November 19, 2018

The Wind Report 2016 Elections Blog #3: Ten Principles of Jewish Political Behavior

Traditional Jewish political practices remain important in understanding voting behavior:

Principle One: The Jewish community views its self-interests to be directly tied to how successful it is in accessing and conveying its political agenda; this notion is directly linked to the course of Jewish history, where Jews were locked out of power. Today, for the first time in 2000 years, Jews possess political power, changing the character, substance, and scope of their political engagement. This investment by Jews in politics is reflected in its voting power, financial contributions, and the depth of its involvement with political parties and engagement with specific causes.

Principle Two: The most effective model of organizing for a small community is to be able to effectively access the power structure within the society. American Jewish political activism is tied to influencing key social, political, ethnic, business and cultural elites in the society, who in turn shape and promote policies and attitudes that are viewed as coherent with Jewish interests and American democratic principles. Building personal connections with such influentials represents a critical ingredient toward promoting Jewish political interests.

Principle Three: Aligned with this previous principle, the community has established as one of its core axioms that all politics is local, thereby requiring Jewish organizations and their leaders to identify and connect with key political actors and institutions of influence within a community. Based on Jewish history, communal leaders have understood the importance of such key stakeholders.

Principle Four: The Jewish community seeks to align its agenda in consort with American values and to identify its specific political interests as supportive of this nation’s political priorities.

Principle Five: When Jewish interests, or Israeli policies, are not aligned with core American values and policies, there is a greater potential for increased tension, anti- Semitism and anti-Israel activism. Those political forces that have historically opposed Jews and Judaism, now employ the “Israel card” as their vehicle to criticize and even marginalize the Jewish people.

Principle Six: Realizing that politics is about negotiated outcomes, creating coalitions permits the Jewish community and other religious, racial and ethnic groups to support causes as well as public officials that reflect the interests and priorities of the coalition partners. For minorities coalitional arrangements represent an essential feature of their political organizing strategy.

Principle Seven: Stadtlanim (spokespersons of influence) served the community throughout the middle ages and continue to be a critical political feature of the community. Today, this presence is often reflected through Jewish institutional players rather than necessarily individual spokespersons.

Principle Eight: Communal politics serves as a barometer of the intensity of engagement with the larger stage of political participation. As an example, one finds competing ideological and policy groups within the Jewish community. Organizations within the American Jewish community emulate the same behavior and rhetoric that define the policy divisions within the broader society. Similarly, Jewish communal institutions mimic Israeli and Zionist ideological positions and movements.

Principle Nine: Jews understood that the core values and ideas found within their religious tradition would serve as the basis for their political engagement:

  • Focusing on Nation-Building: Zion would represent a central theme within the Jewish political tradition.
  • Maintaining the Idea of Peoplehood: The continuity and wellbeing of community, in covenant with God, represented a central element of the Jewish story.
  • Preserving the Tradition: In facing threats throughout their history, Jews would employ the power of memory and the centrality of ritual as a way to provide a sense of meaning and purpose.
  • Making the World Whole (Tikkun Olam): Universal principles of just behavior and practice would be central values that defined how Jews would see themselves in the world.

These themes would frame Jewish political thinking and practice over the course of history.

Principle Ten: Jews would take on the political culture and behavior of the societies in which they have resided. Some of the specific American Jewish political principles and patterns of behavior include:

There has always existed within the American political base, a strong conservative strand of Jewish voters just as there exists a dominant liberal or progressive base of support.

  1. The Jewish voting base in the United States remains concentrated in a number of states, including several key “swing “ states, including Florida and Ohio.
  2. The other core states with a significant cohort of Jewish voters include New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey.
  3. As with other American voting groups, Jews tend to vote their ideological passions in national campaigns, while often expressing their political and economic self-interests in local and state contests.</li>
  4. There are numerous theories about the “liberal” character of American Jewish political behavior. Among the ideas that have been introduced include: (1) the deeply ingrained prophetic, social justice ideas found within Jewish religious thought; (2) drawing on the experience of Jewish history, the exposure to authoritarian and oppressive rule would help to frame a counter political response on the part of American Jews; and (3) the broad base of civic engagement by Jews with liberal American causes would be transferred over to their “Jewish” political activism.

For more information on this topic, see my book, The Quest for Power: A Study in Jewish Political Behavior and Practice(2014), which can be purchased through Amazon either as an online text or in soft cover.  Visit