Polls over the past several years have made it clear that anti-Semitism is on the decline. Fewer Americans than at any time in our history harbor negative stereotypes of Jews, and a higher percentage of Gentiles than ever before have no objection to their children marrying Jews.
These feelings are reciprocated by many Jews. It takes two to marry, and intermarriage of Jews and Christians is estimated at more than 50% and rising. Moreover, Jews today enjoy virtually unrestricted access to jobs and education; stories of clubs that still discriminate against Jews are the exception.
Still, Jews feel uneasy. The near-victory of David Duke and the strong electoral showing of Patrick Buchanan alarm them. After all, they reason, Duke is a man who once celebrated Hitler's birthday and Buchanan has taken considerable pains to defend the rights of former Nazis. Buchanan has also charged the "American Jewish lobby" and Israel with having pushed the United States into the Gulf War.
That being the case, does the substantial support garnered by Duke and Buchanan mean that Americans generally support anti-Semitism? Hardly. But it does mean something else that bears closer examination and consideration. The fact is that Jews are not viewed negatively by average Americans--they are simply irrelevant to their concerns. Put another way, Jews are not central to the agenda of most people living in this country.
The primary concern of most Americans these days is the economy. Therefore, when voters decide which lever to pull, the decision is based on which candidate appears to most forcefully address their priorities. And if that candidate happens to have views hostile to Jews, these voters are not likely to be terribly concerned.
Jews should not be unduly upset by the fact that a candidate accused of anti-Semitism receives support from a portion of the American electorate. Such support is almost always based on opinions and positions that have nothing to do with what those voters think about Jews. In the long run, however, Jews do have good reason to worry. Were a candidate like Buchanan to broaden his appeal on economic and social issues to a point where a majority of the voters agreed with him, then his dislike of Jews would matter little to most people.
The failure of Jews to realize how unimportant both they and their concerns are to the larger American public has caused them to overplay their hand at times. For example, many Jews have expressed disappointment and even outrage at the Bush Administration's perceived anti-Israel tilt. They have been unwilling to recognize that, as a tiny proportion of the electorate, more and more geographically dispersed in recent years, they can have little influence as a group on the outcome of elections.
If Jews possessed the electoral power that some of their detractors see them as having, they might be a formidable force. However, as George Bush knows, they do not. True, Jews contribute substantially to political causes and are relatively active in the political arena. But the Jewish community's recent unwillingness to tangle with the President on the matter of loan guarantees for Israel is probably a good illustration of its lack of real clout.
Simply put, the Jewish community should see itself for what it is--a relatively small group in this country that has limited influence within the American body politic. Once that view is accepted by them and by Americans in general, it should lead to a diminution of Jewish illusions and paranoia on the one hand, and to a reduction of anti-Jewish stereotypes about Jewish power and influence on the other.