The perception that Netanyahu has overtly supported the Republicans — even during the 2012 presidential election — has left many Jewish Americans, a large majority of whom continue to vote Democratic, feeling torn between their progressive values and their loyalty to Israel.
An editorial last week in the Jewish digital magazine Tablet accused the New York Times and the Washington Post of anti-Semitism by “playing the dual loyalty card” and invoking “money,” “lobbying” and “foreign interests” in critical coverage of Democrats who have decided to oppose the deal, such as New York’s Senator Chuck Schumer. The Tablet editorial set off a firestorm of debate among Jewish-Americans on social media. In a response published the same outlet on Aug. 11, Matt Duss of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Todd Gitlin, a sociologist and prominent writer who teaches at Columbia University, termed the editorial “an insult to readers’ intelligence.”
Despite the heat of the debate among committed partisans, Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner told Al Jazeera that “Israel is a top issue for only a small number of American Jews.” Cohen, who regularly polls Jewish-American attitudes on a range of issues, expects the Jewish communal debate over the Iran deal is unlikely to change U.S. political dynamics.
“There'll be very little effect, because liberals support Democrats and the deal, while conservatives support Republicans and oppose the deal,” he emailed.
Cohen noted that the wider Jewish-American population and the organized Jewish community are not the same thing. The “community” refers to those who are organized and affiliated with various branches of Judaism and various NGOs. But the majority of Jews are not affiliated, and they are, he wrote, “split along ideological lines with liberal Democrats in favor and conservative, Republicans opposed.” He added, “The organized community's top leadership is wealthier, more religiously traditional and more politically conservative.”
The leadership of AIPAC and the long-established Jewish federations tend to be wealthy, conservative and unrepresentative of the political opinions of the wider population of Jewish Americans. For the generations of Jewish Americans aged over 50, according to a 2013 Pew Study, identify strongly with Israel as a matter of existential reflex. But automatic identification with Israel is weaker among millennials, and there is significant anecdotal evidence to show that axiomatic support for Israel declined during last summer’s Gaza war. Studies have found that a majority of younger Jewish Americans — perhaps personified by the comic political commentator Jon Stewart — are more likely to stick by their liberal American values when those conflict with support for Israeli government policies. It remains to be seen how this generational shift will affect Israel’s status in the U.S. political process in the years ahead.
But long-standing concerns among the pro-Israel establishment raised by the generation gap in Jewish-American attitudes to Israel will have been amplified by the community’s split over the Iran deal, and by the willingness of Obama — the president elected by the millennials — to publicly castigate both Israel’s government and AIPAC for their efforts to reverse U.S. diplomacy.