PQ ethnocentrism could bring Jews and Muslims together

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 8-24-12

Amid a glorious summer, with great weather, fabulous festivals and deliciously lazy days, the collective blood pressure of most Quebec Jews spiked, as the provincial election contest heated up, referendum talk mounted and property values prepared to nosedive. You don’t need the honed-by-history, trained-by-trauma instincts of a long-oppressed people to hear the demagoguery and nativism in the rhetoric of Pauline Marois and her Parti Québécois. All you need are the sensibilities of a humanist, the decency of a democrat, the passions of a liberty-lover. During the first great Palestinian terrorist onslaught of the 1970s, novelist Cynthia Ozick said Jews aren’t paranoid, but narapoid – a term she coined to mean when you think people are out to get you, and they are.

The Jews of Quebec live in a gilded cage. For many, Canadian niceness and the average Quebecer’s generosity generate many blessings: the standard of living is high, quality of life is good, community infrastructure is deep and Jewish identity is strong. Yet the nastiness of Quebec politics – and the ever-present, shouted today, perhaps whispered tomorrow, threat of separation, erodes community self-confidence and individual self-respect. Politically, most Jews are held hostage, forced to support the tired, ineffectual, tainted-by-corruption Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest, because the alternative isn’t just worse, but potentially catastrophic.

The separatist threat is debilitating enough, but Marois has raised the trauma considerably with her Charter of Secularism. The notion of banning Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh symbols in government offices but not, dare I say it, God forbid, the crucifix, because of its “cultural” significance – not its religious meaning of course – would be laughable if it were not so offensive. Marois has made it clear that she would invoke one of the least democratic planks in any modern democracy – the Charter of Rights’ Notwithstanding Clause – to impose her offensive, selective, Christianocentric, vision on Quebecers.

Fundamental rights of free expression and religious liberty shouldn’t be up for grabs. All Quebecers of good conscience should vote against Marois’ medievalism. This threat to peace, order and good government should also motivate Canadians across the country to rally against the Notwithstanding Clause. Provincial legislatures shouldn’t be able to suspend fundamental rights temporarily. The clause mocks the notion of constitutional guarantees.

I don’t get it. I thought the new generation of young, hip, cosmopolitan Quebeckers rejected their baby boomer predecessors’ extremism. Yes, there were historic imbalances between Anglophones and Francophones that needed correcting. And yes, these young, prospering, sophisticated Francophones have benefited from their elders’ boldness. But progress occurred, a new world developed, and now, this divisive, destructive demagoguery threatens all the good and goodwill that exist, while obscuring important work that needs to be done in improving the health-care system, cultivating the economy and making the infamous Quebec bureaucracy more respectful of individual citizens and their rights.

History teaches that a lynch mob atmosphere against some citizens ultimately hurts all citizens. So many people, be they of venerable French lineage or fresh off the boat, who have had run-ins with Quebec tax authorities or Quebec welfare boards or Quebec parking authorities understand that the province’s power dynamics are too skewed toward officious bureaucrats and against regular folk. We need a grand government worthy of its marvellous citizens, not a banana republic. Marois’ ethnocentrism and separatist talks diminishes individuals and the rule of law while preventing an important debate about this problem and many others.

There is one silver lining amid these gathering northern clouds. In targeting the hijab and the kippah, Marois has provided Muslim and Jews an opening for a much-needed dialogue. I have long wondered why every conversation between Muslims and Jews has to be about Israelis and Palestinians. We have many common challenges that could invite productive, meaningful exchanges. We should talk together about the tensions of preserving traditions in the modern world, of difficulties navigating smaller, more insular but nurturing communities along with larger, more expansive and empowering, yet sometimes alienating, communities.

In mobilizing together against Marois’ ethno-ugliness, Muslims and Jews might find some Canadian common ground and build strong ties that could help alleviate Middle East tensions. That would make us not just narapoid, but what I would call “fedended.” That’s when by defending yourself, you make yourself – and others – stronger.

This column appears in the August 30 print issue of The CJN

Analysis: Obama, you’re losing the Jews too

By Gil Troy, The Jewish Chronicle, 11-4-10

Democrat Barbara Boxer takes to the podium after beating Republican Carly Fiorina in Hollywood this week. Democrat Barbara Boxer takes to the podium after beating Republican Carly Fiorina in Hollywood this week

As Americans tallied their red, white and blue electoral scores from the 2010 midterm elections, many American Jews completed a parallel blue and white score too.

In charting their wins and losses, sifting through what definitely happened and what might have happened, US Jews will see yet more evidence of their march toward Americanisation. What may also strike them is their increasingly paradoxical position regarding liberalism, the Democratic Party, Barack Obama and Israel.

The range of the Jewish candidates’ political views was extraordinary. Barbara Boxer, who was re-elected in California, and Russ Feingold, who was defeated for re-election in Wisconsin, were among the most liberal senators in the previous, extremely liberal Congress.

Across the aisle, Eric Cantor, who is expected to become the majority leader when the House of Representatives turns Republican, is a fellow Jew but their staunch ideological foe. If Mr Cantor becomes majority leader he will be the highest ranking Jewish legislator in American history. Most impressive of all was the fact that for most Jewish candidates, being Jewish was irrelevant. These Jewish congressional candidates star in the American success story by fitting in rather than standing out.

The election – and Mr Obama’s repudiation – hinged on domestic matters.

The House of Representatives turned Republican because the “Yes We Can” candidate from 2008, who seemingly could do no wrong, found himself at the head of a “No We Can’t” campaign, leading many to think that as president, he can do no right. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel all took a back seat to worries about 9.7 per cent unemployment, anger over Obama-care, consternation about the growing budget deficit, frustration with high taxes and fears about America’s future.

At the same time, the election will certainly affect America’s foreign policy, even if foreign policy did not shape voters’ decisions. Even though Democrats did not capture 78 per cent of the Jewish vote, as Mr Obama did in 2008, American Jewry still voted disproportionately Democratic.

With domestic issues at the forefront, and most Jews voting on domestic concerns, not Israel’s needs, it will be hard to argue that American Jews were punishing Mr Obama for being hard on Israel. And those who were hoping that a chastened Mr Obama may be more inclined to charm Israel (or Great Britain and other allies whom he has slighted) are trusting their hopes rather than this president’s track record. Mr Obama has shown little ability to learn from his mistakes, or even acknowledge them.

Moreover, presidents who find themselves handcuffed by the House are more likely to seek big, quick victories abroad. The amateurish impatience which led Obama to create the settlement freeze demand as a new issue, which Palestinians have turned into a condition for negotiations, may become even more evident as Obama 2.0 seeks to flex his muscles abroad.

And the unhappy fact for American Jews that, despite their community’s abiding loyalty to the Democratic Party, it is becoming the home of those illiberal leftists who hate Israel may become even more evident and stressful in the next two years.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington

Are We Moving to the Right?

A historical look at the trends of conservative Jewish voters.

By Gil Troy, MyJewishLearning.com

In one of the funnier–but more absurd–appeals for the Jewish vote in 2008, the trash-talking comedienne Sarah Silverman recorded a video for TheGreatSchlep.com, a website urging young Jews to lobby their grandparents in Florida to vote for Barack Obama.  

In her direct, conversational style Silverman riffed: “And I know you’re saying, like, ‘Oh my god, Sarah, I can’t believe you’re saying this. Jews are the most liberal, scrappy, civil rights-y people there are.’ Yes, that’s true, but you’re forgetting a whole large group of Jews that are not that way, and they go by several aliases: nana, papa, zayde, bubbie, plain old grandma and grandpa.” 

As more than a million viewers watched the video on YouTube, and as moralists lamented the crass ethnic appeal, political analysts questioned the central assumption. While Jewish voting studies are unreliable, considering the statistically insignificant number of Jews in most samples polling the American population, most anaylses suggest that zayde and bubbie vote Democratic far more reliably than their grandchildren.

Jews as New Deal Democrats

Although Jews generally voted Republican from the Civil War through the Great Depression, most Jews became loyal Democrats thanks to Franklin Roosevelt and his sweeping reforms. For decades thereafter, many Jews and non-Jews considered American Judaism and American liberalism mutually reinforcing ideologies.

Even today, the Urban Dictionary, the web’s street-savvy guide to slang, defines Jewish Republicans as people “who considers themselves to be Jewish but [are] ignorant of Jewish values, common sense, and/or the platforms, actions and reputations of the two major American political parties.”

These days the Urban Dictionary definition is anachronistic. Since the 1980s, the number of Jewish Republicans has grown significantly. They are a minority in the Jewish community, which remains overwhelmingly Democratic, but Jewish Republicans are no longer merely an anomaly or a punch line.

The Neoconservative Backlash

Like so much of American politics today, the Jewish Republicans are the product of the Reagan Revolution–and a reaction to the 1960s’ politics and culture. While many Jews, from the radical political activist Abbie Hoffman to the feminist Betty Friedan, helped shape the 1960s, other Jews helped forge the backlash.

Most prominently, the “neoconservatives” were a loose collection of disproportionately–but not exclusively–Jewish intellectuals who moved right with the country. Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Ben Wattenberg, and Gertrude Himmelfarb, among others, recoiled from the New Left’s politics and sensibilities. Street crime, Black Power, Affirmative Action, hippie libertinism, radical anti-Americanism, and a perceived appeasement of Soviet Communism alienated these thinkers from the Left, as did the spread of liberal anti-Zionism.

Just as their Jewish identities once reinforced their liberalism, they abandoned the Democrats and supported Reagan as Americans and as Jews. 

These “neocons,” as they were known, struck a particular chord in the 1980 election, when a surprising 38% of the Jewish community voted for the Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. The incumbent Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, often seemed  insensitive to Jewish concerns, despite successfully negotiating the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty at Camp David.

Nevertheless, the much-predicted Jewish voting realignment never occurred. In Reagan’s 1984 reelection, Jews joined with African-Americans as one of the few groups still voting majority Democratic during a Republican landslide. Even as many Jews prospered during the great booms from 1980 through 2008, Milton Himmelfarb’s classic if ethnically reductionist truism from the 1970s still held: Jews earned like Episcopalians, but voted like Puerto Ricans.

Jews still remain liberal — with some exceptions

Since Reagan’s presidency, the Jewish vote has remained overwhelmingly Democratic, and Jews have remained far more liberal than other Americans. The nonpartisan American Jewish Committee’s 2008 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion showed 44% of respondents placing themselves left of center on the political scale, 24% right of center and 30% calling themselves middle of the road. More dramatically, 56% of Jews surveyed called themselves Democrats, 17% called themselves Republicans and 25% were independent.

Still, unlike in the 1960s, there are many prominent Jewish Republicans and, as in 2008, the Jewish vote has appeared to be in play more frequently. Contrary to Sarah Silverman’s stereotype, older Jews have remained reliably Democratic–although many more Jews supported Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries.

A growing percentage of intermarriage has also altered voting patterns. Younger Jews with intermarried parents, or those who intermarry, have proven to be more independent and less reliability Democratic. This might reflect the 18 to 34 set’s aversion to party loyalty in general  It also may be that in growing up with a diluted American Jewish identity, these youngsters ended up drifting from the traditional liberal mindset of Jewish voters. As Steve Windmuller has written, Jews with one non-Jewish parent tend to vote Republican more often than other Jews.

2004 election leads to questions about Jewish Divide

The more dramatic surge in Republican voting among Jews has come from the Orthodox community.  Although surveys estimate the percentage of Orthodox Jews hovering between 10 and 20 % of American Jewry, the Orthodox community, unsurprisingly tends to be more united, more pro-Israel and more focused on Jewish concerns. In the 2004 election battle, George W. Bush won 25% of the Jewish vote. Close analysis of the vote uncovered a disturbing polarization within the Jewish community.

Jews who were more traditional and more pro-Israel were starting to vote Republican rather consistently. At the same time, the growing majority of secular Jews remained committed to the Democratic Party. Paralleling the often-overplayed “Red State” versus “Blue State” phenomenon, it seemed that we could start talking about “Red Jews” and “Blue Jews”–not in geographical terms but in ideological terms.

The 2008 election continued this pattern. John McCain has a long record of enthusiastic, effective support for Israel. But in the campaign against Barack Obama, McCain’s support among Jews only peaked at 31% –and was as low as 22 % in the October 2008 Gallup Poll. McCain’s most vocal Jewish supporters tended to be more unwavering in their support of Israeli policy, and his broadest range of support was in traditional communities.

Many of Obama’s most prominent Jewish supporters, including Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer, championed Israeli policies that took a softer line with the Palestinians. And quite a number of statements by Jews supporting Obama mentioned Obama’s pro-choice position, especially after John McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running mate.  

When the stock market crashed, Jews joined most Americans in focusing their concern on the economy, rather than foreign policy concerns about Israel, Iran, and Iraq. In the 2008 election, as in the 1992 election, Americans focused most on “The economy, stupid,” And many Jews supported Obama’s proposed reforms.

Still, the common worry about the economy did not hide the growing polarization within the community. A wide range of opinions is natural in a community as diverse and disputatious as the Jewish community. But if voting patterns continue to reinforce the growing gap between traditional and non-traditional Jews, it will be harder to maintain the civility and common sense of purpose the community needs to thrive.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC. His latest book is Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Israel irrelevant in campaign – as it should be

By Gil Troy , THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 3, 2008

A JPost.com exclusive blog

If we could devise some kind of objective “Friend of Israel” test, all but the most blindly partisan Democrats would agree that Senator John McCain has a longer, deeper, more meaningful relationship with Israel than does Senator Barack Obama – and fewer advisers who seem very critical of Israel. Even controlling for the difference in age or Senatorial tenure, it is clear that McCain has been a more consistent and enthusiastic Israel supporter.

This does not negate Obama’s pro-Israel record or even mean that McCain would necessarily be a “better” president for Israel. Determining what kind of president is good for Israel is an even more complicated matter than quantifying different levels of friendship. But it seems quite clear that John McCain has been a steadfast friend who has stood up for Israel repeatedly.

Moreover, most fair observers can imagine that if McCain’s church contemplated a boycott of Israel or if his pastor had denounced Israel, McCain would have been more likely to take a stand, whereas Obama was silent in both situations, which he actually faced.

Still, American Jews and America’s many non-Jewish Zionists should not vote for McCain because of his Israel stand. There are many other valid reasons to vote McCain – and many valid reasons to vote Obama. But there are many other bigger issues in this election than support for Israel, especially considering that both candidates have vied to emphasize their respective pro-Israel stands.

The first thing I wrote about this election back in 2007 still holds true: ultimately, especially during these difficult times, the best president for Israel – is the best president for America.

All the hand-wringing about Israel’s irrelevance in the American election is inappropriate. There are many other more valid indicators reflecting the disturbing distance growing between American Jews and the Jewish state. In this election, even the most ardent Zionist should take a broader perspective.

The general debate about whether or not to carry on with George W. Bush’s policies, the financial meltdown of the markets, the continuing war against terror and the specific questions about what to do regarding Iraq and Iran are much bigger issues than America’s continuing support for Israel, which seems assured with both a Democratic and Republican administration.

As – let’s be honest – America’s controversial but reliable client state – what Israel most needs now is an effective, thriving, America. Canadians used to say that when the American economy sneezes, Canada catches a cold; with Israel, if America is fighting a cold, Israel risks a serious illness.

Israel will do best with an America that can solve its economic problems, improve its diplomatic standing, and stay dominant militarily. Americans need reassurance. They need a plan to avoid a prolonged recession. They need effective leadership able to fight Islamic terror, stabilize Iraq, restrain Iran – and manage North Korea, Russia, China, and a host of other unanticipated world hotspots.

Let us play out the fears bluntly. If Barack Obama is a great president, it will be great for Israel, whether or not he squeezes Israel to make more territorial concessions than most Israelis like (but some Israelis believe are absolutely necessary).

And if John McCain is a terrible president, he will be disastrous for the world, including Israel, even if he never pressures Israel on anything. Of course, the McCaniacs’ fear is that Barack Obama will be Jimmy Carter redux, and will be a terrible president who proves hostile to Israel. The Republicans also paint the most optimistic scenario, a great president McCain who also proves to be a great friend to Israel.

Given the sobering conditions America faces it will be hard for the next president to achieve greatness – although the contrast with George W. Bush may give him a great boost. And the dynamics of the American-Israel friendship will be more driven by other events than presidential prerogatives. Besides, this business of predicting friendship and support is a tricky one. George W. Bush entered the White House with a minimal track record regarding Israel. Few can question his obvious, enthusiastic support for the Jewish state as president, but there is a raging debate in the United States and Israel about whether Bush’s friendship was good for Israel or not.

Of course, many pro-Israel oriented voters argue that support for Israel is a test case, that a candidate’s stand on Israel reflects his approach to foreign policy. That too, however, is very different than basing one’s decision on the candidate’s Israel stand. In fact, this election offers an opportunity for yet another repudiation of the Walt-Mearsheimer anti-Israel lies.

Polls suggest that the American Jewish community will vote three to one in favor of the Democrat with a more limited pro-Israel track record than his opponent. As we watch American Jews and non-Jewish Zionists choose the president who is best for America, we can once again refute the libels that Israel somehow holds American foreign policy hostage or that Jews vote their narrow parochial interests rather than fulfilling their broader patriotic duty to vote for the best president possible on all fronts.

Essay: Polarized Jews in a depressing election

By GIL TROY , THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 23, 2008

Political campaigns are like social stress tests, regularly scheduled exercises that add enough extra pressure on the system to expose weaknesses – and strengths. The long 2008 election has uncovered certain American fault lines. Within the Jewish community, the results of the 2008 electoral stress test have been equally sobering. Partisans from both sides have behaved abominably, demonstrating a growing hysteria and close-mindedness.

Perhaps the most infamous Jewish contribution to this campaign is unproven. Many reporters have claimed the various e-mails accusing Barack Obama of being a Muslim targeted Jews or originated with Jews. There is no solid proof of this. Internet hoaxes, like most urban legends, are hard to track. But anytime I have written anything remotely positive about Obama in the Jewish media, many bloggers have charged that “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” is secretly a Muslim and I am helping this Manchurian candidate deceive America.

The prevalence of this belief in a community supposedly known for its intelligence is dismaying. That neither Obama nor his supporters have eloquently repudiated the use of the accusation of being a Muslim as a slur is depressing. And the charge itself is distracting. More worrying than Obama’s fictional status as a Muslim are his actual actions as a Christian – staying so loyal to the demagogic, unpatriotic, anti-Zionist Reverend Jeremiah Wright for so long. John McCain has refused to mention Obama’s wrongheaded Wright connection, fearing accusations of racism. But Obama’s deep ties to a pastor who trashed America regularly, including in his first sermon after 9/11, remain unexplained and unacceptable.

BEYOND CHOOSING to libel the Democratic nominee for ties he lacks that should not be so damning anyway, many pro-McCain activists have helped perpetuate the stereotype of pro-Israeli Jews as superficial, narrow-minded, right-leaning Johnny One-Notes swooning for any conservative pol who genuflects toward Israel. McCain is a thoughtful friend of Israel who understands the Islamicist and Iranian threats. People who care about Israel – and America – have many legitimate reasons for supporting him.

But the fact that so many fell in line with his vice presidential choice, despite Sarah Palin’s stunning lack of foreign policy experience, is disconcerting. Even if she does display an Israeli flag in her office, trusting such an amateur during these treacherous times was irresponsible. Being an effective pro-Israel politician requires more than waving the blue-and-white flag. It requires a subtle, sophisticated approach to international politics that by serving America’s best interests will also protect the Jewish state. Choosing Palin cleverly energized the conservative base, but it undermined McCain’s argument that experience counts, especially in foreign policy.

Unfortunately, many Obama supporters have behaved equally poorly. Many Jews have mimicked Obama’s undemocratic tendency to treat any criticisms of him as smears. The attempts of the new J-Street lobby to ban anti-Obama advertisements in Jewish papers are just the latest illustrations of the left’s disturbingly illiberal tendency to squelch debate. It is one thing to condemn the false reports about Obama’s religion. But Republicans have the right to raise questions about issues, including the many emissaries from the Democratic Party’s loony anti-Zionist left who have advised Obama, especially on foreign policy and were jettisoned one by one as controversy arose.

MOREOVER, THOSE Jewish Democrats who discouraged Senator Hillary Clinton from attending the anti-Iran rally in September, then helped get Sarah Palin disinvited, did a disservice to America and Israel. The absurd claim that Palin’s presence would have made the rally “political” revealed a childish understanding of American politics. Had Clinton and Palin stood together as two of America’s most prominent women politicians temporarily suspending their jousting to unite against a nuclear Iran, the rally could have been far more effective. The behavior of Clinton – and of too many Jewish Democrats – suggested they hated Palin and the Republicans more than they hated Ahmadinejad and his genocidal threats against Israel and America.

A more consistently disturbing distortion once again emerged in this campaign. Although, as with so many trends, this position is difficult to quantify, many pro-Obama Jews indicated that they support abortion much more intensely than they support Israel. Many statements from prominent Jews justifying their support for Obama first mentioned choice – despite the slim chances of overturning the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Liberalism has long been the reigning American Jewish theology. But this campaign confirmed the centrality of the pro-abortion stance within that liberalism.

FINALLY, THE “Great Schlep” showdown between the comedians Sarah Silverman and Jackie Mason added another level of absurdity to the Jewish role in 2008. The ethnic stereotyping underlying this debate – while funny – was more suited to our grandparents’ Jewish community in the 1950s. Silverman’s assumption that young, right-thinking (meaning left-leaning) Jews had to “schlep” their “bubbies and zaides” in Florida to vote Democratic, reflected a misreading of most Florida Jews’ pro-Obama tendencies. Jackie Mason’s response was equally simplistic and maddening. In America’s celebrity-besotted culture, both videos were taken far too seriously, generating numerous YouTube viewings and media reports.

On one level, it is unrealistic during the campaign to expect Republicans to criticize McCain’s vice presidential choice or mainstream Democrats to confront their party’s Jimmy Carter wing. But the campaign uncovered an underlying intolerance laced with nastiness rooted in a growing polarization dividing American Jews.

Increasingly, the divisions are multiple and reinforcing. A vocal minority of Jews are more religious, more pro-Israel and more Republican. These “red” Jews are as different and as distant from the “blue Jews” as “red state” Americans are from “blue staters.”

Just as America will need to heal after the election, the Jewish community must heal too. We need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable – and how to recognize common interests even within a big, broad, diverse and disputatious community.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents was just published by Basic Books.