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1. Polling the Jewish vote
We’re roughly seven weeks away from the midterm elections, and with the primary season officially over, it’s as good a time as any to take stock of where Jewish voters stand.
A recent poll commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute, a nonpartisan organization, found that everything is just as you had thought it would be: a majority of Jewish voters are Democrats, they support President Biden, they’ll vote for Democratic candidates for Congress and they really, really don’t like Dobbs v. Jackson.
According to the poll, which surveyed 800 Jewish voters and was conducted by GBAO Strategies, President Biden enjoys an approval rating of 70 percent among Jews, way more than his 42 percent national rating. By contrast, only 19 percent of Jewish voters approve of former president (and potential 2024 Republican candidate) Donald Trump.
Looking to the November 8 midterms, 70 percent of Jewish voters say they’ll support a Democratic candidate for Congress. The poll also asked Jewish Americans whether the U.S. should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. A full 68 percent of those polled expressed support for re-entering the agreement, while 32 percent opposed it. These numbers have remained steady since the last poll in April. As expected, the only subgroups where a majority of Jewish voters opposed the nuclear deal were Orthodox Jews and those identifying as Republican.
2. What we can learn from the poll?
First, that Jewish Americans are among the Democratic Party’s most reliable and loyal constituencies. Democratic voters may sour on their president (as is seen with calls from some Democrats for Biden not to run for a second term) or express their disappointment over the administration’s policy, usually for not being sufficiently in line with their progressive agenda. But Jewish voters don’t let these considerations change their affiliation. They are Democrats and they’re sticking with the party. It doesn’t mean they don’t take issue with policies and actions, but crossing the line is hardly an option.
More important, yet also unsurprising, is the analysis of Jewish voters’ priorities.
Despite all the talk about Israel, Iran, security and foreign policy, Jewish voters prove time and again that what motivate them are core liberal domestic issues.
A whopping 82 percent of Jewish Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade (again, Orthodox Jews are the outliers, with 74 percent supporting the decision). Asked to rank their priorities when it comes to deciding how to vote in the midterms, the issue of American democracy came in at the top (45 percent,) then abortion (38 percent,) the economy (28 percent,) climate change (25 percent,) guns (15 percent,) and voting rights (13 percent).
Closing out the list of Jewish priorities were Israel (7 percent) and the COVID-19 pandemic (2 percent.)
Jewish communal views on Israel have changed dramatically in the past decade. What was once a bipartisan issue, and then an issue American Jews were determined to keep bipartisan despite changing tides, is now widely accepted as yet another topic that divides Democrats and Republicans.
But, as this poll and other surveys show, the fact that Israel is now a partisan issue doesn’t mean it is a motivating issue for elections. At least not for Democrats. Jewish voters care about Israel and hold different views on Israel depending on their party affiliation, but they don’t vote based on these differences.
There’s a tiny caveat, however. Israel is a bottom-of-the-list priority for Dems now, with a president and Congress that are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Would Jewish Democrats be as blasé about it had Bernie Sanders been sitting in the White House and AOC holding the Speaker’s gavel? It is yet to be seen if and how a Democratic leadership more critical of Israel would change Democratic Jewish voters’ priorities.
But for now, there’s a clear message for all those trying to win over liberal Jewish voters: Enough with the talk about Israel and Iran. These voters may be Jewish, but they are first and foremost liberals.
3. Another decision point in November
Israel, too, will be holding elections in November, and public opinion polls indicate it is going to be another tight race between the Netanyahu-led bloc and that of Yair Lapid and his “anything-but-Bibi” coalition.
But one thing is clear: If Netanyahu and his partners reach the magic number of 61 members of Knesset (currently polls put his bloc at 60), the second largest member of his coalition will be the Religious Zionist Party, a far-right party which now includes as its No. 2 candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir, a disciple of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and a follower of his bigoted anti-Arab views. In such a coalition, Ben-Gvir is likely to land a senior cabinet position.
How will American Jews act if faced with an Israeli government hosting a politician who has advocated, among other issues, for expulsion of Arab-Israeli citizens if they prove to be “disloyal,” for collective punishment against Palestinians and for a Jewish takeover of the Temple Mount? While Ben-Gvir has moderated his rhetoric in recent years, he has increased his provocative activism, including setting up “field offices” in tense hot spots in East Jerusalem, moves that were widely seen as inflaming an already tense situation.
Jewish-American organizations tend to steer clear of confronting these types of issues, stating their reluctance to intervene in Israeli internal politics. The American Jewish establishment, judging from its past behavior, prefers to ignore, defer and avoid tackling these questions.
It will likely make sure not to invite Ben-Gvir, or the head of their joint party Bezalel Smotrich, to attend communal or organizational events and avoid initiating meetings with them. As long as it’s up to Jewish establishment leaders, their preferred mode of operation will be to punt and hope that Ben-Gvir and his party somehow disappear from the Israeli political map.
(Avigdor Lieberman, back when he was known as a supporter of transferring Arab-Israelis out of the country, was largely shunned by the organized American Jewish community but made his way into acceptance after moderating his views, and thanks to his ties with the Russian-speaking Jewish community in New York.)
4. Doug Emhoff’s other job
Doug Emhoff, husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, was the guest of honor at a pre-Rosh Hashanah reception held by Israel’s ambassador to Washington Mike Herzog last week. The event featured some of the most powerful Jewish names in U.S. politics, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Special Envoy on Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt and Representatives Ted Deutch, Brad Schneider, Kathy Manning and Jerry Nadler. It provided Emhoff with an opportunity to describe a relatively unknown part of his job: caring for the Jewish community and making sure Jews continue voting for Biden.
He recalled his work on the campaign with Ron Klain, now the White House chief of staff, and Tony Blinken, now secretary of state. “We were kind of doing all the Jewish events together. And I started to get out there, meeting everybody. And then when we took office, they were really busy. So a lot of this stuff kind of fell on me,” he said. And indeed, though Emhoff’s duties as the first-ever second gentleman are broad, and while Jewish outreach is not part of his official portfolio, he has emerged as the Biden administration’s top coordinator for Jewish affairs. One of his proudest responsibilities: hosting, for the past two years, the White House’s virtual Passover seder.
5. High politics on High Holidays
Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner, which means politicians’ efforts to reach out to Jewish constituencies move into high gear. Here’s what to expect: a presidential message and probably a communal phone call, greetings from members of Congress filling your inbox, warm words from Israel’s prime minister, Yair Lapid, who is visiting New York this week, and a whole lot of sermons from your favorite rabbis explaining how Jewish values are all about democracy and human rights.
Look, we managed to say five things about Jews and politics without mentioning the recent exposé by The New York Times on Hasidic schools!