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Steve King Has the Chutzpah to Speak Truth About Jewish Democrats

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Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) took Tea Party stalwart Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to task for his criticism of liberal Jews: “I don’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president. They’re knee-jerk supporters of the president’s policy.” The context was the decision of several dozen Democrats, including some Jews, to boycott the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

King was not saying anything that has no been said before about liberal Jews. Five years ago, conservative writer Norman Podhoretz wrote an entire book on the subject, Why Are Jews Liberals?, and concluded that for many liberal Jews–some 60-80% of the American Jewish population–politics trumped religion. (Jews who voted Republican, he observed, tended to be more observant of their religious faith, though there are certainly Reform and secular Jews among conservatives.)

Podhoretz had sounded similar themes in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, calling Reform Judaism “the Democratic party at prayer”:

The upshot is that in virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews. Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right.

Some liberal Democrats would admit the charge. Pressed about their lackluster support for Israel, Jewish Democrats will defend themselves by noting that they are not one-issue voters, and that other policies keep them within the Democratic fold. Alan Dershowitz, who has been a sharp critic of Obama’s policies on Israel and Iran lately, wrote in 2012 that his vote for Obama had been justified, in part, by Obama’s liberal policies:

I have gotten from President Obama pretty much what I expected when I voted for him: a pragmatic, centrist liberal who has managed – with some necessary compromises – to bring us the first important healthcare legislation in recent history, appointed excellent justices to the Supreme Court, supported women’s rights, eliminated the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, maintained the wall of separation between church and state, kept up an effective war against terrorism and generally made me proud to be an American who cast my vote for him.

King’s point, exactly.

For his trouble, King drew the ire of Steve Israel on Twitter. Rep. Israel has frequently complained in the past that Republicans have questioned “his commitment to his own Jewish community,” and his tweet to King was in the same vein:

King fired back, challenging Israel to repeat his demand for an apology “man 2 man”:

Israel snarked back, calling King a “Talmudic scholar” and “mashugana” (Yiddish for “crazy”):

No doubt the point is a sensitive one for Israel and other Democrats, for whom Obama’s stances on Israel and Iran are a real test of principle and partisan loyalty. But King’s criticism is essentially correct–even if must also be said that more Jews are self-identifying as Republican, and that there are still some Jewish Democrats who support Israel.

It’s also a valid point when boycotters like Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) invoke their Judaism, erroneously, to justify their anti-Israel activity.


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