The Death of Jewish Liberalism
In Annie Hall, Woody Allen observed that “the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers…I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.” It might be time to revise that judgment, at least according to a report from the UJA-Federation of New York.
The overall number of Jews in the New York area has risen from 1.4 million in 2002 to over 1.5 million in 2012. Almost all of that growth, however, has come from the Orthodox community. The data are especially striking when age is taken into account. The report finds that six in ten Jewish children in the area live in Orthodox households.
A piece in The Jewish Daily Forward argues that these trends have political implications. Orthodox and Russian-speaking Jews already make up 56 percent of the city’s Jewish population. They’ll be a larger majority in the future. Few of these Jews are liberals, and many are not even Democrats. So the unified Jewish vote that was thought to be a pillar of New York politics looks like it’s breaking up.
It’s hard to evaluate the impact of these changes. On the one hand, I’m pleased that there’s ever less support for the belief that there’s a single distinctively Jewish politics. As the old joke goes, two Jews, three opinions. Multiply that by 1.5 million.
On the other hand, the demographic decline of the kind of secular, liberal Jews that Allen affectionately mocked isn’t necessarily a victory for conservatism. Jews of Russian origin often hold the hawkish views that are often criticized on this blog. And while ultra-Orthodox Jews hold traditional views on social issues, they are also heavily dependent on government services.
The political result, then, is likely to be less significant than it might appear. Rather than a shift toward Republicans, the diminishing population of left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers is likely to mean increasingly solid support for the hawkish establishment Democrats.
But Democrats like these, including Senator Schumer and Secretary Clinton, already dominate the party in the state. In fact, it’s hard to think of a really liberal New York politician who enjoyed strong Jewish support since Mario Cuomo. The Jewish community in New York may be changing. But old-fashioned Jewish liberalism died a long time ago.