I have received many e-mails purporting to explain why Jews tend to despise Republicans. Most of these emails (and this blog post) instead give plausible reasons why Jews may prefer to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. What I was referring to, however, is the kind of visceral discussed [update: sic–disgust; that’s what I get for using voice recognition software] that, for example, once led a couple that was sitting next to my parents at a post-services reception in a synagogue to leave and walk to another table when my parents mentioned that they are Republicans. The kind of disgust that makes it hard for Republican Jewish young men (who seem to wildly outnumber Republican Jewish young women) to get dates.
I did receive two plausible explanations. The first is that the WASP Republican establishment overlapped significantly with the group of bankers, university officials, insurance executives, elite attorneys, etc., that created a glass ceiling for Jewish success for many decades, and leading to lingering resentment. However, it’s not all clear why Jews decided to take the wrath out on Republicans, as such, and not on, say, Episcopalians and Presbyterians, as such. (And I somehow doubt that Harvard officials in the early 1950’s, when it still had anti-Jewish quotas, were primarily Republicans. )
My colleague Ilya Somin, suggests that (and here I’m elaborating somewhat on his comments) we know that American Jews have always had left-wing tendencies, inherited in part from Eastern European socialism but, like all other groups, most Jews are and have been rationally ignorant about politics and related social issues. Thus, it is easy for them to imagine against both historical evidence and current data, that anti-Semitism in the United States primarily emanates from Republican constituencies. This rings true to me, because I’ve had so many Jewish acquaintances tell me how anti-Semitic evangelical Christians are, despite the data to the contrary, while never mentioning the anti-Semitism that emanates from the left wing constituencies with which they have natural ideological sympathy.
One correspondent noted that while evangelicals may be OK with Jews they
lack respect are perceived as lacking respect for the Jewish religion, which they see as superceded by Christianity. I will grant this, but note that Jewish hostility to Republicans well predates the Republican love affair with evangelicals. Indeed, Jews hated Republicans when, pre-Reagan, evangelical Christians were a core Democratic constituency. Moreover, pre-Vatican II, the most influential religious group that denied the validity of Judaism was Catholicism, and Catholics were the Democrats’ most important northern constituency. This did [update: NOT] prevent Jews from being the Democrats’ most reliable northern voters. (Update: I’m no expert, but my understanding is that Vatican II changed Catholic doctrine to acknowledge that the Jewish covenant with God remains valid even after the coming of Jesus, whereas before Vatican II Judaism was seen as an invalid faith superseded by the New Testament. Several other mainstream Protestant groups have also adopted this position, but evangelical groups have not).
UPDATE: Several readers suggest that Jewish disdain for the Republicans may date back to the pre-World War II era, when the leading isolationists were Republicans, and their isolationism was often tinged with anti-Semitism. Moreover, Republicans may not have been more anti-Semitic than Democrats in those days (update: Jim Lindgren points out that in 1938 Republicans in fact were less likely to be extremely anti-Semitic than were Democrats) but those who vocally opposed anti-Semitism were far more likely to be Democrats. And FDR himself took the unprecedented step of appointing many Jews to high-level government positions, a sign that the Democrats and not the Republicans were the Party that first welcomed Jews into the American mainstream.
Another reader notes that American Jews’ most significant traditional enemy was right-wing Eastern Europeans, who, in the wake of the Cold War, were largely identified with the Republicans. This reader notes that even today, right-wing Eastern European emigres are well over-represented among anti-Semites in the United States.
Yet another reader suggests that ideology is genetically determined, and that Ashkenazic Jews, who do in fact have many distinct genetic traits (susceptibility to certain diseases, disproportionate representation among those with “perfect pitch,” etc.) because of their small numbers of ancestors and isolation from the general European gene pool, may be naturally inclined to be liberals. I’ll keep that in mind when I write my long-promised post on why Jews are so liberal, but I think it’s a separate issue from why they tend to dislike Republicans.
Meanwhile, this article from the Duke student newspaper (Update: the author is one of Duke’s purported best and brightest, a recipient of a four-year, full tuition scholarship; update: and, get this, winner of Duke’s annual journalism award)reveals an increasingly prevalent view on the far left: we will only be tolerant of Jews so long as they toe the left-wing line, including on Middle East policy. If they abandon us for the right, we will stir up anti-Semitism, especially among blacks, by pointing out how successful Jews are in the United States (and attributing this success to their ability to claim “white privilege” while also claiming victim status via the “holocaust industry”), by arguing that their claims of victimization are phony or exaggerated (and without victim status, you are held in contempt by the far left), and via claims of dual loyalty to Israel. This sort of blackmail used to be subtle, but with even left-wing Jews generally refusing to join the anti-Iraq War movement because of its anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic subtext, the subtlety is gradually diminishing. (Update: And the fact that a few Jews had the temerity to join the Bush Administration as foreign policy advisors has already unleashed a flood of left-wing anti-Semitism related to the alleged Jewish cabal that led America to war with Iraq and wants to do the same with Iran.) The good news is that this sort of thing is likely to push Jews away from the far left (as has already happened in much of the rest of the world), and without a substantial Jewish intellectual and financial presence in the next generation, the American far left, which has long had a very substantial Jewish presence, will have lost much of its power.