Why Israel is red and American Jews are blue

Israel would have voted for Mitt Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, but American Jews voted for President Obama by almost the same margin.

J Pat Carter/AP
A woman wears Obama campaign buttons, in both English and Hebrew, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks to a group of women at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach, Fla., Sept. 13, as she campaigned for President Obama.

Exit polls from the US presidential elections highlight a gap between American and Israeli Jews.

At the conclusion of a campaign in which loyalty to Israel played an outsized role in the debate because of Republican claims that the administration had neglected the alliance, voter surveys indicated that American Jews maintained their decades-old support for the Democratic Party. Some 70 percent voted for President Obama – a proportion that was nearly the mirror image of public opinion polls indicating that Israelis backed Mitt Romney by a 2-to-1 margin.

"It’s true that Israel is a red state and that American Jewry is a blue state," says Yossi Klein Halevy, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Though that seems to indicate a rightward shift in Israel away from America’s liberal Jewish population, Mr. Halevy and other experts say it’s not that simple. Some even caution the very comparison is awkward because Israelis aren’t citizens.

That said, surveys indicate that American Jews vote primarily on economic and social issues, while considerations about Israel and foreign policy are secondary. By contrast, Israelis focus on a more narrow view of candidates' approach to the Middle East and don’t focus on domestic policy, which they think has no impact on them.   

"American Jews are overwhelmingly democratic because of social issues, not because of foreign policy," says Shaul Kelner, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University who focuses on ties between American Jews and Israel. "It’s easy for Israelis to be hawkish about American foreign policy when they don’t have to live here and deal with consequences of the social policy."

Indeed, on domestic policy Israelis are significantly more blue that the average republican: Gays have openly served in the military for years and few would support dismantling Israel's state-funded public health system. Meanwhile, American Jewish views on the Middle East and the Arab Spring are closer to Israeli skepticism about the prospects for democratic change than the views of the average democrat, Mr. Kelner says.

Despite the robust Jewish support, Mr. Obama's approval numbers did decline to about 69 percent compared with 78 percent four years ago according to exit poll data. Jewish democrats assert that support for Obama in 2008 was actually 74 percent, and argue the drop was less pronounced, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israel wasn't always red

Back in the 1990s, Israel wasn’t a "red state." The most popular US figure was President Bill Clinton, who moderated peace negotiations that would have required significant territorial concessions. The floundering of the peace process and the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising have made Israelis more cautious about diplomatic compromise.

"Israelis have fought one continuous war against terrorism since 2000," says Mr. Halevy. "The result of that is that Israelis view their surroundings with deep fear, while American Jews understandably view their surroundings as benign."

American Jews are less likely to base their vote solely on Israel because they consider support for the Jewish state to have bipartisan backing in Washington. Instead, they focus on a loyalty to the Democrats’ policy of liberal inclusiveness going back to the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

Indeed, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, an energetic advocate for Israel, cited in a Jerusalem Post op-ed the need to protect abortion rights, church-state separation, and civil rights for gays in the Supreme Court as a justification for supporting Obama.

Americans hew to their liberal tradition because of the conviction that "the nature of being a minority is having a stake in social domestic peace," says David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute. Israelis "often have viewed a muscular American foreign policy, or at least muscular rhetoric, as something that would deter extremist forces in the region."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why Israel is red and American Jews are blue
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today