Op-Ed: The ‘Jexodus’ of Jews switching parties isn’t what the GOP is hoping for
To the organizers of Jexodus, the movement to lure Jews away from the Democratic Party and over to the GOP, I have good news and bad news.
The good news: There is a Jexodus! Jews, including many prominent intellectuals, have been bolting their longtime party en masse.
The bad news: The party they are leaving is the GOP.
Ever since the GOP rolled over and became the Party of Trump, normally stalwart Republican Jews have made it clear they can no longer abide what their party has become. The list includes Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol, David Frum, David Brooks and Bret Stephens.
Democrats should swing open their party doors and welcome the actual ongoing Jexodus — that of Republican Jews.
Overall, Trump’s approval rating among American Jews is abysmal. According to a Pew survey, 71% don’t like the job he’s doing, and only 26% approve.
The Jexodus movement is not catching a wave, it’s staunching a wound.
It is also a shopworn idea. For decades now, Republicans have claimed the Democratic Party has finally lost its appeal to Jewish Americans. The very first issue of the Jewish Journal, a Los Angeles-based newspaper I edited for years, featured a story titled, “The New Jewish Right,” predicting a groundswell of Jewish Republicans. That was in 1986.
Meanwhile, since the early 1990s, no more than 31% of Jews have ever voted Republican, while the Jewish Democratic vote has never dipped below 63%.
But some sort of “Jews Defect!” headline has turned up every four years, as Republicans keep trying to lure Jews away.
This year, the zombie effort comes via a former swimsuit model with a fluffed-up resume, Elizabeth Pipko, who turns out to be fronting for Jeff Ballabon, the far less photogenic Trump flack who actually came up with “Jexodus.”
It’s catchy, clever — and doomed. That’s because Jews have absorbed a set of principles whose genesis goes back thousands of years: Welcome the stranger. Pursue justice. Honor creation. Choose life. The Democratic Party, while far from perfect, better reflects these values, and Jews are the original values voters.
This is why Jews, who have prospered in the United States, vote against their own short-term financial interests by opposing the party pushing tax cuts for the rich. It’s why Jews, who are largely white and privileged, cast their lot with a party that promotes civil rights for all. And it’s why Jews, who have been in this country since before its founding, prefer a party that still accepts, in the words of a Jewish woman, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The Republican Party could be a comfortable home to Jews. Its traditional emphasis on free markets and personal accountability also resonate with Jewish values. Republicans like Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. John McCain received substantial Jewish support.
The problem is — and I’m hardly the first to point this out — their Republican Party is not Trump’s Republican Party.
The Trump GOP mistreats and demonizes immigrants, winks at white supremacists, kisses up to tyrants, and turns its back on climate change. When Trump demeans the memory of McCain, this GOP cowers. It’s a party a lot of Republicans don’t recognize, much less Republican Jews.
And so, there is indeed a Jexodus, just not the one that movement had hoped for.
Thus the Jexodus strategy has been to turn Israel into a wedge issue. Trump does wonderful things for Israel, they say, endlessly recycling statements by two representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, to “prove” the Democrats have turned not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic.
Nice try. Trump may have embraced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Netanyahu’s agenda is one that many American Jews do not share. The midterm Jewish vote uptick came after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and after he scrapped the Iran deal — a deal that a majority of American Jews supported.
Surveys show that Israel is not among the top issues that decide the Jewish vote. That’s because for generations, Jews have seen Israel as a bipartisan issue. Among the mainstream of both parties, including all the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, it still is.
“One of the first things you realize when you get on the ground [in Israel] is that this is not a left vs. right issue — at least it shouldn’t be,” Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and presidential candidate, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The Democratic Party is I think ultimately committed to the idea of peace and security and stability and fairness for everybody.”
The abandonment of Israel, which would be a disaster for peace in the Middle East, is still a twisted fever dream of minorities on the right and left.
Jexodus, in other words, is a “movement” based on exaggerated fears, hyperbolic claims and a willful misrepresentation of current and historical facts, otherwise known as lies.
Democrats should swing open their party doors and welcome the actual ongoing Jexodus — that of Republican Jews. As the Bible says, “Remember you were once strangers in Egypt.”
Rob Eshman is the former publisher and editor in chief of the Jewish Journal.
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