Analysis: Should Jewish Democrats switch parties?

U.S. Jews are among the Democratic Party’s most stalwart supporters. But with anti-Semitism entering the party, should they stay or should they go?

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Generations of U.S. Jews have been among the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters. On average, 70 percent to 80 percent of American Jews vote Democrat.

However, dramatic changes within the party have brought the issue of anti-Semitism from the fringes to its center, raising the question of whether there is a future for Jews in the party they’ve traditionally called home.

What are the pros and cons of Jews remaining Democrats?

The majority of U.S. Jews define themselves politically as liberals. In the past, when most Democrats supported Israel, it was easy to combine their liberal political affiliation with their Jewish identity and support of the Jewish state.

However, times have changed. Recent anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish sentiments expressed by the party’s newest members, coupled with the Democratic leadership’s inability to effectively cope with those sentiments, make it increasingly uncomfortable for Jewish Democrats who support Israel to combine their Democratic Party support with their pro-Israel attitudes.

Bernie Sanders, who belongs to the radical left faction of the Democratic Party and came close to becoming its presidential candidate in the last primaries, has downplayed his Jewish background and disproportionately attacked Israel in order to please his leftist constituency. This says a lot about the change of atmosphere within the party.

Observers have drawn comparisons with the Democratic Party and the Jeremy Corbyn-led British Labour Party. However, while there is reason to worry, there are still important differences. The British Labour Party appears to have reached a point of no return. Anti-Semitism has become so endemic that liberal British Jews have left Labour in droves.

By contrast, the verdict is still out on the Democratic party. There’s an ongoing battle between traditional liberal Democrats and emerging far-left Democrats.

Jewish Democrats’ role

Most Jews belong to the traditional liberal faction of the Democratic Party. By remaining in the party, Democratic Jews can play an important role in strengthening the moderates and thereby limiting the influence of new radical leftists who appear to embrace anti-Jewish bigotry like Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

Senior Jewish Democrat politicians like Chuck Schumer of New York  and Ted Deutch of Florida have fought anti-Semitism and maintained traditional Democratoc support for Israel. Their ability to continue their important work within the party depends to a large degree on a sufficient number of Jews remaining Democrats.

The Democratic Party also remains a more natural home for most U.S. Jews, who are overwhelmingly secular as well as leery, for historical reasons, of mixing religion with politics. By contrast, the Republican party’s embrace of political conservatism and Christianity has deterred many Jews from joining it.

However, the Republican Party has also changed. Support for Israel has increased dramatically within its ranks. Perhaps for this reason, some 20 percent of U.S. Jews identify as Republicans. While this number is still quite small, it nevertheless may be growing. 

President Donald Trump’s actions also make the Republican party more attractive to Jewish voters, at least those interested in supporting Israel. From moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem to cancelling the Iran nuclear deal, he has shown uncommonly strong policy preferences in favor of Israel.

While the question of whether Jewish Democrats should switch parties is still open to debate, it is no longer the black and white issue that it once was for liberal Jewry.