For much of modern history in both Europe and North America, Jews have been reliably left of center politically, backing Democrats in the United States, Labour in Britain, Canada’s Liberals, and France’s Socialists. In recent years, though, Jews are moving toward the center, and, somewhat tentatively, even the right.

The shift reflects Jews’ revulsion at the increasing popularity of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic positions in most left-of-center parties. For the roughly 80 percent of Jews who back Israel’s war aims in Gaza, remaining reliably progressive will be hard. In Great Britain, a 2019 study showed Jews shifting substantially away from their traditional Labour orientation and largely embraced the conservatives. In France, Jews generally no longer affiliate with the Socialist Party but instead support the centrist government of Emmanuel Macron. Similarly, Canadian Jews seem to be severing their historic ties to Liberals and adopting a friendlier stance toward the Conservatives.

The change is also occurring in the U.S., albeit more slowly. Three-quarters of Orthodox Jews, whose numbers are growing due to their higher birthrate, identify as Republicans, up from 57 percent in 2013. In 2020, Donald Trump gained 30.5 percent of the Jewish vote, a 6.5 percent bump from 2016. A more recent Economist study found that roughly 37 percent of Jewish voters favor Trump, whose campaign just received $5 million from the increasingly influential Republican Jewish Coalition.

Jews generally have embraced progressive parties, seeing them as more committed to their well-being than those on the right. It was the Left, after all, that rallied to the Jewish cause during the Dreyfus affair in France, and in Germany, the Social Democrats represented the strongest counterweight to the Nazis. The “enemy” of Jewry was usually an adherent of a racialist ideology that wrote off Jews as less than fully European, white—or human.

But the roots of leftist anti-Semitism, particularly among the intelligentsia, are older than many realize, having emerged within the world’s first socialist state, the USSR. Marxism, the creation of a stridently secular Jew, considered religious Jews as well as practicing Christians as “enemies of the people.” In his Secret of Chabad, Rabbi David Eliezrie observes that, under Joseph Stalin, Orthodox Lubavitcher rabbis found themselves hunted, deported, and murdered in socialist pogroms, often carried out by zealous Jewish Communists.

Soon after the end of the Second World War, Stalin launched the “Doctors’ Plot,” a vicious campaign in which he blamed Jewish physicians for the death of top party leaders. In some accounts, Stalin favored expelling Russia’s Jews from Europe and setting up his own version of concentration camps. Though the Soviet Union supported the establishment of Israel, it soon began demonizing the Jewish state to curry favor with Arab regimes, notably Syria and Egypt, which essentially became Russian vassal states. The Soviets and their supporters among Western leftists demonized Israel as a tool of Western imperialism.

But it was the mass movement of Muslims into Europe, starting in the 1960s, that super-charged the revival of anti-Semitism in the West. Famed Nazi-hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld suggested to me over two decades ago that the biggest threat to Jews would come from an alliance of Islamists and left-wing activists. One need only look to college campuses today to see the prophetic nature of their warning.

A detailed survey from the University of Oslo found that in Scandinavia, Germany, Britain, and France, most anti-Semitic violence comes from Muslims, including recent immigrants. Similarly, a poll of European Jews found that 90 percent reported experiencing an anti-Semitic incident. Among these, 51 percent attributed the episodes either to Muslims or leftists; only 13 percent associated the incidents with someone on the political right. Unsurprisingly, violence against European Jews is worst in places like the migrant-dominated suburbs of Paris or Malmo in Sweden.

Today, wherever the Left dominates, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic memes are common. The generally middle-class Green parties have tended to support the BDS movement, which aims to demonize and marginalize the Jewish State. The Greens in Germany regularly label Israel an “apartheid” regime, and in Australia they have adopted a strong anti-Israel stance. In France, the Left’s most prominent figure, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has refused to condemn Hamas and has in the past repeated anti-Semitic tropes, such as the charge of collective guilt for the killing of Jesus. In Germany, anti-Israel protesters have targeted Jewish homes, firebombed a synagogue, and, according to German intelligence officers, called for a second Kristallnacht.

The Left’s anti-Semitic revival has spread to America. Many places once friendly to Jews, such as Brooklyn, have seen anti-Israel riots reminiscent of those in Europe’s Muslim-majority neighborhoods. In the largest Jewish community outside Israel, high schools and colleges in New York, California, and Oregon have witnessed anti-Israel demonstrations and, in some cases, attacks on Jewish students and teachers.

California, described by a nineteenth-century Gentile as “the Jews’ earthly paradise,” has been the site of similar outbreaks. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to use public funds to pay the legal costs of pro-Hamas demonstrators. The Democratic Socialists, a rising force in California, and their allies have pressed for anti-Israel resolutions in cities from Long Beach and Santa Ana to Richmond. The state has also adopted ethnic studies programs shaped by Critical Race Theory that are openly anti-Zionist and dismiss Jews as white oppressors.

As in Europe, the American Left has embraced Hamas’s agenda. The vast majority of the U.S. representatives who voted against or refused to take a stand supporting Israel come from the Left. It was at a rally organized by the Democratic Socialists of America that a speaker crowed about how Hamas had killed some “hipsters” partying in the desert. Progressive groups such as Black Lives Matter have a long history of support for Hamas. The charter of the Movement for Black Lives coalition, which includes BLM, labels Israel’s treatment of the West Bank as “genocide” and “apartheid.”

Despite this today, 70 percent of American Jews still identify as Democrats, notes Pew. Unlike their French, Canadian, and British counterparts, they have not embraced the Right or center, focusing instead on a kind of rearguard action to rein in the far Left. They still retain considerable influence over the Democratic Party, particularly financially. As William Domhoff noted in his 1972 book Fat Cats and Democrats, since the New Deal, wealthy Jews have been leading party donors. Indeed, many of President Biden’s largest funders are of Jewish descent.

Traditional Jewish Democrats are alarmed by the rising hostility to their community, who are now the most likely targets of hate crimes—and that many of their fellow Democrats have turned hostile. In California, pro-Palestinian agitators all but shut down last year’s state party convention. “Pro-Israel Democrats are horrified by what’s happening,” says long-time L.A. party activist Naomi Goldman. “We are finding that people we thought we shared values with—like black, LGBTQ, Latino, and Asians—no longer align with us.”

To their credit, mainstream Jewish Democrats are working to oppose anti-Israel progressives like New York representative Jamaal Bowman. Similar battles are taking place in Pennsylvania and other states. Jewish Democrats have scored some wins. Adam Schiff, for all his failings on issues like the phony Russian “collusion” investigation of Donald Trump, has backed Israel. Not surprisingly, Schiff’s leading opponent in the primary for California’s open Senate seat, progressive representative Katie Porter, blamed “billionaires” for her loss, flirting with one of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes. Another win came in Oregon, where relative moderate Maxine Dexter, with Jewish support, prevailed over an anti-Israel candidate in the Democratic primary for the Portland area’s congressional seat.

At the same time, some of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors have funneled money to groups supporting pro-Palestine demonstrators. Many of these same groups also back Democratic congressional candidates, bolstering the party’s anti-Israel tilt.

The struggle for control of the Democratic Party will continue even after the 2024 election, but, according to a recent Pew survey, Americans under 30 are more supportive of the Palestinians. Groups like College Democrats, the party’s youth arm, have adopted anti-Israel positions. Moderate Jewish Democrats may have the money and influence to resist the tide for now, but progressives seem to have demographics and the propaganda struggle on their side.

Even before recent events, the American Jewish community has shown a tentative rightward shift. The GOP expanded its share of Jewish votes from 24 percent in 2016 to one-third in 2022. In 2022, Jewish voters, particularly the Orthodox, helped make the race for New York governor closer than it has been in decades. In the race for Maryland’s Senate seat, the moderate former Republican governor Larry Hogan is counting on siphoning Jewish support away from his Democratic opponent Angela Alsobrooks.

In the contest to win Jewish votes, the GOP’s advantage is the party’s overall stronger support for Israel. Republicans have to be careful, though, to distance themselves from marginal but sometimes high-profile conservative figures who traffic in anti-Jewish memes and bolster the traditional perception that the real anti-Semitic threat resides on the right.

If Republicans can separate themselves from these associations, they may benefit greatly in November. Biden and his party must walk a delicate tightrope to appease Michigan’s anti-Israel Muslim voters without alienating Jews, who substantially outnumber Muslims nationally. In other battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, Jews vastly outnumber Arabs and other Muslims. In the all-important battleground state of Pennsylvania, Jews make up only 3 percent of the electorate but are nevertheless more than five times as numerous as Arabs.

Jewish progressives now face a prospect unimaginable until recently. Anti-Semitism is surging not in “MAGA” strongholds but in the very urban refuges they have long called home, such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. And universities, long cherished by Jews, have turned into the leading incubators of anti-Semitism, as evidenced by the recent protest encampments.

This trend predates October 7. For years, students have felt it acceptable to ban kosher food (except from anti-Israel suppliers) and to promote anti-Israel views, often with the help of generous funding from Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Progressives on campus in recent years should not have been surprised when groups at Ivy League schools like Harvard openly celebrated Hamas’s pogrom, or when one Cornell professor called the massacre “exhilarating.”

Faculty like Berkeley Law School dean Erwin Chemerinsky seemed largely to ignore the rise of racialized and anti-Semitic politics. Now Chemerinsky, a well-known progressive, says that “nothing has prepared me for the antisemitism” rife at his and other campuses. Jewish progressives of his kind are something of an endangered species.

The great betrayal of the Jews by progressives also includes actions by groups like the ACLU, which sent a letter to university presidents urging them not to investigate potential connections between pro-Palestinian student groups and Hamas. Similarly, the mainstream media, once a stronghold of Jewish influence, now tilt heavily against Israel. The Jewish state is routinely castigated by NPR, the Washington Post, the Guardian, MSNBC, the Nation, and the New Republic.

Of course, some Jews, perhaps anxious to maintain their place in the intellectual elite, may, like their Soviet-era predecessors, make compromises. A recent statement signed by numerous Jewish academics and artists denounced attempts by AIPAC, for example, to defeat openly anti-Israel politicians, some of whom have indulged in clear anti-Semitic rhetoric. Two thousand actors, some of them Jews, signed a statement decrying Israel’s “war crimes” without mentioning Hamas’s atrocities.  Hollywood institutions such as the Writers Guild of America, long a bastion of fashionable progressivism, have taken a cowardly neutral stand. 

Over time, it is likely that many pro-Israel Jews will move to the political center or the right. In fact, the dramatic growth of Chabad means that many Jews, particularly younger ones, are being exposed to a strong religious Zionism rather than to more liberal versions. Less certain, notes Pew, is the future of largely secular and reform Jews who are pro-Israel but not admirers of the right-wing Netanyahu government or its settlement policies. This constitutes something of a “silent majority” of Jews, says Steven Windmueller, professor emeritus at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

The outcome for this story will depend on how well the Democrats and Republicans can restrain the factions in their respective parties seeking to revive classic anti-Semitism. One thing is clear: for now, at least, the Jewish vote is up for grabs. 

Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images


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