Enter your keyword

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Do Not Know Any Liberal Jews

Lately there has been an outbreak of articles asking the old question, "Why are Jews Liberals ?" Personally I don't really know any liberal Jews. Of the three synagogues I go to, only one man voted for Obama, and hardly a day went by without that sole fact resulting in heated arguments with the regulars that often seemed on the verge of breaking out into fistfights.

Next week I will be heading out to Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood where three quarters of the residents speak Yiddish, and where McCain defeated Obama by a comfortable 84 to 16 percent margin. This in a borough where Obama won overall by nearly 80 percent. The last time I visited Williamsburg, I saw McCain bumper stickers on the cars of Chassidim, who are usually as likely to attach national election stickers to their bumpers as they are to break dance, and Chassidic ladies admiring Sarah Palin's look, which is not too different from their own.

To encounter liberal Jews, I usually have to log on to the internet, or leave behind the working class Jewish neighborhoods, for the Upper East Side, Park Slope or the pricey suburbs of upstate New York that are about as racially diverse as a serving of vanilla ice cream. The working class Jews of the shabby Brooklyn neighborhoods, left behind in the liberal social experiment, are the Jews I know, and they are very different from the lawyers, reverends and organization presidents with million dollar apartments, who are the self-proclaimed "public face" of American Jewry, thanks to a healthy supply of letterheads testifying to that organizational fact.

I am often asked why Jews are liberals, by which they mean to ask, Why do Jews vote liberal and support liberal causes that are destructive to their own interests. And being Jewish, I usually answer that question with another question. Why do the British and the French import millions of radical Muslims to destroy their own countries against their own interests? Why did so many Americans vote a radical Marxist into office whose own pastor was on television shouting, "God Damn America"?

The answer is that there are two kinds of Jews, just as there are two kinds of Englishmen and two kinds of Americans. And the difference between them is easy enough to sniff out. If you ask one of those Williamsburg Jews why he's Jewish, he will reply with an extended lecture about the covenant with Abraham and the one G-d made with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, the desert mountain, not the hospital. He will talk about the family that stretches back thousands of years to Jacob and the accompanying tradition from father to son, and mother to daughter. If you ask an Obama voter why he is Jewish, he is likely to answer something about his appreciation for the philosophy of Tikkun Olam, and making the world a better place through prophetic social justice, or some equally watered down form of liberalism with a Jewish stamp placed on it.

The difference is that to the former being Jewish is a fundamental commitment to his identity. To the latter, being Jewish is an optional part of his commitment to being a good liberal. Or as one liberal Jewish blogger explained, that he has a rolodex of identities, and that Jewish is only one card in the big spinning rolodex that includes such entries as San Franciscan, LGBT, Graphic Media Artist, Activist for Social Justice, and of course that all time great universalist entry, Human Being. It is of course no shock at all that the Jewish card doesn't come up first on that list, and that it is only tolerated on the list to the extent that it fits in with the more important cards on that list.

This is an identity crisis that is most commonly seen among Jews, but far from alien to the rest of the West. Universalism has become the common form of moral rhetoric, the goal being to transcend parochial identities, to maximize diversity and teach the world to sing. "Don't the Pakistanis, Indonesians, Lebanese and Somalis have as much right to be in this country as we do," is the argument repeated from Sydney to London to Oslo. Substitute illegal aliens and you have the American version of it. The new 9/11 curriculum will ask students to decide whether America should defend itself, or embrace a "Global Buddy" system through soft power.

The Jews you see are the canary in the coal mine, in more ways than just the obvious. And universalism was widely tested on Jews, before it was tested on anyone else. The bargain that the French Revolution made implicitly and Napoleon made explicitly with the Jews, was that they would be allowed political and social equality, so long as they agreed to blend in, assimilate and discard any beliefs or observances that the state frowned upon. This soon became the default liberal standard for admitting Jews to the table. Or as the great socialist playwright and admirer of Stalin, George Bernard Shaw put it rather plainly; "Those Jews who still want to be the chosen race... can go to Palestine and stew in their own juice. The rest had better stop being Jews and start being human beings."

By the 19th century there were two kinds of Jews, Jews and universalist "Human Beings", who scrubbed Jerusalem out of their prayers, disdained Jewishness as parochial, and remade their identities and beliefs in the mold of the liberal Christian clergy they looked up to. These Jews joined the ranks of great "Human Beings" such as H.G. Wells or Bertrand Russell, and of course Shaw himself. Together these Jewish and Christian "Human Beings" campaigned against war and for international brotherhood. They supported the USSR and condemned the US. They turned their houses of worship into stages for preaching socialism and liberalism.

Today it is the 21st century and there are more "Human Beings" than ever, some of whom used to be Jewish or Episcopalian or Catholic. The "Human Beings" agitate on behalf of admitting more refugees to Australia, of filling the cities of Europe with the throat slitters of the East, or dismantling American borders and ending the War on Terror. Gitmo outrages them, Israeli checkpoints make their hearts bleed and they can't sleep for worry over the polar bears. They are no longer Englishmen, Americans, Jews, Frenchmen or Australians. They are "Human Beings" in the broadest sense. No more parochial identities for them.

Shaw's "Human Beings", the rise of a post-national and post-religious man is here. At least in First World countries. "Human Beings" who care about anything and everything besides their own flesh and blood. Who worship at the altar of a Utopian kingdom of socialist heaven on earth, a religion stripped not of dogma, but of the supernatural, investing all its faith in flesh and blood messiahs of hope and change. They may attend houses of worship from various faiths, but their eyes are lifted to one great dream alone. The dream of a united humanity as a great kiln in which their identities of the present will be torched as a great sacrifice for a better world.

So yes indeed, there are a great many liberal Jews, and while 77 percent of Jews did not vote for Obama, as the often inaccurately bandied about number would have you believe, but many did. Despite Obama's distaste for Israel and though his domestic policies would hurt Jews as well. Because they did not vote as Jews, they voted as "Human Beings".

Nor can it be any surprise that more Jews left behind that which they were long ago, to join the Universalist Church of Man. The average Christian did not have to sacrifice his beliefs and identity to become a doctor, a lawyer or a journalist. The Jew did. Since the French Revolution began the wave of Republican Europe, Jews have faced that choice in Europe and America. The great Shaw demand, To be Jews or to be "Human Beings" and join in the post-identity party. It is no surprise that so many made the Universalist choice.

In the early 20th century, the District Superintendent of the Lower East Side's public schools, Julia Richman campaigned to shut down Jewish schools, fought against teaching children Yiddish or Hebrew, and washed out their mouths with soap if they did. Julia Richman viewed Jews as dirty, did her best to stamp out Jewish beliefs and traditions, and stated in public that the pushcart peddlers of the Lower East Side should be deported back to Russia, at a time when Jews there faced brutal pogroms. Richman herself happened to be Jewish, but really she was one of those "Human Beings". Today Richman is remembered as a liberal heroine, which seems fit. Julia Richman and those like her helped create the liberal Jew of the present, his identity washed out and replaced with an energetic desire to create social change, to do his or her part in the great post-national and post-religious Utopia.

The "Human Beings" of today, who may have last names like Goldberg or Levine or Cohen, know a good deal more about the plight of the working people of El Salvador or the LGBT community in Mexico or the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, than they do about anything Jewish. Their votes for Obama had nothing to do with being Jewish, what they have in the way of theology is indistinguishable from liberal ideology. They had to do with saving the poor tortured souls in Gitmo, providing Federally funded abortions to everyone, banning transgender discrimination, stopping the Israeli bombing of Hamas and saving the earth from global warming.

Those are not the concerns of Jews I know, but that is because I only know Jews, not "Human Beings". The Jews I know work for a living, focus their concerns on raising their children, and worry about their families, both here and in Israel. The "Human Beings" by contrast agitate, pull down salaries for opening funds that distribute grant money from funding networks to promote diversity and non-violence in the wake of 9/11. Their identities are on a rolodex, and sometimes the rolodex comes up Jewish, more often it comes up not.

They are victims too in a way, just like the English, French and Swedish youth who march in rallies against war and for social justice, without even understanding the consequences of what they are doing, because their identities have been stolen from them. They are the product of broken families, the shards of nations and peoples who have been torn apart by an ideology that was hostile to patriotism, to religion and to the old ways.

Throughout the day I encounter Jews, rich and poor, religious and irreligious, young and old. And there is a common thread that binds me to them, for they are my family. They may not always be lovable as individuals, but they are family. And one does not choose one's family. This fundamental understanding is the difference between the Traditional and the Postmodern, in which all identities are choices composed of equal parts self-indulgence and the accompanying guilt over it.

I can honestly say that I do not know any Liberal Jews, only the occasional "Human Being", better known as the Obama voter. Now and then I encounter these "Human Beings" and there are things which we can chat about, books and movies, art and philosophy, but they are not my family. They are strangers, estranged by the great gulf of universalism that tears away roots and leaves behind only thin air. They are "Human Beings" without roots or identity, only the great clamor of social outrage stewing inside the otherwise empty kettles of their hearts. The final graduates of Miss Julia Richman's academy of humanity, their minds as washed out with soap as their mouths, eager to save the world, without any idea of what they are saving the world for.


  1. You forgot to say that the one guy in the shul who voted for Obama also has advanced alzheimers and told us all later that he believed himself to be voting for Wolfgang von Schmidt for mayor of Dusseldorf.

  2. Whether you are Jewish, Catholic, Church of England, Methodist or whatever, Liberalism will have exactly the same effect on you.

    It will produce self-loathing for your own heritage, culture and people, and turn you into a grovelling apologist for the thugs who want to exterminate you.

    Appeasing Hitler, fellow-travelling with Stalin, or abasing yourself with dhimmitude at the feet of the Muslims - it's all the same sick psychological inadequacy.

  3. Of all of your postings I believe this to be the best. People ask why the Jewish vote for Obama but they do not ask why Christian Ministers were using their position to encourage their congregations to vote for Obama even though they knew his positions were against the teachings we have from the Lord our G D.

  4. Anonymous10/9/09

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
    I have nothing more to say.

  5. Many American Jews vote liberal and support liberal causes because their parents and grandparents voted for Franklin Roosevelt and were New Deal Democrats. When the Democratic Party was hijacked by left-wing liberals, many Jews stayed with the party.

  6. A new appellation is needed for these "human beings":

    PWJN= "Persons with Jewish Names"

    That's all they are.

  7. avi from Israel10/9/09

    It is ultimately not very intelligent to live in such a simplistic world of good vs evil, black and white, the true believers and apostates, us and them. You use religion not as a way to make you a better human being ( here goes that word again ), but to draw a circle around what you are prepared to think and care about. If it falls outside your circle, you are unconcerned.How sad.

  8. We all draw circles, Avi. It is a question of where we draw those circles and around what.

    Drawing that circle in the right place based on your responsibilities can make you a better person.

    The world is a good deal more simplistic than the people who think themselves wise and intelligent in their own eyes are prepared to concede. And their inability to concede that prevents them from drawing the circle and doing the right thing, until it is much too late.

  9. Anonymous10/9/09

    avi, liberalism supports many just causes, but they support many unjust causes as well. the very reason liberalism supports so many unjust things is precisely because they either refuse to or are unable to draw those circles. and since liberals have no circles to separate for themselves the just and unjust, right and wrong, they are logically unable to distinguish between the two.

  10. Very interesting post.

    I do alas know several people who though jewish - use of lower case intentional - do not identify as Jewish.

    I think that it does also depend on what a child witnesses while growing up. If you live in a home where your parents make little or nothing of the Jewish heritage, that can have a real knock on effect down the generations.

    I didn't grow up in a religiously observant family, but I always knew that my Jewish heritage was something to be proud of - and I always knew that Israel was something to cherish.

    All Jewish parents should inculcate in their children a sense of pride in their Jewishness and certainly with regard to Israel.


    Re your point about the false claims that many American Jews voted for Obama:

    Some months back, I stumbled across the Muslims Against Sharia site and initially thought it was fab. Then I read an article which - to my mind - unfairly and highly insultingly blamed US Jews for Obama's success.

    I posted my objections and this resulted in an ongoing 'discussion' with the author of the post.

    SULTAN KNISH - if by any chance you have a few minutes and feel like taking a look, I'd be really interested to know your thoughts.

    The author of the post to this day visits my own blog to insist that 'most jews' agree with him and that I'm wrong re my defence of *some* American Jews and their attitudes towards Obama.

    Here's the link:


    My argument with the post author is further down the page.

    In fairness, Muslims Against Sharia does seem to take a positive stance on Israel a lot of the time - and having just now visited the site again, I see some of the Sultan's great pieces are there :)

    But certainly, in the piece I've linked to, there is real vitriol against US Jews being expressed...

  11. Anonymous10/9/09

    omg this blog is so full of pro-israel propaganda that it made me sick right on. Shame on you, Knish!

  12. JWAV,

    Yes it's all about building a solidly grounded Jewish identity in the end. That identity can come about in different ways, but it has to be there.

    I know the Sharia blog, but I'm not too familiar with who's running it, though I think he's added on facebook. The post is passably ignorant, I don't think Steve Emerson is even Jewish, but that's unfortunately commonplace for conservatives writing about Jews.

    Some of his comments to you are on the ugly side though. I left a brief comment for purposes of clarification, but it doesn't really stop people from expecting some sort of Jewish collective behavior.

  13. Anonymous,

    you can find plenty of blogs that are anti-Israel, if hearing the truth bothers you too much.

  14. A Jew With A View10/9/09

    Many thanks Sultan :)

  15. Follow up, posts like this by people complaining why jews don't oppose Islamic terrorism enough annoy me.

    Exactly which group does "get" that Islamic terrorism is a serious threat and gives it their top priority? There's plenty for people to criticize in their own backyards when it comes to a lax and permissive attitude toward Islamism.

  16. Anonymous10/9/09


    Just a brief note to thank you for this wonderful essay - easily one of the most perceptive and penetrating you've ever written.

    Yasher Koach!

    Michael in Pennsylvania

  17. Thank you Michael, glad you liked it.

  18. Unfortunately, more "human beings" than Jews immigrated to America during 1880-1920. And because of shoah, there are far fewer Jews.

  19. Anonymous11/9/09

    ex-Soviet Jews in America are generally not of the religious crowd but are certainly not liberal. I guess they are the exception.

  20. the key is having a jewish identity, those soviet jews who endured persecution tend to

  21. I hoped you would add a few words about the emerging, distinct ISRAELI identity that is so much reviled, by the leftists and our enemies as militaristic, rude and as "Those damn Zionists" and by our own Haredim as lost, depraved and as (surprise) "those Zionists"...

  22. it's a good idea but that would be another post, this post focused more on American Jews

  23. Anonymous11/9/09

    Wow, way to exclude me from the tribe - thanks!

    You talk about not choosing a family but that is exactly what you are doing - turning your back on those members of your family that you happen to disagree with. Makes it easy for you.

    And while we're on the subject of family - so I guess if you'd been born a muslim, you'd just, what?, be a muslim, follow Sharia, and hate jews? That's your idea of ethics? Good luck with that.


  24. I'm not excluding anyone but those who have chosen to exclude themselves, family isn't simply a convenience that's there just when you want it, and not there when you don't. You're either there for it, or you're not.

    It's not a question of disagreement, it's a question of where the priorities are.

    Jews who voted for Obama chose liberalism as their family. And good luck to them on that.

  25. In the US it is indeed a balancing act to maintain the "melting pot" which is uniquely American and cultural/religious identity.

    I feel sorry for American Jews who have chosen liberalism as their identification, especially if they do so out of a desire to be accepted.

    I've just heard too many comments about Jews (okay two in particular) to know that they're not ever truly accepted or respected.

    Anony--I would never exclude you or pass judgment on one's Jewishness. Still, my heart would hurt if I were to know you offline, and hear non-Jews make derogatory comments about you; you all the while believing you were accepted and fully assimilated into non-Jewish culture.

    And for liberal Jews who are misguided in supporting causes that are detrimental to Jews? I feel sorry for them, too.

    Oskar Shindler (yeah, I know he wasn't Jewish) but remember the next to last scene in the movie? When he breaks down crying thinking about how many lives he could have saved? Eventually, liberal Jews will have tremendous remorse and grief for the causes they support which have harmed their fellow Jews.

  26. Morry Rotenberg11/9/09

    Sultan, do you think that the "useful idiots" know that they will be the first ones thrown into the gas chambers when utopia is realized?
    Another insightful piece of writing Sultan. You are the greatest! With Jews like you I feel better about our future well being.

  27. Anonymous14/9/09

    To Keli Ata, I wouldn't put to much on Spielberg movie, the last scene is not from the book. About the useful idiots--they never learn from history. In one of the biographical books I read about the Shoa, there is this woman who converted to Christianity, she sent her twins to study to be priest, but when Hitler came to Budapest she still went to the gaz chambers, clutching her cross.

  28. Anonymous14/9/09

    With Rosh HaShana coming, you know you should be checking yourself, rather than slandering and disowning other Jews and making a mockery of Tikkun Olam (You know this, that is, if you are Jewish, Mr. Greenfield).

    Many right-wing Christians, particularly Pentecostals like Sarah Palin, seek fulfillment of their own prophesies, i.e., a bloody "Armegeddon" within the borders of Israel and the conversion of surviving Jews to an acceptance of Jesus? (G-d forbid!!!) How can you align yourselves with people like this? And--more to the point--how can you defame others as "faux Jews" for refusing to align themselves with people like this?

    Who or what are you really serving Mr. Greenfield? What kind of person offers a phraseology separating "Jews" from "Humans" ?!

  29. Anonymous/Soshana

    As Jews we follow the Torah, which is the Word of G-d, not "Tikkun Olam".

    The Jews I disown, are those Jews who have already disowned us, and like Cain, turned away from the blood of their brother.

    My problem is not with Jews who don't align themselves with anything, but those who align themselves with Obama and his ilk for the purpose of our destruction.

  30. Anonymous14/9/09

    It is you who is aligning yourself with those determined to witness the ultimate spilling of Jewish blood and the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity.


  31. I'm talking about the spilling of blood here and now, not some future vision of an armageddon that takes place in someone else's religion.

    It is not Sarah Palin (who last time I checked is a private citizen) that is trying to bring a bloody armageddon to Israel, but Barack Hussein Obama. I have no use for her church, but I have even less use for Obama's church, whose publications and pastor openly spew hate against Jews at every occasion.

    But somehow you gloss over that.

  32. Shoshana--I agree 100-percent that Christian missionaries are repulsion and further, this new found "love" they have for Israel and the Jewish people is largely based on their current disgust with Islam.

    Missionaries are disgusting. I couldn't agree more and thankfully there are many anti-missionary groups in Israel. They're holding the fort so to speak and bringing Jews back to the Torah and Hashem.

    But at the moment Obama's meddling in Israeli politics is putting Jews in grave PHYSICAL danger.

    As for tikkun olam I have a general sense of what it means, but something tells me it does or should mean to remove evil, do good, and repair the world.

    How can you repair the world while evil exists? I've always found something missing in the definition of tikkun olam as only meaning "repair the world."

    BTW: I know Schindler's List was a film. Not sure if that scene towards the end actually happened but it's still important. Oscar Schindler in the scene was in anguish and crying about the Jewish lives--actual physical, breathing, walking, Jews he could have saved.

    When I first saw an old news reel about the Shoah when I was 17 I promised myself that if ever I saw that happening or in danger of happening again I would speak out.

    I do and I am.

  33. Anonymous17/9/09

    For a great rant on Tikkun Olam, check out the guy at this link. http://www.ou.org/public/Publib/tikkun.htm#_ftnref26.

  34. daniel56513/10/09

    Very impressive article.

  35. Anonymous31/5/10

    Ended up here through an internal link in your 30 May 2010 essay. Pithy, as always.

    The left used to be animated by the old "hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold" conceit. It worked well for them as long as they functioned in the role of the "respectable-married-man" John. Of course, the John's own heart-of-gold eventually acquires a strange predilection for more "hooker" and less "heart-of-gold". So the rationalization shifts from, "the misbegotten hooker who is redeemed by her heart-of-gold" to "only a hooker can truly have a heart-of-gold" (because only a hooker is truly "honest"). Such is the plight of the libertine. Progressives have degenerated into a dangerously deluded triumvirate of glittering Hooker, John, and Pimp.

  36. very interestingly analogy, all turning toward evil carries the seeds of its own destruction

  37. Anonymous21/6/12

    so smart ...

    -- spanky



Blog Archive