The phrase “two Jews, three opinions,” in addition to being a stale cliché, aptly describes a phenomenon thoroughly uninteresting: distinctive communities, even those with centuries of shared traumatic experiences, are not monoliths. While it’s true that the vast majority of American Jews today support the Democratic Party, this one statistic belies an important fact: Orthodox Jews, who are more likely to support the Republican Party, are the fastest growing Jewish denomination in the United States. Even if one does not subscribe to the alarmist tendency to equate intermarriage in non-Orthodox communities with a loss of Jewishness, it remains true that the Jewish community’s small-c conservative bloc will likely grow as a percentage of American Jewry in the coming decades.
A reality of division is even more obvious when we consider global Jewry. To begin with the most obvious example: a recent and much-discussed survey shows a clear majority of Israeli Jews rejecting the views of their American counterparts, which surprisingly included issues of religious equality. This poll was obviously disheartening, though not necessarily alarming on matters of security, where Israelis are not wrong to view American Jews as less invested. As a matter of fact and proximity, we simply are not on the same page.
But in Europe, too, Jews are more likely to lean to the right than American Jews. In Britain, the percentage of Jews who told pollsters they would support the Conservative Party ahead of the 2017 election was 77 percent. North of the left-leaning Jewish stronghold of West Bloomfield, Michigan, a majority of Jews now back the Canadian Conservative Party.
Thus, the notion of any common Jewish sensibility in politics is at odds with the opinions of actual living and breathing Jews. This should not be controversial in the slightest; after all, there is a famous cliché to describe it all. What has worried some, though, is that this divided has extended to issues on which there is an expectation of broad consensus, particularly on combating anti-Semitism.
In these pages, Michael Koplow recently drew on the work of the late Philip Roth to critique Ambassador David Friedman’s contention that conservative evangelical Christians “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community.” Koplow rightly objects to Ambassador Friedman’s devaluation of the special relationship between diaspora Jews and Israel in favor of “greater” support from evangelicals. He is also rightly worried that Friedman, who was responding to concerns about anti-Semitic statements from pro-Israel evangelical leaders Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, is not taking seriously Jewish anxieties about Christian anti-Semitism on the basis of comparatively weak Jewish support for Israel.
However, I find it increasingly difficult to quibble with David Friedman over his dyspeptic dismissal of Jews with different opinions (my issue is with Ambassador David Friedman expressing these views under the aegis of the United States government). Friedman is not an establishment operative attempting to maintain ties with evangelicals. In that case, his comments would amount to a cynical disregard for the dangers of anti-Semitism. But Friedman is a hard-right figure who believes the vision of two states for two peoples amounts to an existential threat to Israel, one no less serious than that posed by a nuclear Iran. Friedman sees political evangelicals, who largely don’t support ceding territory to Palestinians, as allies in this important struggle.
It’s disquieting that Friedman and others on the right don’t take the apocalyptic anti-Semitism of Jeffress and Hagee seriously, but it’s not outrageous. If a powerful bloc of American voters saw implementation of a two-state solution as key to their end of days prophecies, which as a general rule seldom contain good news for the Jews, I would not boycott them provided that doomsday was postponed until the messianic period. This would not be out of a lack of respect for right-wing Jews, but out of a desire to see a democratic Jewish state endure.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has made his own share of unnerving anti-Semitic statements in recent years; last month, he gave a speech to the Palestinian National Council in which he appeared to blame Jews for the Holocaust. This did not change my view that Abbas is a Palestinian leader with whom Israel should negotiate matters of borders and security. This judgment has little to do with the fact that right-leaning Jews have been the ones calling Abbas an anti-Semite for several years, but rather my lack of willingness to set aside progress toward the two-state solution.
Similarly, some Jewish activists on the left have been frustrated by the recent focus on Tamika Mallory, a member of the Women’s March leadership who’s been associated with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Why, they say, should we talk about Tamika Mallory when the U.S. government is separating the families of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants? They are both repelled by Mallory’s attitudes and concerned that a social movement they hold dear is being divided on their behalf.
Anti-Semitism is an execrable and poisonous ideology in all its manifestations. If there is any issue on which most Jews share an opinion, it’s this. But as we’ve seen over the years, individual Jews will not necessarily set aside important differences to fight anti-Semitism together – though I suspect, and truly believe, that we would if faced with a dangerous anti-Semitic demagogue like Charles Lindbergh. As much as I detest Donald Trump, who has channeled Lindbergh’s slogan of “America First,” he does not pose such a direct danger to Jews.
It’s clear the American Jewish community, but especially the right and left tails of it, need to talk to each other about anti-Semitism on the broader right and left. A logical first step would be to acknowledge that Jews are not working in bad faith to make other Jews less safe.