Puerto Ricans have moved on. Why not Jews?

U.S. presidential voting habits remain a puzzle

By Tom Gross
November 1, 2004

Combating Arab dictatorship


This comment piece, analyzing Jewish voting intentions, was published in The Jerusalem Post the day before the November 2, 2004 U.S. presidential election. (It was also reprinted on the day of the election on a number of American websites and web magazines.)

The article was not meant to be taken as an endorsement of either presidential candidate. It simply drew attention to an aspect of the 2004 U.S. election – regarded by many analysts as a “foreign policy election” – which might reasonably be considered puzzling. Why did so few Jews say they would vote for George W. Bush, even though possibly no president in history has been more favorably disposed to Jewish concerns, and even though it was also in the economic interest of many Jews to vote for him.

Bush, as we know, went on to win re-election with a strong popular mandate. Yet, U.S. Jews remained one of the groups most supportive of his Democrat opponent, John Kerry, even though Kerry had been lukewarm on Israel, and had spoken of Yasser Arafat as a “statesman.”

In November 2004, a higher proportion of Hispanics, homosexuals, Arab-Americans and other minority groups, voted for Bush than U.S. Jews did. And when one considers that the hundreds of thousands of American Jews from the former Soviet Union voted overwhelmingly for Bush, the anti-Bush vote among other American Jews was even more lopsided.

-- Tom Gross


ONCE upon a time most American Jews were underprivileged, and most of them voted Democrat. Then their circumstances changed, but their political allegiances remained unaltered. Around 30 or 40 years ago there was a joke which said that American Jews live like Episcopalians (i.e. relatively rich, privileged people) but vote like Puerto Ricans.

The remark was a bit racist, perhaps, but it was essentially true. Everyone knew what it meant. Only it is not true anymore. Puerto Ricans, like other Hispanics, have moved on. They now vote in a pluralistic way in accordance with their developing economic interests, ethnic concerns and what they think is good for America. In 2000 the Hispanic vote for George W Bush was more than 50 percent greater than the Jewish vote.

This year American Jews remain as intransigent as ever. Jews, more than almost any other group in the US, are set to vote against Bush by large margins.

Polls indicate that 69 percent of Jews will vote Kerry tomorrow, and only 24 percent for Bush. And 3 percent will vote for Ralph Nader, the strongly anti-Israel independent candidate of Arab descent who according to polls commands less than half that support among non-Jewish Americans.

Yet the situation is even more lopsided than it first appears: What the over-all figure doesn’t take into account is that the hundreds of thousands of American Jews from the former Soviet Union – who know a thing of two about oppression, terrorism, anti-Semitism and the meaning of freedom – are overwhelmingly pro-Bush. Only 14 percent say they will back Kerry.


Naturally, many Jews will vote on issues completely unrelated to foreign policy or their own economic status – issues of social justice, abortion, gay rights and so on. But much more than usual, this is a foreign policy election. At the moment the right not to get your head chopped off seems more important than that of, say, gay marriage.

According to the polls, other Americans recognize this, and given the rise in global anti-Semitism (a hatred directed at America’s Jews as much as any others) foreign policy concerns should be of exceptional importance to Jews. If they haven’t read Bin Laden’s key 1998 text, “Jihad against Jews and Crusaders,” issued by The World Islamic Front, they should. Ignoring it is as foolish as it would have been to ignore Mein Kampf.

In the last four years Jews have been specifically targeted in terror attacks in Casablanca, Djerba, Kenya, Istanbul, the Sinai, and Los Angeles, among other places. Even those behind the Madrid bombs say they were looking to bomb Spain’s (very few) Jewish targets. Daniel Pearl was killed as a Jew.

And – yes – there is 9/11 too. For many in the Moslem world are convinced that when al Qaeda chose the Twin Towers as their target, it was because in their anti-Semitic world view, Jews control American finance: they saw the Towers as a Jewish target, and aimed to kill as many Jews as possible.

Support for Israel is “a very important factor” in their lives, say 74 percent of American Jews. Bush is generally regarded as not only the most pro-Israel president ever, but probably the most pro-Jewish one as well. His signing last month of the Global Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, requiring the State Department to monitor anti-Semitic abuses around the world, is only the latest example of this. In explaining their support for this act, leading Republicans Jack Kemp and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, said anti-Semitism is bad not only for Jews, but “a measure of the democratic instability of other countries.”


Heading for
a second term

Yet, even though Kerry has called Yasser Arafat “a statesman,” has criticized Israel’s security fence as a “barrier to peace,” and has not noticeably protested any U.N. actions attacking Israel, according to polls more Jews may well vote Kerry than Palestinian-Americans will.

When Bush stood for president four years ago, there was little to indicate that he would grasp the necessity for reform in the Arab world – as an American interest, an Israeli interest, and most importantly as an Arab interest. It is clear that he does now.

It should be equally clear that many of the Clinton administration’s policies were unwise not only in terms of American national interest but also from a humanitarian viewpoint – in particular the extraordinary appeasement of Arafat and the red-carpet treatment given to him while he violated every single one of the Oslo accords, the failure to take the al Qaeda threat seriously, and the failure to exert any kind of meaningful pressure on regimes in Riyadh, Damascus and elsewhere.

Yet there is every indication that the foreign policy team Kerry would assemble, should he win, would comprise many of the same people who made such glaring mistakes in the 1990s.

This is why some major Jewish Democratic Party figures, such as former New York mayor Ed Koch, have endorsed Bush. Why Al Gore’s running mate Joe Lieberman hinted last month that Bush might be better for Israel. Why the leading liberal journalist Martin Peretz wrote last week, “A President Kerry would be a disaster for Israel.”

Whereas non-Jewish Americans I have spoken to in recent months are split roughly 50-50 in their voting preferences, as one might expect given the neck and neck polls, almost all my Jewish American friends are backing Kerry.


Why? I asked an American Jewish friend who lives in the London, last month. “Because Kerry is for human rights,” was the answer. Apparently he didn’t know until I told him that it was Bush who had made possible one of the biggest repatriations of refugees in history (over three million Afghans have returned home thanks to his policies) or that the Taliban regime that Bush removed crushed homosexuals to death as a matter of policy. Nor was he aware of how many people had died under Saddam.

What could be more liberal, indeed more radical than that? This is among the reasons why “The American Conservative” magazine last week endorsed Kerry, but Christopher Hitchens, writing in America’s leading left-wing magazine, The Nation, endorsed Bush. Hitchens (correctly) calls this “a single-issue election and seems to imply that in their hearts, liberals and leftists know Bush’s foreign policies are right. “Do you know anybody who really, deeply wishes that Carter had been re-elected, or that Dukakis had won?”

As for my Arab friends, there is already much talk about the fact that Kerry is “a Jew” (no matter that he is in fact a Catholic of part-Jewish origin) and this, they say, should be highlighted if he supports Israel.

We are likely to hear much more about this in future if he becomes president. Last week in Prague, the archivist of the Czech Jewish Federation showed me the “transportation certificates” for the brother and sister of Kerry’s grandmother Ida: Otto Lowy, who died in Terezin, and Jenny Lowy, who was taken on from Terezin to Treblinka where she was gassed.

Indeed many Jews seem unperturbed that Kerry has long presented himself, for the purpose of the Massachusetts vote, as a Catholic of presumably Irish origins, and that for years even after he was aware of them, concealed his Jewish origins and the fact that his grandfather changed his name from Kohn (a derivation of Cohen) to Kerry. Someone who is evasive about such an important matter doesn’t inspire much trust in general. (Even Al-Riyadh, a Saudi government daily, criticized him last month for concealing his Jewish roots.)

Given past voting habits and domestic concerns, one would not, perhaps, expect Jews to vote overwhelmingly for Bush. But that in 2004 so many are opposed so violently – often hysterically – to a leader who has proved a good friend, is puzzling.

(The writer is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News.)