I came upon an interesting post by Robert Stacy McCain which discusses, in a civilized way, the topic why Jews are liberal taking off from a symposium in Commentary on Norman Podhoretz’ new book of that title.
I can only answer by explaining why this Jew is liberal (but no longer left).
First of all, I should disqualify myself to some extent. I’m not an observant Jew, I don’t regard the Bible as the word of God, I’m an agnostic about the existence of God. So some may say I don’t have a place in this conversation.
But Isaac Bashevis Singer was an agnostic, you gonna say he’s not a Jew? I’m a Jew like he’s a Jew, forever arguing about what it means to be a Jew, forever arguing with a God you’re not sure exists.
I feel Jewish, I certainly am identifiably Jewish, and I have expressed myself on the subject of Jews changing their names. I feel an unshakeable identity with Jews and Jewish culture, have explored the source of the Holocaust in one book (Explaining Hitler) and have edited an anthology about the current threat of anti-Semitism (Those Who Forget the Past).
In addition I support the existence and persistence of the state of Israel, although I was never a strong Zionist and feel more of an affinity for the Jews of the diaspora, the brilliant culture of the Jews of exile.
So I consider myself both a Jew and a liberal and if I had to name one factor that would make it so, it was the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. For my parents it was FDR and Harry Truman (and I recommend my colleague Ron Radosh’s book (co-written with Allis Radosh) about Truman and the founding of Israel, A Safe Haven — an important work, on the back cover of which I’m proud to be quoted.
So it was kind of a family tradition to associate being Jewish with being liberal (although my mother’s side of the family were mainly Republicans). But to me as a young kid idealist of the Bob Dylan, Joan Baez folkie leftist persuasion, what I saw were Jews and liberals, and liberal Jews and observant Jews and secular Jews and Jewish secularists all supporting the great American movement for social justice that was the Civil Rights movement.
For we were slaves in Egypt once, right? How could we not be at the forefront of protests against racist former slave-state sponsored segregation in the South and racism in the North?
I saw conservatives and Republicans staunchly opposed to anti-segregation legislation and anti-racist movements. I still see conservatives and Republicans still unashamedly profiting electorally from the racism-lite “Southern strategy.” I was glad to read of William F. Buckley Jr. expressing regret for the anti-civil rights stance of the early National Review, but I don’t hear of many other conservatives expressing regret that their movement stood in solidarity with racists and continues to profit from Southern strategy racism.