Beyond the Poll: American Jews and Political Homelessness

Galia Wechsler
November 8, 2022

*This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jewish on Campus

As people make their way to the polls, Jews are once again wandering. Many Jewish-American voters confront an unsettling feeling and a difficult decision: what political alignment can I call my home? 

As the Democratic and Republican parties grow further apart, one thing that remains bipartisan is Jews’ lack of confidence in their ballot choices. Both sides have shown a lack of understanding of their Jewish constituents or even outright platformed antisemitism.

Frustration with American politics is common, but Jews are in a uniquely difficult spot. Republican candidates have compared mask mandates to the Holocaust, and Democrats similarly invoked historical antisemitism, weaponizing the dangerous stereotype that Jews are rich and greedy. Several successful candidates from both parties in recent years were endorsed by former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke. This election season, many Jews cannot escape these facts when filling out their bubble sheets. 

As antisemitism grows on both sides, elected officials are focused on pointing fingers at the other party rather than looking inward. To rid themselves and their parties of the onus for combating antisemitism, the rare condemnations representatives muster are often accompanied by a caveat that allows them to use it as a “gotcha” against their opponents. While politicians try to point fingers across the aisle, they have a hard time convincing Jews.

“It’s so palpably there. It’s not hidden, and people like to [say], ‘Oh you don’t see where it really is.’ It’s obvious. It’s so obvious.” A 21-year-old voter from New York said. “I do think that there’s clear, clear-cut antisemitism on both sides.

While Democrats and Republicans fight over who the worse perpetrator is, Jews struggle with the same question. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have a record of ping-ponging back and forth, trying to frame the other and their party as the antisemite while absolving themselves. In reality, they have both represented their parties’ failure to show up for the Jewish community.

Foreign policy regarding Israel further complicates the relationship American Jewish voters have with each party. While support for the Jewish state’s existence is regarded as bipartisan, both Democrats and Republicans weaponize Israel to shape their relationship with Jewish voters. 

Just over 70% of Jewish-American voters identify as Democrats or left-leaning. Yet, Republicans wield their supposed stronger support for Israel — backed mainly by a right-wing evangelical base — against Jews to guilt Jews into voting red. Republican politicians have invoked dual loyalty tropes, saying Jews are obligated to vote for the Republican candidates.

The Democratic party invokes the same dangerous concept. Jews face a litmus test presented by many progressive candidates: continuing to hold liberal values must now come at the expense of supporting the Jewish state entirely. Having progressive views on Israel or views that align with the Democratic party’s platform isn’t enough. 

American politicians use one of Judaism’s oldest core facets to manipulate votes, and Jewish voters feel stuck. 

“We should be accepted as the Jewish people for all that we are and not have to cut off an integral part of what being Jewish means,” a 21-year-old Jewish voter from Virginia told Jewish on Campus. They pointed out that American Jews are overwhelmingly Democratic and over 90% of American Jews also identify with Zionism. As anti-Israel sentiment grows on the left, some Jewish voters don’t find these two qualities as often they hope. Many American Jews feel they must sacrifice part of their values when voting. 

Disillusioned by the options, many Jews throw their arms up in frustration, saying their best choice in the upcoming election is Nefesh b’Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews from North America make aliyah. While some are serious, reacting out of hopelessness, the idea still comes from the fact that many Jews are dissatisfied with the options they see on the ballot. While adamant about exercising the right to vote, many wish it were easier on their conscience.

“It feels like it’s the better of two evils,” the New York voter said of the antisemitism that candidates have espoused. “They’re both evil. I’m not going to choose a candidate who doesn’t have antisemitism almost embedded into them and into their campaign,” they remarked with a sense of defeat.

Still, other Jews refuse to throw in the towel, hoping that the Jewish community can continue fighting for a safer future in the United States.

While the current political sphere leaves something to be desired for many Jewish voters, American Jewish voter turnout remains steady and high. An estimated 85% of eligible Jewish voters cast their vote in key presidential elections, compared to the two thirds of eligible Americans who voted in 2020 and the lower numbers in elections prior. While the deliberation is tough for many, Jews are not turning down the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

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