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Book Review: Why Are Jews Liberals?

November 16, 2009


One of the most fascinating conundrums in American politics today is why the Conservative movement – so dominated as it is by Jewish intellectuals and thought – is so routinely rejected by the Jewish population as a whole.

After all, the Conservative movement has been long been driven by Jewish intellectuals. Who is more respected in Conservatism than Charles Krauthammer or Mark Levin, for example? It can be argued that Jews – either in government or in punditry – are the intelligentsia of Conservatism, as the success of William Kristol, Johan Goldberg, Richard Perle, David Horowitz, and others on the editorial staffs of the Weekly Standard, National Review, and the Wall Street Journal, can attest to.

However, the preponderance of Jewish thought in Conservatism has not translated into Jewish support in the electorate. Jews gave Barack Obama – who was associated with such obvious anti-Semites /anti-Zionists as Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Khalid Al Mansour – 78% of the vote, against a Republican who had a record of strong support for Israel, and antipathy towards Iran. One would think Mr. Bush and his policies would resonate well with Jewish Americans, as well as his close alliance with Senator Liebermann.

It is a puzzle that Norman Podhoretz, one of the most prominent Jewish conservatives, attempts to explain in his book, Why Are Jews Liberals? Podhoretz does so by examining the history of the Jewish people, and anti-Semitism from the dawn of the New Testament to today, generally painting a picture that it was common Jewish perception, rightly or wrongly, that those on the Left were more tolerant of the Jews, than those on the Right.

Podhoretz illustrates this meme by creating a timeline from the ‘enlightened despots’ from early European history to the American presidencies of the last century. Podhoretz focuses strongly on FDR and the Great Depression, in which many of Roosevelt’s initiatives were dismissed by the Right in anti-Semitic terms:

What else were Jews to conclude from all this than that their most rabid enemies were still, and as always, to be found among Christians-Protestant and Catholic alike-and that the religious anti-Semites were, moreover, still in at least a de facto alliance with the anti-Semites on the secular political Right? Conversely, how could Jews fail to conclude that casting their lot with Roosevelt was in their best interests, when the “Jew Deal” had become the prime target of anti-Semitic agitation?

The popularity of FDR because of his New Deal initiatives during a time of great economic hardship for Jews, as well as for his role in the defeat of Hitler, carries over to today (in much the same way that LBJ’s work towards civil rights is a great factor in explaining why African-Americans today are nearly unanimously Democratic voters.)

Podhoretz goes on to argue, however, that there was a “reversal of roles between Left and Right on issues of Jewish interest,” especially in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.  From that point forward, the Left’s anti-Semitism became increasingly evident, usually disguised as criticism of Israel. Adding to this, of course, was the even more blatant anti-Semitism of the so-called Black Power Movement of the same period, which was born during the same era, due, in large degree, to “the canard [circulated by the Left] that the legitimate demands of oppressed Blacks were being blocked by a gang of racist Jews”.

Podhoretz concludes by arguing that Liberalism was replacing Judaism among Jews. He writes “that what [the Jews] were doing was converting to a new religion in which Marx’s Capital became an ‘a new kind of Torah’. To this new ‘Torah’ they grew as stubbornly attached-both out of conviction and as a matter of honor-as their fathers and grandfathers has been to the Torah of Judaism itself”

Most puzzling to me, as a non-Jew, is the premise that the Right – despite its clear history of anti-Semitism – was ever perceived as any more anti-Semitic than the Left, which I would argue had an equally clear history of anti-Semitism long before 1967. After all, was there anyone on the Right as clearly anti-Semitic as Hitler (whom Podhoretz argues was of the Right – an assertion I soundly reject) or Karl Marx, who attacked his foes with phrases like “dirty Jews” or “niggerlike Jews?” And was not the KKK – who tortured Jews as well as Blacks – Democrats? In fact, I believe that because the Left is by its nature anti-capitalistic, and because Jews have long been burdened with the stereotype of being the “money-lenders,” or the personification of the demonizations the Left puts upon capitalism and capitalists, that anti-Semitism has always been endemic to the Left.

I do not feel that Podhoretz fully addresses the problems of pre-1967 anti-Semitism on the Left. However, neither does the American Jewish population, as a whole; just as they do not address the problems of post-1967 anti-Semitism.  There does seem to be a disconnect between Jewish perception of the Right and reality. And judging by President Obama’s approval rating among Jews, which currently stands at 64%, this disconnect and its corresponding allegiance to the Left, shows no sign of abating.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Virgil McElvy permalink
    March 20, 2010 1:30 PM

    I found a book review by an author named David Kupelian titled, “The Marketing of Evil.” Its an interesting topic and the subject matter includes how certain social causes are now being re-packged to make them more palatable for public consumption.

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