As Jewish Power Ebbs, A New Form Of Influence?
Tue, 01/08/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Steven Windmueller
Steven Windmueller

Power is both illusive and real, but it is never stagnant. 

Possibly never before in American Jewish history could we find Jews as divided around political priorities and even party affiliation. While the majority of Jews remain liberal, there are growing pockets of Republican Party activists, Tea Party members, and political independents.

These political “divides” are present not only around Israel but also impact social and economic policies. The impact of such divisions within the community has led national agencies to shift their agendas in order to capture specific audiences, while jettisoning other issues in an effort to appease key supporters. 

Today, we are literally witnessing the emergence of two distinctive Jewish political camps, one seeking to pursue universal concerns employing a Jewish lens to give credence and definition to their positions, while the second is committed to Israel-based priorities and to core national security interests.

As a result of these political cracks, Jewish influence in America, which achieved a golden era of influence after the Six-Day War, is undergoing new challenges. What are the elements that may be contributing to the unraveling of Jewish influence?

Counting Jews: The Jewish population is in free-fall. This is borne out as Jews continue to marry out, have fewer children, and disconnect from the core institutions of the community. Numbers matter in politics, and the Jewish community is rapidly losing this political edge.

Jewish Connections: Correspondingly, as the number of Jews diminishes, the levels of Jewish affiliation and commitment are showing signs of leakage. Organizations and synagogues are reporting decreased levels of membership, giving, and participation.

Electoral Presence: In comparison to previous periods, we are beginning to see the decline in the numbers of Jewish elected officials. The implications here go beyond merely electing Jews to public service but rather are centered on the importance of having key voices of influence in lending support for Jewish public concerns.

Voting Matters: While Jews continue to vote in overwhelming numbers, exceeding in percentage terms all other ethnic constituencies, the overall presence of the “Jewish vote” has fallen from 4 percent of the electorate to under 2 percent. 

Generations Count: The further removed the community’s generations are from the central stories of the 20th century — the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel — the less connected and identified are younger generations with the collective and shared imperative of being invested in the core public affairs interests of the community.

Money Counts: While Jews remain extraordinarily generous and are present in an array of charitable endeavors, the relative support for internal Jewish and Israel-based priorities has declined in comparison to other “investments” being made by donors.

While these internal challenges will change the social dynamics of the Jewish community, a series of external threats today are also present on the political horizon that have specific implications for U.S.-Israel connections.

New communities of political interest including Muslim Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are entering the fray over United States policy across the globe. At home the growth of neo-isolationist forces will seek to move the United States away from playing key interventionist roles within regional conflicts.

Noting these areas of concern, however, one must be mindful of the resiliency inherent within Jewish life.

“Jewey”: The New Jewish Constituencies: New and alternative Jewish institutions and programs have been introduced designed to engage millennial Jews. In their structure and focus, these organizational models have adopted the distinctive cultural features of this next generation. The question remains whether these groups will identify with the core interests of the communal system and have the political clout to shape policy outcomes?

The American Mosaic: It is not that this moment in time was unexpected where Jews might lose some of their political edge. To the credit of many within the community relations field and the pro-Israel advocacy camp, a number of organizations, realizing the changing political and demographic realities, these groups launched a series of initiatives to build connections with key political elites, ethnic and religious constituencies, and social connectors in promoting the historical and contemporary importance of the American-Israel relationship, along with other essential interests of the Jewish community. Will these political in-roads pay off in advancing the communal agenda?

Israel Re-Imagined: The State of Israel itself fully understands its need to project for 21st-century audiences a different story about its role in the Middle East and the world. This new messaging will incorporate Israel’s story in connection with technology and science innovation, health research and medical care, energy access and conservation, as well as matters of military security. Can Israel and its allies convert these masterful achievements into political gains?

Increasingly today we see a divided and disconnected community, unable to provide coherent positions on an array of key policy items. We are reminded that one of the axioms essential for a minority community is its ability to articulate a shared vision.

When can it be invoked and how ought it to be managed? These questions remain unanswered, in light of the process of figuring out the changing boundaries of Jewish power in an uncertain political environment.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Comments

n industrial park or aeresidential subdivision by now?

The only safe options for Jews, to prevent future mass murder and expulsion for themselves and future Jewish babies is abandon Judaism like I have done or migration to places where Jews are suoh a tiny minority they have no social influence as a community. In this environment individual Jews will contribute without the gentiles freaking out about jewish power. By the way, I fear is not far from happening in the US. The multicultural society has only postponed the deja vue; "us and the Jews".

Contrary toecommon belief, Hitler and the Holooaust, far from "inmrunizing" the World against antisemitism has shown how you can get rid of the Jews for good. Never mind the official and public line about how Germans are ashamed of the mass murder of Jews. Germans are happy they got rid of their Jews and so are the Russians, Polish, etc.

Germans can also be heard to reflect: "I do not know but when we had lots of Jews we had lots of very creative Jews in the arts, science and business but the country at large was a social and economic mess. Yes, Hitler screw up big by losing the War but look how prosperous and socially advanced Germany is now and look at Israel, it is more like one of those messy Southern or Eastern European or even Arab countries.
Also look at the US; it reminds me of pre Hitler Germany, lots of bright Jewish scientists, artists and businessmen, and Jewish social activists hellbent on perfecting US society to death, yet socially and economically and democratically the US is unravelling, most Americans feel their politicians are in the hands of lobbies, mainly the Israeli looby and every day they feel worse. These are life threatening preconditions for Jews

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.