Is American Jewish Liberalism Dying?

June 30 2022

In the 1930s, a Republican Jewish judge, observing his coreligionists’ commitment to the Democratic party, quipped, in Yiddish, that Jews have three velt (worlds): di velt (this world), yene velt (the next world), and Roosevelt. Since then, Jewish devotion has attenuated somewhat, although Jews still overwhelmingly lean Democratic. Most American Jews, however, are unfamiliar with the terms “this world” or “the next world” in any language. Carefully examining a wealth of statistical data, Samuel J. Abrams and Jack Wertheimer argue that the sort of robust Jewish liberalism that characterized U.S. Jewry a few decades ago is in steep decline. Jews, they explain, are undergoing their own version of what political scientists call the “great sort,” whereby politics, religion, and place of residence increasingly align:

Jewish political liberals and conservatives have moved into two camps with distinct and exclusive ideas, behaviors, and packages of attitudes and practices, resembling and reflecting the same sociopolitical phenomena in the larger society, a development with serious ramifications for American Jewish life.

[Most importantly], the conservative/liberal gap widened, not because conservatives became more Jewishly engaged—they held steady—but because liberals experienced notable drops in Jewish engagement over the years.

We do not know if liberals became more distant from Judaism and the Jewish people, or whether those who are Jewishly distant migrated to the liberal camp. But we do know that liberals identify less with Jewish religious and communal life than conservatives today—and that this process has been underway for over 30 years. The widening of the gap is not due to recent events, such as the Trump presidency or Israel’s decreasing popularity with Democrats and liberals. Rather, other factors have been at work, undoubtedly resembling similar patterns in American society at large.

Here, then, is the broader context in which politically liberal American Jews find themselves, an ideological environment not warmly disposed to religion, to put it mildly, and one that regards particularistic allegiances to white ethnic groups as anachronistic, if not a form of white supremacy. Little wonder that many Jewish liberals are distancing themselves from Jewish religiosity and communal needs.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, American Jewry, Liberalism, U.S. Politics

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy