Why Jews keep voting against themselves - Macleans.ca

Why Jews keep voting against themselves

More than three-quarters of U.S. Jews voted for Obama. Only four per cent of Israel’s Jews support him.


Remember when there were seats to lie down on in airports? Now everything has fixed arms, a barrier to anything but stern upright positions. A 10-hour delay last Saturday in Fort Lauderdale airport was quite a stretch with naught to stretch on except two tiny units of armless seats coveted by 154 stranded passengers.

Happily, I had just purchased a jolly good book. Less fortunately, it had a flypaper title: in bold large letters on a white background it read Why Are Jews Liberals?

Now I know it is possible loads of people, perhaps a majority, have never met a Jew as far as they know, couldn’t care less about Israel and are sick of Jewish talking-and-writing heads endlessly discussing themselves. But I was in Florida.

“Is it a good book?” asked a fellow strandee. Absolutely terrific, I replied, which it is because Norman Podhoretz is a splendid writer, and irrespective of politics that surface in the second half of the book, the first half is a fascinating synopsis of Jewish history. “What’s the reason you’re a liberal?” I asked, knowing instinctively he was Jewish and if American, a rigorous Democrat and if Canadian, never further right wing than the Liberals—even when they were carefully supporting most UN condemnations of Israel or at best abstaining. “I suppose,” he replied, “it’s a Jewish tradition to care about the underprivileged and policies to help them.” Bingo.

Generally speaking, most Jews justify their voting this way. About 80 per cent of Jews vote Democrat in the States and Liberal or NDP in Canada, largely in the belief they are voting for the party that has best helped the oppressed—a big leap—and will continue to do so—an even bigger one. Podhoretz’s thesis is that they are, unlike any other group, voting against their own best interests and survival, or in the epigram of professor Milton Himmelfarb, “They earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans” (though as Podhoretz points out, Episcopalians may no longer be the richest nor Puerto Ricans the poorest). I’d add that in voting left these days, Jews are also voting against the interests of the poor and the underdogs of our society.

I suppose most Jews vote against their own interests for the simple reason they don’t know their own interests. Jews vote for affirmative action for disadvantaged groups. This supports quotas, which disadvantage Jews given their percentage in the population and their achievement educationally. Quotas and the barriers they erect to equality are one of the reasons their grandparents came to America. Jews vote left for “tolerance,” not heeding that at present, intolerance flourishes most strongly on the left, which censors speech, debate and Israel. They vote for the left because they believe it will take care of the poor without understanding that left-wing economic policies today cripple the ability of society to help the poor as well as the ability of the wealthy, Jewish or Gentile, to earn the money they want to donate.

More than three-quarters of American Jews voted for Barack Obama and even now 64 per cent support him. In Israel, according to one recent poll, only four per cent of their Jews support him. Israelis, for whom the selection of an American president could always mean life or death—and at this moment in history with a nuclear Iran and Islamism on the march never more so—are not inclined to vote on the basis of fashion or oratory.

North American Jews may think that American policies toward Israel are not high on their worry list for all sorts of reasons. These include a determination never to be accused of dual loyalties; a desire for social acceptance that the support of Israel may preclude in some quarters (Barbra Streisand cancelled her long-standing appearance last year at Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations for unspecified reasons); even a personal embarrassment over the existence of Israel. There may even be some who feel that Israel is not good for the Jews: it has become a lightning rod for anti-Semitism instead of the lifeboat it was intended to be. Jews seem not to understand that whatever their views about Israel’s policies—which can most certainly be the subject of legitimate dispute—the elimination of Israel now, whether by force or demographics, would constitute a crippling blow to Judaism inside and outside the country. If eliminating the Jewish state is successful, Islamism will have won a major victory. Without a homeland, Jews will have no coherent defence against the lies and calumnies that will then be circulated about the former Israel and rebound on the world’s remaining Jews. Burgeoning anti-Semitism, barely restrained now, will have clear sailing.

How did we get here? Podhoretz’s theory is that the Jewish intellectuals and political leaders from eastern Europe who came to America had stopped believing in the God of Judaism and replaced it with the Torah of Marxism. When that failed it was replaced by an unshakable belief that contemporary liberalism was identical with the impulses of the Torah. But whatever tikkun olah (Hebrew for “repair of the world”), always cited by Jews as the reason for their support of the left, means in the Torah, I doubt that it means supporting anti-business policies, anti-family values and a growing movement that is inhospitable—to say the least—to Israel.

Jews have an understandable worry built in from their history about religious fanaticism and right-wing politics. This leads them to spurn their strongest allies, which today are evangelical Christians. In postwar politics they never voted in any numbers for Israel’s strongest presidential allies, Nixon and Bush Jr. But Jews might be wise to remember Lord Palmerston’s observation about England having no eternal friends, only eternal interests. There is little point worrying about who was the enemy last decade or who is going to be the enemy the day after tomorrow. They need to find out who is the enemy—or friend—today. Fast.


Why Jews keep voting against themselves

  1. "Jews have an understandable worry built in from their history about religious fanaticism and right-wing politics."

    Bingo. But there's another side to it: I'd be willing to guess (speaking as a gentile, of course) that a lot of American (and Canadian!) Jews retain enough historical sense to look at today's Palestinians and see the European Jews of 1700. It is staggering to me that a Jewish writer like Amiel can write that "the Jews have no eternal friends, only eternal interests." No race in history has ever done more to foster liberal values and social justice than the Jews, and the idea that they have done so only out of self-interest (and continue to do so only from some kind of failure to keep up) is appalling. It is rather people like Amiel who, with such flagrantly nihilist screeds like the above, betray that beautiful legacy, to which the history of the world owes so much.

    • Stupid Barbara Amiel, making me agree with Jack Mitchell.

  2. Very interesting column.

    I'd have to say, though, that in my experience Jewish Canadians/Americans vote leftward because they (incorrectly) perceive Christians as anti-Semites, and they (correctly) identify the Right with largely Christian support.

    The former perception is due to (a) the actual strained history between Jews and Christians that lasted from the original Roman persecution of Christians until the Medieval Christian persecution of Jews, and (b) the recent lies told about Christians in WW2 that attempt to portray them as abettors of the Shoa rather than the defenders of the Jews that they largely were.

    • "I'd have to say, though, that in my experience Jewish Canadians/Americans vote leftward because they (incorrectly) perceive Christians as anti-Semites, and they (correctly) identify the Right with largely Christian support."

      I have had different experience. Jews have become attracted to left wing philosophies – communism and kibbutz – over the past hundred years or so and it's a response to pogroms they have experienced over the centuries.

  3. Why would Jews, who, as a people, have suffered from centuries of persecution, want to climb into bed with those (Conservatives and Republicans) who continue persecuting others (Muslims, Hispanics, Gays, etc.)?

    • I would have to say Robert, that Muslims and Hispanics probably have more to fear from you persecuting them than me.

    • The whole point of Amiel's article is that the politics of persecution is badly flawed. Those who purport to serve the interests of the persecuted are often focused on competing interests or they are a simply poorer alternative in serving the interest.

  4. Of course they do. After all, I am the one who is saying we should stop letting Muslims and Hispanics immigrate to North America.

  5. Meh, I've never said that they weren't welcome. On the other hand, of the two of us, I'm probably more likely to give them greater freedom to follow their cultural and religious traditions. You'll demand it conform to your ideologies first.

    • Maybe you haven't said they aren't welcome but lots of conservatives are saying that. And many more are working hard to provide reasons for people to not welcome them. In fact, one of the later is a guy who published a book called The Muslim Peril. You might be familiar with him. For some strange reason Macleans publishes his articles.

      • Yeah, but lots of lefties have said that the Jewish state doesn't deserve to exist, or is entirely responsible for the conflict in the middle east. If spray paint everywhere, you're probably going to hit something that needs paint, but it hardly makes you a proficient painter.

        • Right on cue, a story about liberals and vicious anti-semites among their ranks. Of course it is as specious as your comments were Robert, but that's what happens when people paint with a broad brush.

        • I haven't seen any lefties that say the Jewish state doesn't deserve to exist or is entirely responsible for the conflict in the middle east. Are you sure you're not just resorting to the old, I don't agree with what they are saying so they must be a leftist canard.

          Aside from that, I think the importance of Israel for most Jews in other countries is greatly exaggerated and factors in very little when it comes to domestic politics.

  6. What a ridiculous first three paragraphs. I will assume it got no better during the rest.

    • It didn't.

  7. The amount of garbage in this column is rather astounding:

    "Generally speaking, most Jews justify their voting this way."

    Did you ask them? Also, why does anyone have to 'justify' voting?

    "Generally speaking, most Jews justify their voting this way. About 80 per cent of Jews vote Democrat in the States and Liberal or NDP in Canada, largely in the belief they are voting for the party that has best helped the oppressed—a big leap—and will continue to do so—an even bigger one. "

    Isn't possible that Jews in America and Canada have demographics that are more urban (Canada) and more Coastal and Urban (US)? Seems to me there are lots of Jews in Manhattan but not as many in St Louis. Perhaps they are voting in a manner similar to the geographies in which they inhabit.

  8. I suppose Amiel is a supporter of Bush, who did Ahmadinejad a nice favour by listing Iran among the 'axis of evil' and saying he wouldn't "negotiate with evil". Is it really a surprise that the Iranians elected a hard-liner in 2005, at the same time that the American right was musing about bombing Iran?

  9. You know, I'm sure Lady Black and Ken Whyte go way back (maybe he's even one of her ex-husbands–who can keep track) and he's doing her a big solid by publishing her weekly "columns", but I can't help but wonder if it would be kinder for everyone if Maclean's just paid her a nice stipend to stay on the masthead and stopped publishing her increasingly unhinged articles. I mean, between this, last week's charmer on Polanski, and that bizarre piece from a few months back that had something to do with Michelle Obama's arms but quickly devolved into incoherence, I'm starting to fear that exile in West Palm has taken a brutal and permanent toll on her mental faculties.

    • Oh my I'm way late to this in both weeks and the hour but of all the great responses I've read to this piece, yours Dear Reader has to be jumped on for it's over-reliance on sexist and classist cliches instead of refuting her presumptive arguments. Amiel knows she's being provocative and simplistic, making assumptions about what constitutes self-interest for a people etc.. but calling her on her social connections while ignoring questions like "Why does criticism of Israel as a liberal democracy = embarrassment?" is lazy. One can be proud of the fact that Israel exists as a flawed but real democracy– as all democracies are flawed, and in it's own paranoid-but-justified-way– and know that it can do better to chill out, suck it up and set a better example for the seemingly il-liberal societies that surround it.

  10. 75 %, 4% – whatever, who cares. If a Jew could ever get over the fact that knowbody really cares if they are Jews – this would be the greatest stepping stone. Jews are people. People vote – not Jews, get over yourself already.

  11. "I suppose most Jews vote against their own interests for the simple reason they don't know their own interests."

    I'd say this sums up the idiocy of this article. You know the interests of all Jewish voters better than they do, Barbara? Isn't is possible they have interests besides what just directly benefits them, that they're willing to consider the needs of others when voting, not just their own needs?

    I really hope Macleans isn't paying for these pieces…

  12. Barbara Amiel is behind the times. In Canada, no one knows exactly how many Jews do vote Liberal or NDP. Certainly in the past, a majority voted Liberal. But that majority has disappeared.

    In the last election, the riding of Thornhill, with the largest percentage of Jewish voters in the country (37%), went Conservative.

    York Centre, also with a substantial Jewish population, went from being the safest Liberal seat in Toronto, to the most precarious – and that's with a very large Italian population, as well (another group that traditionally votes solid Liberal).

    The lack of a credible leader for the Liberals was partly responsible for this change, but mostly it was because of the Conservatives consistently principled stance on Israel – supporting a fellow liberal democracy while consistently opposing the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah and the antisemitism of the UN.

    • There are about five electoral districts (St. Pauls, Eglinton-Lawrence, York Centre and Thornhill in Toronto and Mount Royal in Montreal) with significant Jewish populations. From 1988 each was held by the Liberals with overwhelming majorities (avg. 65%). By 2008 this had changed significantly. Thornhill (the most Jewish of the Toronto districts) went Conservative). In the other three Toronto districts the Liberals were reduced to a plurality. In Montreal-Mount Royal, Irwin Cotler's Conservative rival has increased his share to almost 30% and Cotler's share has dwindled from 75% to barely 50%. Jews are increasingly turning away from the Liberals.

  13. This article is pure drivel. Totally unnuanced, poorly written, and an unfortunate waste of time for anyone who wants to think seriously about what are undoubtedly far more complex issues than Amiel's simplified view of the world is willing to admit.

    • Fantastic! I can not agree more with your views on another one of Lady Amiel-Black's failed attempts at journalism. Why this magazine allows her needless and often bewildering articles to be published is a mystery.

  14. This leads them to spurn their strongest allies, which today are evangelical Christians.

    Of course, by this Lady Amiel-Black of Crossharbour surely doesn't mean Paul Hagee and his "Christians United For Isreal," who claimed that Hitler was a hunter whom God divinely sent down to chase the Jews back to Israel.

    I'd say Barbara Amiel is losing her mind but really…what mind?

    • I always love that. Babara Amiel, former Communist.

      No one fad, not one fashion, not one trend passed her by.

  15. To say that I disagree with this article is an understandment. In the case of American's who practice the Jewish faith maybe the simply believe in what is best for THEIR country, not Israel. Barack Obama got a huge number of former Republicans, usually non-voters and those that define themselves as independents to vote for him, regardless of faith. I don't believe what is right for Israel is right for the Jews, nor do I believe that what is right for the Vatican is right for Catholics. If Jews tend to vote left, then that is those Jewish individuals personal political beliefs, this article doesn't ask the question of whether Jews (which is a very broad term considering there are 329,995 Jews in Canada and 6.44 million Jews in the US) vote based on their own political beliefs. You will find more and more people don't vote based on race, religion, or ethnic group in comparison to past decades and political views aren't a reflection of beliefs or ethnic group. Take Hispanics in the US, many in Canada assume that they vote Democratic all the time, but in reality that isn't true in all cases, especially in Florida. This article lacks facts to be quite blunt and is made up of mainly personal opinion. I doubt I could hand this paper in at my highschool and get an honours mark on it. Articles like these are the reason why I'm not re-subscribing to Maclean's.

  16. When have Jews in the last 60 years come to the aid of victims of modern genocides? Help the underprivileged??? Or vote for a government who is likely to funnel ressources to one other country that disrespects international law?

  17. Most of the rest of us that are not jewish or religious are tired of all the trash in the media about jewish problems. Most of this obsession seems to come from the East. Out on the wet coast we don't much care where you came from, how rich you are, whether your husband is a criminal or not or what you do as long as you don't try to force your views on the rest of us.

  18. the people whom this lady addresses and names exclusively seems envious of the many people who are successful to whom everyone is afforded of and with (success)….these people are sometimes secular sometimes orthodox sometimes not a iota of whatever one believes in…..they stand by different forms of belief yet remain bold and sometimes italicized in the keyboards of the world…they are like you and me and everyone else…gotta love these people they are darn good models to emulate…no wonder kazillion people despise them unfoundedly so…i empathize with them primarily since birth i too have been a victim of unfounded jealousy and envy of many who i do not know…but now i do…it is with in the minds of the many who hate…and this they have to deal with this shameful ignorant hate in their own lives!

  19. Nobody seems to have mentioned yet that Amiel's column is also a warm review of a book by Norman Podhoretz; practically the father of the "Neocon" movement. The Neocons! At this juncture in history, with neocon foreign policy resulting in the expensive disaster of Iraq; the neocon philosophy of deregulated, unfettered corporatism resulting in the US (and worldwide) financial crisis; neocon philosophy a proven disaster both at home and abroad – she's still offering the now-familiar neocon talking points.

    I mean, honestly, how can you in 2009 say with a straight face that voting for Republicans in the States is the best move for the poor? The resulting 10% unemployment rate from the deregulated banking industry collapse has doubled the numbers of the poor, while taking away as much safety net as possible.

    For 2009, the "neocon" political thought has become radical; for only a radical could still espouse it in the face of all its recent failures. Can we get a more moderate right-wing proponent in Maclean's? This one is speaking to about 10% of the readership while 90% shake their heads, more in sorrow than in anger.

  20. Ms Amiel is right, most of us are not concerned about Jewish problems because 1)Jews are a tiny minority of the population 2) Israel is a tiny sliver of sand in the middle of nowhere. What happened to Jews in Europe in the 2nd World War was horrific but the clock keeps ticking, the Holocaust is receding into history. Many people know nothing about what happened back then and don't care, don't know or care about current world events and us older people and our educational establishment have been negligent in educating our youngsters. In the final analysis, Jews and the state of Israel cannot count on anybody else and will have to take care of themselves.

  21. My comment is not so much about Barbara Amiel's latest attempt at a cohesive editorial," Why Jews keep voting against themselves". Rather, my immense amazement as to why this person is on the pay-roll of such a respectable publication. Her piece on "poor" Roman Polanski made my jaw drop. Did anyone else read the last line (in the Polanski article) and not think this person has lost touch with reality? The man is a pedophile and should be treated accordingly. Get rid of the pampered wife of that multi-millionaire and convicted criminal. I don't know what her stake in your magazine is. Is she just like the bumbling waiter at a good restaurant who only works there because he or she is related to the owner? She truly makes me sick. Are there any other regular McLeans readers who share my sentiments?

    • Ms. Amiel's rantings, in particular the article about the convicted rapist, Roman Polanski and now this article, have brought me to the decision to cancel my subscription.
      The article about Jews is particularly vile in light of what was seen at a Republican sponsored rally in Washington today where a picture of holocaust victims was seen on a large banner decrying the health care bill, of all things. Words fail me. It is vile. It is disgusting.
      As are Ms. Amiel's opinion pieces.
      Here's a picture of the banner: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/1
      I am boycotting MacLeans and will urge others to do so, as long as Ms. Amiel is a contributor.

    • You may not care about Polanski and it is your right. But to imply that his return to States would serve any justices is pure hypocrisy. Idol of the Obama “democrat” – Michael Jackson was known pedophile and nothing happen to him. Never mind his skin pigmentation but his race save his skin. No one wanted to see LA burning again.

  22. Macleans, what is the DEAL with Barbara Amiel’s articles?

    – The percentage of Jews that voted for the US leader-guy?
    -Her opinion on Polanski and his US lawsuit?
    -Weinstein(who?)’s book?
    -“Great” American TV cooks?

    Nothing beat Barb’s plea for her husband’s innocence in her article from some months/years past – using Macleans as a platform to beg her American friends to help them out because Canadians left them high and dry.

    Barb: Why are you writing for this magazine? Who is your audience? Don’t you live in Malipoo or Las Vegass or some other insipid stopover down in the States?

    It’s like one of these accidental swaps happened on the maternity floor and we find out years later that you were supposed to belong to Time but have somehow been carried by Macleans all this time.

    You’re the only columnist I regularly skip from this great magazine. If I do ever gloss over your thoughts, I’m often left speechless and discouraged. Your pieces are incomprehensible to me. They have no absolutely bearing on my life. Or on any other Canadian I know.

    It’s probably not your fault – I don’t know why Macleans employs you, but really you should be writing for some Hollywood periodical.

    Kindly do so.

  23. Tired of jewish story and your endless problems.You are abusing the system and CONRAD BLACK deserve to be in JAIL.
    Soon will be Mr. Ken White will join him! Nobody reads this magazine anymore and Rogers should stop this nonsense.

  24. The jewish people who vote for an administration who would use diplomatic means to solve conflicts, are voting for their benifit. The good people of Isreal and the good jewish people of the world don't want war, aggression, and military solutions. The only people who benifit from war, are the owners of the military/industrial complex.
    Ruling by fear gives these business leaders/war mongers permission to spend our money on war games which destroy our lives and eco system.

  25. Holy crap! 2 for 2! I've read a grand total of 2 Mcleans opinion articles, both by Amiel and she's annoyed the f$*& out of me both times. Time to check out the BBC again.

  26. I find it unremarkable that I, a well-informed non-Jew, 'get' what Babs is talking about. It's not that hard to understand. What I do find remarkable, however, is how so many people (if the comments so far are a reliable indicator) fail to understand either the significance of Israel to Jews (zionist and non-zionist, American and non-American) and the disconnect between that significance and how American Jews resolve, or fail to to resolve, their relationship to Israel.

  27. Israel is a Democratic ally to Liberty more than it is a Jewish State.

    I cannot help but question why and how so many American Jews are against Democracy; it isn't just the destruction of Jews which bothers me about the majority of American Jews voting against the right for Israel to exist but that a majority voted to help destroy a Democratic ally to Liberty.

    Prada Handbags

  28. I think Barbara Amiel should be fired and devoid of all properties and cash except what she has earned at MacLean's magazine. I would throw her in jail as well since for many years has benefitted from her husbands illegal activity.
    I would enjoy seeing her begging for spare change on the street. Then, and ony then I would be interested in her point of view. Someone who sits in an ivory tower having lost all contact with the average man (sounds like monarchists) can no longer relate to her/him. Her point of view si devoid of all compassion, honesty and sincerity. I believe the average canadian is a pretty decent person. Barbara Amiel, Conrad Black (thow in Andrew Coyen and Don Cherry) no longer represents the average person. Thanks be to God. Let's ship em all to a right-wing state where they really belong.
    P.S Was it not another right'wing guy (Mulroney) who let some of Canada's largest companies move their head offices offshore so they would not have to pay corporate taxes. The Toronto elite (read monarchists). Don't you just love 'em.

  29. Jews support the Left Wing because they are intelligent, competent, and the Right Wing has generally supported people like Hitler.

    Prescott Bush laundered money for Hitler, and shipped Nazi agents to the U.S. on his Hambug-America shipping lines. Most Right wingers supported Hitler and his war, and tried to keep the U.S. out of hostilities, like Charles Lindberg. Some, like Henry Ford, gave Hitler material assistance (in the form of 17,000 trucks) and rabid support in his Right Wing rag, “The Dearborn Independent.” Add to that the famous Right Wingers who avoided combat, (John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon). Then the famous Lefties who fought (Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Jackie Coogan, John Garfield, George C. Scott, Eddie Albert, Lee Marvin, Brian Keith, Tyrone Power, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, and you have an excellent idea of where the interests of the Jewish people reside.