, we not only saw the UN vote, but Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the former head of the largest kosher meat processing company in the US. Rubashkin had been convicted of money laundering and had also employed and badly mistreated undocumented workers. Rubashkin is Orthodox and his release was celebrated in Orthodox Jewish communities around the US. Unlike the rest of American Jewry, Orthodox Jews gave Trump significant support in 2016. Images of Orthodox Jews celebrating and praising Trump are more fodder for anti-Semites and, more importantly, provides a visual counter to the for some hard to believe reality that Jews voted overwhelmingly against Trump.
All this puts American Jews in a difficult position. Many of us have been outspoken and active members of The Resistance, but not all of us are recognizably Jewish, so many who are not Jewish do not have a sense of Jewish commitment to The Resistance. When two stories in one week come along that suggest a relationship between Jews and Trump that is other than what it is, we have reason to be concerned.
Anti-Semitism has always freely crossed ideological lines and continues to do so. American Jews are now confronted with a right wing anti-Semitic President who, in recent days, has done things, deliberately or not, that could feed the fires of left wing anti-Semitism. The potential for this to get worse as the recently passed tax plan continues to shift wealth upwards, while white nationalist rabble rousers like Steve Bannon troll American political life and mobilize populist bigotry, is very real.