New patterns in Jewish immigration, as well as ideological changes among Jewish intellectuals and professionals are likely to accelerate the trend of American Jews moving to the political right, according to two reports.
Moment magazine (October) reports that the large number of Russian, Syrian and Iranian and even Israeli Jews are already changing American Jewish voting patterns. The once strongly liberal Jewish culture in New York and the West coast are feeling these demographic effects, since many of these newcomers are Republicans or conservative Democrats (particularly the Russians).
This trend can be seen in the greater tendency of Jews to vote Republican in New York’s mayoral and senatorial races. The “world view based on liberal political and religious views ” shared by the organized Jewish community — such as the federations and pro-Israel lobby — is no longer intact, as the Jewish community is facing increasing “democratization” from within.
The growth of Orthodox Judaism — particularly the right-wing branch — is also creating a “new breed of Jewish political populists,” such as Noach Dear, a conservative Democratic City Councilman. “Perhaps the most important factor shaping a Jewish move to the right is the rise of a new crop of younger Jewish intellectuals,” writes Murray Friedman. Such younger writers and thinkers as Dennis Praeger, Michael Medved, David Frum, Lisa Schiffren (a former speechwriter for Dan Quayle) have been influenced by the older generation of neoconservatives (such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz) but are more religiously observant than their elders (many are active in their synagogues).
Also, Jewish academics such as Alan Mittleman at Muhlenberg College and Jonathan Sarna at Brandeis have been in the forefront of questioning the strict church-state separation position held by many American Jews. Friedman concludes that a widespread Jewish move to the right is not certain and will meet resistance, ultimately depending on whether conservatives will accept the more moderating and pluralistic element that Jews may bring to the movement.
Another often overlooked dimension of this trend is the influence of Jews who have converted to Christianity as well as conservative Jews within the Christian right movement. The Washington Post (Oct. 21) reports that both Jews and Jewish converts play a leading role in many leading Christian conservative organizations — “from the Christian Coalition to the Council for National Policy, the movement’s nerve center.” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. says there has “been a real transition in the Jewish view of working with conservative Christians, from real disdain to something more like ambivalence.”
Such converts as Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (founded by Pat Robertson) say they bring a different, more aggressive style to evangelical politics. Yet the strong presence of Jewish converts in the Christian right may ultimately be a divisive force in the new Jewish-Christian conservative alliance.
Eliot Abrams of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center says that the tendency of converts to insist that they are still Jewish may make the new cooperation between conservative Jews and Christians more difficult. “Converts have chosen a new faith; it’s a free country. But converts who claim to still be Jews, that’s a matter of deceit,” he says.
(Moment, 4710 41st St., N.W., Washington, DC 20016)