As a rabbi, the question I am asked the most by my Christian friends, pastors, and at the churches where I have spoken is ironically not a theological question, but a political one: Why do so many Jews continually support leftist causes, organizations, and the Democratic Party when it is clear that they are against Israel, Judaism, and religion in general? Because of the importance of unifying all people of faith politically in these challenging times, it seems appropriate to address this issue and to determine how to fix it.
It is objectively true that the Democratic Party has become the party of institutionalized anti-Semitism and is clearly anti-Israel as well. Leftist organizations such as Black Lives Matter are committed to the destruction of Israel and the persecution of Jews. And although most Republicans and those on the right support Israel and religion, it is also objectively true that the vast majority of American Jews support the left.
There are a number of reasons why Jews typically support the left and vote Democrat. Some are historical. The modern state of Israel was founded during the Democratic administration of Harry Truman, and many Jews believe (incorrectly) that it was Democratic support that created Israel. (In fact, Truman was “a reluctant Cyrus but pro-Israel). When Jews were being persecuted in Russia in the early 20th century, and again in Germany in the 1930s, they were welcomed into the United States as legal immigrants. Proudly they would study and ultimately receive American citizenship after coming from countries where they never enjoyed the rights of full citizens. Whether by choice or pressure, the United States under a Democratic administration supported Israel in the Six Day War, and Congress was supportive of Jewish causes and Israel.
There were also theological reasons to support the left. For thousands of years, Judaism has been concerned with the wellbeing of the weak and downtrodden. There was a time when unions were needed to protect against child labor and sweatshops, and Jews resonated with these causes. The Jewish values of free will and individual responsibility fit in well with many of the social causes of the left in the 1960s and 1970s. Jews were at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Great rabbis like Abraham Joshua Heschel were intimately involved with the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, and Jews were early supporters of the creation of the NAACP.
But all of these historical reasons are no longer valid, and haven’t been for over 40 years. Starting with Jimmy Carter, the left’s support of Israel has declined. The Democratic Party has now been taken over by vocal anti-Semites like “the squad,” and BLM is the violent arm of the Democrats. Conversely, President Trump was the most pro-Israel/pro-Jewish president in history (and has an Orthodox Jewish daughter and grandchildren); the Republican Party is constantly supporting Israel; and anti-Semitic individuals and groups are rejected from the mainstream of the Republican Party, as opposed to the Democratic Party, which embraces anti-Semites.
So why do Jews continue to support the Democrats and the left?
The history of the late 18th to mid-19th century is one reason, but given the fact that the left is now anti-Semitic, it is not the main reason. There are two clear things that are keeping Jews from being politically on the right.
The first is a sad theological reality. As “outsiders,” Jews have always attempted to assimilate. In the last thirty years, many American Jews have “converted” out of Judaism. They haven’t adopted another faith tradition like Christianity, but instead have embraced secular leftism as their politics. They have rejected the Jewish guidelines and teachings of over 3,000 years in favor of “feeling good” and assimilation. Like many converts, in doing so they have become both fanatical about their new “religion” and passionate in their disdain and hatred for their previous tradition. They are Jewish in name only, and not with any regard for the values and priorities of traditional Judaism. (This is not found in the observant Jewish world, where the vast majority of Orthodox Jews recognize the realities of the world and are politically on the right.)
This has even seeped into the Jewish leadership, as all too many Reform and Conservative rabbis and Jewish organizations have embraced leftism as a primary goal of Judaism (which it is not). This past spring, there were even rabbinic students who publicly condoned Palestinian attacks and condemned Israel. As one person said, “the only orthodoxy demanded by rabbis is the demand for leftist politics by Reform rabbis.” All too often, Jewish leaders have subjugated our traditional values in favor of supporting secular leftist causes, even when those causes are clearly anti-Semitic.
Besides assimilation, there is another large issue preventing many American Jews from embracing conservatism. As a result of persecution throughout history, Jews are typically very hesitant to attach themselves to any group that has leaders who they believe are either anti-Semitic or self-serving. Although the truth is that anti-Semitism is an integral part of leftist organizations, many Jews believe the media when it says that anti-Semitism primarily comes not from the left, but from the right. Although their personal values are actually conservative, many Jews support the left because of the disdain for Jews they perceive in some conservative leaders. They often believe that these conservative leaders care about nothing except their own self-aggrandizement.
Consider the case of Pastor Jim Domen of Church United in California. Domen is a Christian pastor who is very vocal politically. He organized a demonstration in Sacramento of clergy to pray to recall Governor Newsom. While the removal of Newsom from office would be good for all people of faith, Pastor Domen chose to schedule this demonstration on Rosh HaShana, one of the holiest days of the Jewish year. When confronted with this scheduling mistake, Pastor Domen was not only unwilling to reschedule it so that Jewish leaders and communities could participate. He was also unwilling to even return any emails or calls from both Jewish leaders and his own staff to discuss options. His disrespect and disdain for the most important of Jewish observances is perceived by many Jews (and many Christian pastors as well) as anti-Semitic. This drives a wedge between the Jewish and Christian communities. His actions are an example of conservative leaders dismissing Jews and Jewish values, and a large reason why many Jews with conservative values remain on the left. They don’t want to be associated with conservatism as long as it embraces the behavior of men like Pastor Domen, who clearly shows little concern for others while pursuing high-profile media opportunities for his own benefit. American Jews typically just don’t want to be anywhere near people like Pastor Domen or any groups composed of people who show this type of disdain (often interpreted as anti-Semitism) for Jews and Jewish values.
So what can be done to bring the many American Jews who have conservative values away from the left?
An answer can be found in the example of Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, California. Pastor McCoy is a devout Christian and conservative leader. But he is always respectful of Jews and Judaism. He is knowledgeable about Jewish history and has had rabbis (including myself) speak at his church. Pastor McCoy has spoken at synagogues, and he cares for Jews as part of his devotion to Christ. He demonstrates the caring values of conservatism and Christianity in his actions. He makes it clear to Jews that he respects their traditions and wants them to accept Jesus not because “Jews are bad,” but so that they can share heaven with him. It is clear that Pastor McCoy acts out of love, not disdain.
Pastor Domen’s actions drive Jews away and back into the arms of the left. Pastor McCoy’s actions show a respect for Jews that allows them to feel cared for and safe, which encourages them to embrace political conservatism.
By respecting Jews, Jewish values, and Israel, Christians have the opportunity to show Jews that they are allies, not enemies. As American Jews feel safer and embrace that alliance, they will be better able to reject their historical alliance with the left and Democrats. As more and more Jews recognize that they are respected and that it is “safe” for them to be in the conservative camp, they will manifest their internal conservative values and attach themselves to the right. It is not only a better fit for them theologically. It is also matter of self-preservation, as the left continues to perpetuate anti-Semitic and anti-Israel actions.
I have heard the same response countless times from Jews who currently support the left: “I don’t agree with everything on the left, but it’s safer for me as a Jew with them than with the crazy anti-Semites on the right.” If we conservatives make an effort to demonstrate a respect for Jews, Judaism, and Israel, then we will quickly see a resurgence of Jewish participation in conservative causes and support for conservative candidates.
The ultimate proof of this can be found in the 2020 election results. From 2000-2016, Jews voted for the Democratic candidate between 69 and 79 percent of the time. Donald Trump changed that during his presidency by constantly showing how much he cares for Israel and the Jewish people. In 2020, Joe Biden received only 60 percent of the Jewish vote, the lowest amount for a Democrat in modern history. Trump’s actions showed American Jews that he was not disdainful but respectful. He was not anti-Israel; he was supportive of the only democracy in the Middle East.
We must communicate to the Jewish world that conservatism is not only in harmony with their true values, but a necessary element for the survival of American Judaism.
The evening of September 6 is the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShana. May we all have a sweet, healthy, and prosperous New Year as we welcome Jews into the conservative movement for the benefit of all Americans.