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To be a Jew during election time

TC Jewfolk
CC/Flickr/League of Women Voters of California

When I first began to think about what it means to be a Jew during election time, all I though about was Israel. This campaign season has been a little better than some with the Israel rhetoric, but often the focus Israel receives is obnoxious.*

“Which president will be better for Israel?” “OBAMA DIDN’T MEET WITH NETANYAHU????? – He must be anti-Israel.” These are just a couple of examples of the language that surround Israel/Palestine in the mainstream political rhetoric. Concerns arise of Jewish voters in Florida and which president speaks to them.  Many see a presidential candidate’s opinion on Israel as the main swaying factor of the “Jewish vote.” I have always been personally offended by this assumption. Am I not an American citizen as well? Do I not pay taxes in America? Am I not impacted by this country’s policy on health care, immigration, contraception, etc…?

Why is it constantly assumed that the issue I care about far past any domestic issue is Israel? According to research done by J Street, 4-8% of American Jews vote with Israel as their top priority. That is 92-96% of Jews who place a higher importance on issues other than Israel. So why does Israel seem to flood our televisions as being the way a politician secures the “Jewish vote?”

Politicians are not the only folks who, when thinking Jews and politics, think Israel. The other day I was canvassing for marriage equality in Maryland, wearing a Jewish related shirt. The man I was speaking to told me that initially, when he opened the door and saw this Jewish shirt, he thought I would talk to him about the hateful anti-Jihad advertisements that have been displayed in the Washington, D.C. Metro system. Me being a Jew and politically involved made this man’s mind automatically jump to Israel.

Like previously stated, 4-8% of American Jews say they “vote on Israel.” Despite this, I was still surprised that, when I asked Jews how they felt during election season, only one mentioned anything related to Israel. When searching for opinions on this issue, the overwhelming response from my friends was that they did not see their political views and Judaism as connected. There were thoughts that perhaps because of the Jewish values they were raised with they lean one way politically, but all claimed that their Judaism was not a conscious decision making agent in their politics.

However, do we really separate the values we grew up with and our current political views? If you know me (or maybe you can just tell from my writing) I am a pretty politically charged person. My family discussed the “tough stuff” at the dinner table since I was a little girl. Politics were synonymous with values; I still believe this.

I live in a home with thirteen other Jewish women; we all work at non-profit organizations and are continuing to explore the concept of “Jewish Social Justice.” Is there even such a thing as Jewish Social Justice? Does our Jewishness really have to do with the fact that we are committed to pursuing a more just world, or is that simply a coincidence? At what point can our identities be completely separated and at what point is analysis of identity and politics unachievable?

“Women for Obama,” “Another Catholic Voting No.” As I think about the 2012 campaign season, I begin to examine how identity politics are manipulated. They prove a point of “contradiction” when individuals take one aspect of their identity to invoke surprise in another. Mainstream media depicts Catholics as being against marriage equality, so an individual wants to demonstrate to folks that it is possible to be Catholic and pro-marriage equality. Some women might not know which candidate has their back more, and so women tell other women which candidate advocates better for that “special interest” group.

That Catholic with the “Another Catholic Voting No” sign might not say that their Catholicism is precisely what influenced them to pledge no to the anti-gay marriage amendment this November, but their Catholicism is important enough to them that they publicly combined those two identities. That individual understands that their religious identity plays a role in their politics, whether or not they see their religion as their driving political force.

One’s religious, ethnic, class identity might not be the main driving factor in their politics but it is there playing a role. I am just as much a Jew as I am a woman, as I am a product of Minneapolis. The way you vote is overwhelmingly a reflection of your multiple identities. At Shabbat dinners at my home, we often talked politics. There was no separation of religion and politics there; as we ate our Challah and drank our grape juice we discussed the world. It doesn’t get much more intertwined than that.

When I was filling out my absentee ballot, with every circle I filled in I was not actively thinking about my Jewish identity but I know that my politics and my Judaism do go hand in hand, consciously or subconsciously.

*Editor’s Note: This post was written before the Foreign Policy debate between President Obama and Governor Romney.

This post was written by Sarah Brammer-Shlay and originally published on TC Jewfolk. Follow TCJewfolk on Twitter:@tcjewfolk. 

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Comments (1)

Jewish Heirarchy

We don't have one.
No one speaks for all Jews; we speak for ourselves.
We may respect the opinions of some more than others, but ultimately we can't say 'this is what I was told to do." We haven't had a priesthood since the fall of the second temple.

As for the (mis)conception that all Jews base their political decisions on the Israeli implications, that may be a function of the visibility of some high profile/high donation (see Adelson) individuals who are in the news more than the rest of us.