What American Jews Want

By Alex Soros || Op-Ed in Politico ||

Considering all of the ink spilled parsing the politics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Congress and the media attention accorded Sheldon Adelson for holding a personal primary for Republican presidential hopefuls, the average American might think that American Jews are single-issue voters whose only concern is the safety of Israel.

While Israel remains deeply important to many of us, the idea that Israel and Israel alone is what drives Jewish voters—and Jewish political dollars—is false. A 2012 Public Religion Research Institute survey asked registered Jewish voters which issue was most important to their vote in the upcoming Presidential election. Only 4 percent of them said it was Israel. Instead, the majority answered that the most important issues for them were issues of domestic concern — 51 percent said it was the economy, while another 15 percent specifically said it was “the growing gap between the rich and the poor.” The third-most important issue was health care, with 10 percent, adding up to a full 76 percent of the Jewish electorate driven by this classic set of domestic issues.

And what’s clear in these and other major surveys is that on these domestic issues, Jews are overwhelmingly progressive. In fact, Jews are one of the most progressive demographic groups in America today.

 We care about reducing economic inequality. In a series of surveys conducted by the highly-regarded Pew Research Center between 2012 and 2013, 54 percent of Jews support a larger, active government that provides more services versus 38 percent who favor a smaller government and fewer services (these percentages are reversed in the general population). We believe in full equality for LGBT people, with 78 percent of us supporting marriage equality, according to the same Pew Research surveys. And, having survived persecution and bigotry throughout our history, we’re deeply concerned about discrimination against other minority communities in the United States. Surveys demonstrate that Jews are significantly more conscious of the discrimination faced by Black people, Latinos, and Muslims in the U.S. than the general population.

That’s why other politically active American Jews have joined me to launch the Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC, which will focus the passion and political power of American Jews on supporting those progressive politicians who truly speak to the core values of Jewish voters.

We’re not only progressive in our views. We’re also among the most politically engaged groups in America. In our local communities, American Jews are active, fighting for the issues we care about. Right now, we’re joining with other religious groups to protest so-called “religious freedom” laws in Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, and elsewhere that would allow discrimination against LGBT people. We’re supporting efforts to empower home health care workers to organize for better wages and working conditions. And we’re rallying behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Last December, on the first night of Chanukah, thousands of American Jews gathered across 15 U.S. cities to protest police brutality against African Americans.

In Washington, we’re fighting for immigration reform, risking arrest alongside our immigrant brothers and sisters, and standing up for a fair budget that doesn’t balance our debt by laying an unsupportable burden on the backs of America’s poor and underprivileged.

Yet, right now, the political elite thinks that so long as the issue of Israel is addressed, they have our support. We need to change that. We need to expand–greatly–what it takes to earn Jewish votes and Jewish political dollars. Part of the reason this misperception exists is because even though American Jews are incredibly active in progressive politics as individuals, their voices are scattered across other organizations. At the same time, most Jewish political organizations have become tightly focused on Israel and Middle East policy, and their voices have skewed conservative, out of step with the opinions of real Jewish voters. We’re launching Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC because we want to remind decision makers—and some of our own leaders —that domestic issues are ultimately what decide our votes.

And we’re also launching this PAC because we know that we can’t win the progressive battles American Jews are fighting across the country without stalwart allies in Congress. This PAC will be a vehicle that concentrates our community’s political and financial support and directs it to members of Congress who share our values. These are fierce progressive champions like Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Rep. Xavier Becerra of California. We want to send a clear message to our elected officials — if you want the support of Jewish voters, you need to stand up for progressive ideals and policies at home; not pander to us by cynically declaring your support for Israel.

Some might question why a progressive organization is launching a PAC at a time when the influence of outside money in politics makes so many progressives uncomfortable. This is a legitimate concern, but under the current political system, we see no other option. To abandon this initiative would mean surrendering the possibility of passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) or blocking budget cuts that would hurt the most vulnerable Americans. It would mean losing the opportunity to reform policing in Black communities across the country. At this crucial moment in a pre-election year, we believe we are undertaking the smartest and most strategic option currently available to engage with our political system and ensure that the Jewish community’s progressive values are represented in Congress.

The model of the single-issue Jewish voter is a myth that should be retired. Progressive Jews are ready to speak—and speak loudly—on the issues that speak to our community the most and continue our commitment to keeping the American Dream alive for everyone in this country.

 

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