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J Street’s Silent Majority

Survey emphasizes ‘majority,’ results emphasize ‘silent’

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Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania), who narrowly lost his Senate race.(William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

BREAKING: Last night, a majority of American Jews voted for Democrats. Shocked? Of course not: Everyone (even those who hate it) knows that Jews are among the most steadfast Democratic partisans around. But, according to a national survey of Jewish voters released this morning by the left-leaning Israel lobby J Street (which I profiled last week), conducted by Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein (whom I have also profiled), far fewer Jews voted for various Democrats this year than voted for President Barack Obama in 2008—only 66 percent, to be precise, down from about 78 percent. Given the national outpouring of anti-incumbent (and anti-Democratic) feeling this year, this disparity is hardly surprising—and, given that only 21 percent of respondents indicated a favorable feeling toward the Republican Party, it is hardly indicative of a deep realignment in the American Jewish electorate. (Although 19 percent of polled American Jews looked favorably on the Tea Party, and 16 percent reported warm feelings towards Sarah Palin.)

So, how did J Street do? Well, all three of the Senate candidates it endorsed—all of whom went into Tuesday with the odds against them—lost, though Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania) ran a tighter race than expected. On the House side, where J Street endorsed 58 candidates (all Democrats), 11 lost, all in races projected to be tight.

In other words, J Street showed that its money—$1.5 million raised this cycle through its PAC—isn’t toxic, as its opponents sometimes suggest. “There is political support for politicians who take pro-Israel, pro-peace views,” J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami said on a conference call earlier today. “They will win, and they will win with the support of Jewish voters.”

However, J Street’s own polling data also shows, and has repeatedly shown over the past two years, that only a tiny number of American Jews—seven percent, according to this latest data—rank Israel among even their top two concerns when they go to vote; the most frequent top two concerns are the economy and health care. Sure, 83 percent said they support the United States playing an active role in helping resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a solid majority of those support putting pressure on the Israelis to reach a deal; sure, Prime Minister Netanyahu received a lower favorability rating (49 percent) than Obama (51). But it is not the issue most of them are voting on.

Maybe just as problematically, the survey respondents were overwhelmingly unaffiliated as Jews: Fewer than half belong to a synagogue, participate in Jewish community organizations, or give money to Jewish charities; two-thirds have never been to Israel, and almost as many don’t discuss Israel with friends or family more than a few times a year (eight percent said they never talk about it).

Come January, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), a Cuban-American who has been a staunch hardliner on Israel, will take over as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; it’s hard to imagine her playing nice with members who sign on to J Street’s letters, let alone insert provisions urging pressure on the Israelis to settle with the Palestinians into foreign-aid bills. It’s harder still to imagine members of the new GOP caucus who will be willing to side with the group, which just before the election lost the support of its only Republican endorsee, Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lebanese-American Christian who ran unopposed in Louisiana. Finally, it’s not clear whether the Obama administration, beset with a host of pressing concerns heading into the 2012 campaign, will have the bandwidth to wade much deeper into the donnybrook of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As I reported last week, J Street has an identifiable base of support among wealthy, liberal Jewish donors, many of whom are seasoned Democratic operatives with significant pull in the party. But the question remains: Can J Street mobilize the unaffiliated Jews into a real peace movement? Or will the much-touted J Street majority choose to remain silent?

How Did J Street Fare In the 2010 Midterm Elections? [The Jewish Channel]
Related: Heads Up [Tablet Magazine]
The Pulse-Taker [Tablet Magazine]
Why Are Jews Liberals? [Tablet Magazine]

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Peter W. says:

The article states: “…only a tiny number of American Jews—seven percent, according to this latest data—rank Israel among even their top two concerns when they go to vote…” While this may be true, it may also be true that this is because voters are not usually faced with an overtly anti-Israel candidate. I would not list Israel among my top two concerns, but I would definitely vote against any overtly anti-Israel candidate. American Jewish groups, historically, have worked hard to see that the default position is pro-Israel. Even Obama had to pay lip service to Israel when running, and pay homage to AIPAC. Of course, Obama has zero special concern for Israel — he doesn’t feel Israel in his kishkas — while he does have empathy for Muslims. (His stepfather regularly took him to the mosque when Obama was a child in Indonesia. Obama recited a perfect, accent-less rendition of the Islamic call to prayer for NY Times columnist Kristoff.) American Jews would do well to be super wary of Obama seeking re-election, then he’d be unconstrained to show his true colors. Unfortunately, too many Jews place the welfare of the Democrat Party above the well-being of the Jewish people.

Shmuel says:

Please. Most of my family voted democratic yesterday. Most of my family is liberal. And most of my family disagrees with every word J Street says. Everything.

Please don’t adopt my family’s liberalism and 70 (80?) years of voting Democrat to be an endorsement in even the slightest bit of the radical, left wing politics of J Street. Because it is simply not true. It is wishful thinking.

Marc R says:

Amen, Shmuel. AIPAC has members, lots of them in fact, who are in the Democratic party and their candidates won yesterday too.

HollyMartins says:

When will we get smart?

Jews are their own worst enemy!

Joshua says:

Don’t forget that JStreet’s polls are hopelessly biased due to a conflict of interest. Maybe Alison forgot to look at the much starker AJC polling data? Or maybe she did, but poo-pooed it?

shriber says:

“On the House side, where J Street endorsed 58 candidates (all Democrats), 11 lost, all in races projected to be tight; one endorsee, Rep. Bill Owens (New York), pulled off an upset victory upstate.”

I voted democratic and I despise J Street also.

I and my ancestors have voted Democratic for 70 years. I served in the Israeli army reserves for 10 years. I hate AIPAC and everything it stands for and think Jews who vote Republican and Israelis who support the settlement project are totally assimilated to the worst of Western “values.” All the anecdotal testimonies here, including my own, are just individual viewpoints. Despite Tablet’s sad attempt to downplay the J Street success, don’t change two facts, buttressed by substantial evidence:

1. Jews are still the most liberal ethnicity in the US by far and
2. for that reason the vast majority of Jews do not view the settlement project as essential to Israel’s continued existence. Quite the contrary.

Hence J Street’s message is much more representative of what most US Jews think, than the so-called (increasingly irrelevant) Jewish establishment would like to believe.

What J Street doesn’t want you to know about the “West Bank”:

Ah, yet another “Groundhog Day” article. Back in 1985, Charles Silberman wrote in “A Certain People” (pp. 183-5) about the relationship between American Jews and Israel:

“And that [Jewish peoplehood was primary], in fact, was what most Jews wanted-for themselves, they discovered to their surprise, as well as for their children. The catalytic event was the Six-Day War of June 1967 and, even more, the four weeks that preceded it, when it looked as if Israel was about to be destroyed. Indeed,. it would be hard to exaggerate the impact these events had on Jewish consciousness. […]

“I had not known how deeply Jewish I was!” […] Many Jews would never have believed that grave danger to Israel could dominate their thoughts and emotions to the exclusion of everything else; many were surprised by the depth of their anger at those of their• friends who carried on as usual, untouched by fear for Israeli survival and the instinctive involvement they themselves felt. […]

In 1967 the effects were profound: American Jews felt as if their own fate was bound up with that of Israel, and they responded accordingly. The “outpouring of feeling and commitment” that resulted took a number of forms, the most unexpected, perhaps, being a turn to visible political action. Until then American Jews had been guided for the most part by the old Eastern European Jewish dictum, “Never criticize the czar.” Fearful of evoking an anti-Semitic backlash, they had usually eschewed public demonstrations and protests, preferring to work quietly behind the scenes; after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 American Jews had been careful to avoid any charge of “dual loyalty.” In May and June they threw caution to the wind, turning into “a passionate, turbulent, clamorous multitude,” as Lucy Dawidowicz put it. “We lost our cool completely,” Leonard Fein wrote. “We begged, we pleaded, we demanded, we insulted, we threatened, we promised, we were aggressive, petulant, temperamental.” “

I’ve been studying Judaism(Yahveh) for over fifteen years now.
I am of an Afri-American descent. I am very talented with my hands. I strongly believe
in Judaism(Yahveh), and dedicate all my time to teaching people that Jeremiah means Yahveh exalts, not Islam nor Cristianity but, Yahveh. The majority of the Afri-Americans
love to here it. It brings chills through there body. I believe the negative rappers and lame Cristian teachings(transliterated bibles) are destroying so many good young people, even my relatives. Our Hebrew ethics for Afri-Americans are a doomed failure and could use some refining.
I know for sure the Jews can save the lost Afri-Americans because of what I’ve seen. More black folks get exited and would do better if they were taught Judaism(Yahveh). When Obama said it was okay for Islam to build a temple here on U.S. soil,I begin to have nightmares of invasions and my dreams never lie to me. Is Obama aware of what he is doing, and that we all must convert to Judaism(Yahveh) and teach all of the lost tribes that it is time to bring it home(the stick of Judah and Joseph). YHVH doesn’t acknowledge any other law but, Yahveh.
I know that the Messiah came not to just die, as it may appear to Cristians
but, to refine Judaism; to bring back his good owe days: The Messiah want rest until
Judaism exalts and those false religions decline. Thks.

George says:

For Israel-loving Jews as for Israel sympathizers under
Non-Jews its not J-Street money that’s toxic, but J-Street
itself. The biggest lie is the term “J-Street majority”.
It’s just Jeremy Ben-Ami’s dream, nothing more.

Judy May says:

Seems to me it’s time for JStreet to close up shop.

brynababy says:

Jewish, Liberal, Democrat, support Israel in almost everything it does- except allow the settlements to continue, giving the ultra religious excessive power. I think Ben-Ami is a fraud!

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J Street’s Silent Majority

Survey emphasizes ‘majority,’ results emphasize ‘silent’

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