Why Jews are abandoning the left

The reaction to Hamas’s atrocities is driving a wedge between Jewish voters and their traditional political home.

Joel Kotkin

Joel Kotkin

Topics Politics UK USA World

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For much of the past century, Jews across Britain, North America and Europe tilted decisively to the left. The recent atrocities committed by Hamas against Israel have challenged that trend, with Jewish sensitivities inflamed in light of the growing celebration of terrorism among progressive leftists in the West.

Historically, Jews have been wary of the right – and for good reason. Not only did they fear the fascists, but also the old-school conservative establishment, which generally disdained Jews. The British Home Office used to limit Jewish immigration to the UK, and the US State Department tried to block reports of the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews from reaching the US. In most countries, Jews consistently supported mainstream left-wing parties – namely, Labour in Britain, the Socialists in France, the Democrats in America and the Liberals in Canada. Jews even played critical roles in more radical movements on the left, including the Communists.

The Jewish leftist tradition persists, but has been fading for years now. Recent events are likely to accelerate this decline. Many of those expressing support for Hamas’s actions, and opposition to any strong Israeli response, come from the left. In the past few years, we have seen the rise of a wide range of anti-Israel ‘progressive’ politicians, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Squad’ in the US Congress, former British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Increasingly, Jews are being forced to choose between their Jewish roots and their traditionally leftist political orientation. This undermines the stance of Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which remains essentially a subsidiary of the Democratic Party. The ADL’s primary focus, at least before recent events, seemed to be in concert with the Biden administration’s oft-repeated view that the far right is the most pressing threat to the Jewish community.

Such views are delusional as well as dangerous. Of course, the far right remains a threat. Some right-wing parties, like Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), contain elements that minimise fascist atrocities, even as the party postures to win Jewish support. Individual rightists, like the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, represent a distinct lethal threat.

None of this, however, contradicts the reality that in the US, Europe, Australia, the UK and Canada, the targeting of Jews now comes overwhelmingly from the left and its constituencies. A detailed 2017 survey from the University of Oslo found that in Scandinavia, Germany, Britain and France, most anti-Semitic violence came from Muslims, including recent immigrants. Similarly, a poll of European Jews found the majority of incidents of anti-Semitism came either from Muslims or left-wingers. Barely 13 per cent traced it to right-wingers. Violence against Jews is especially bad in places like the migrant-dominated suburb of Malmo in Sweden. In Paris and London – the last great redoubts of Jewish life in Europe – the danger is less right-wing anti-Semitism than the pernicious new hybrid that joins leftist and Islamist hatred. Meanwhile, virtually all right-wing parties (including the US Republicans and the Canadian and British Conservatives) have been unanimous in supporting Israel.

Other rightist politicians, like Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, France’s Marine Le Pen and Britain’s Nigel Farage, have been outspoken supporters of the Jewish State. Meanwhile, the much-disdained Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is widely criticised as fascistic and anti-Semitic. Yet he is far more pro-Israel than the EU bureaucracy, which has opposed Israel’s right to a forceful response to the Hamas attack.

Today, as famed Nazi-hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld suggested almost two decades ago, the real and present danger comes more from the ascendant alliance of Islamists and left-wing activists. The face of anti-Semitism comes increasingly not from knuckle-dragging neo-Nazis, but from sophistos often aligned with Palestinian activists. Sixty per cent of German anti-Semitic messages sent to the Israeli embassy come from well-educated people, according to one study.

In particular, generally middle-class green parties have tended to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to demonise and eliminate the Jewish State. One think-tank associated with the German Greens regularly labels Israel as an ‘apartheid’ regime. The Greens in Australia have also revealed themselves to be apologists for Hamas.

In the UK, while Jeremy Corbyn was leader, the Labour Party was investigated for anti-Semitism and found to have breached equality law in its treatment of Jewish members. As well as this, Corbyn’s long history of anti-Israel and Judeophobe associations caused many Jews to defect from Labour. Unsurprisingly, Corbyn has surfaced in recent pro-Palestine demonstrations.

Similarly, France – today home to the world’s third-largest Jewish community – has been swept up by largely left-wing and Arab supporters of Hamas. The government has even mobilised 7,000 troops to protect Jews, who have for years been targets of Islamist attacks.

In France, as in the UK, recent events are likely to accelerate the shift of Jews to the centre and the right. Of course, Jewish voters are unlikely to line up behind Le Pen, progeny of a French fascist, even as she supports Israel. Nonetheless, French Jews generally no longer affiliate with their traditional Socialist Party, but with the centrist regime of Emmanuel Macron. And in the UK, Jews, once prominent in the ranks of radicals, have shifted dramatically away from their traditional Labour orientation and have largely embraced the Conservatives. Canadian Jews seem to be following a similar path, away from their historic ties to the Liberals and towards the Conservatives.

In the US, the predominant centre for the Jewish diaspora, a similar if less dramatic shift is taking place. Jewish voters remain mostly Democratic and liberal, notes Pew. But they are increasingly troubled by support for Hamas’s actions from groups like Black Lives Matter and the unwillingness of its supporters, like Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass, to denounce its pro-terrorist positions. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a once rising force on the left, has also defended the actions of Hamas – a position that would have horrified early socialist leaders like the late Michael Harrington, one of my own political mentors.

US Democrats’ embrace of the Obama strategy of making concessions to Iran may prove decisive, particularly as evidence of Tehran’s culpability in backing Hamas becomes clearer. Democrats are now associated with a movement to appease a regime that has played a role in anti-Jewish terrorism not only in Israel but also – through its satrap, Hezbollah – as far away as Argentina. Despite this, Biden has continued to make deals that enrich the Iranian mullahs. His administration has also allowed the likely infiltration of the State Department and even the Pentagon by what are now being investigated as essentially Iranian agents.

Even before the recent events in Gaza, the American Jewish community had been showing tentative signs of a political transformation. The awful Donald Trump managed to boost his Jewish vote from 24 per cent in 2016 to 30 per cent in 2020 – well above the average for most recent Republican presidents.

The GOP also made gains in the 2022 election, going from a quarter of the Jewish vote in 2016 to a full third. Orthodox Jews are already mostly GOP-leaning. Today, notes Pew, 75 per cent of Orthodox Jews identify as Republicans, up from 57 per cent in 2013.

To Jews today, it’s clear that the further left you go, the more openly anti-Israel the orientation. Ta-Nehisi Coates, greatly celebrated by the gentry left, has adopted a strong anti-Zionist stance.

Many supposed progressive and mainstream outlets have also been eager to embrace Hamas’s view of last week’s al-Ahli hospital bombing by blaming Israel for the tragedy. Indeed, the Jewish State is now treated far less well in such places as the Guardian, MSNBC, the Nation and the New Republic than at conservative publications like the Spectator, the Telegraph and National Review.

Arguably the biggest game-changer could be the universities, which once represented a cherished means of Jewish achievement and the exemplar of the community’s values. Today, however, campuses have become the epicentre of leftist pro-Palestine agitation.

It is important to note that this is not just a matter of fairly criticising Israel’s government, which nobody should be averse to. Rather, on campuses, we see an ideology openly hostile to Israel’s very existence. Jewish students have faced extraordinary hostility in the wake of the Hamas attacks, but have received little support from university administrators.

Where does this all lead? Clearly, conservatives are likely to gain more support from Jews. In the US, Canada, Europe and the UK, there may also soon develop – particularly as the Palestinian cause becomes identified with Israel’s counter-offensive – an intensifying conflict between establishment groups like the ADL and the most yeasty parts of the modern ‘anti-colonial’ left. There are already reports of protests against Biden’s Israel policy in the State Department and among congressional staff. Even as some dedicated leftists fear that an anti-Israel slant could doom progressivism with much of the Democratic electorate, the energy in the party comes largely from those once fringe, anti-Zionist elements.

For now, support for Israel in the US has soared, including among self-described liberals who previously tilted toward the Palestinian cause. Yet it is likely that this support will wither, particularly on the left, as Israel takes its next steps to protect its borders.

Ultimately, many Jews now face a difficult choice between embracing the centre and the right, or choosing a ‘progressive’ ideology that threatens their historic identity.

Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is out now. Follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK USA World


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