November 08, 2023
The past month has led to agonizing reappraisals among some mainstream Jewish-American liberals over the traditional Jewish-American shibboleth that diversity must be good for the Jews.
Not surprisingly to anybody who has been paying cold-blooded attention to the past half century, the older, unfashionably homogeneous American population has turned out to be wildly positive toward the Jewish state in its moment of crisis, while the younger, diverse upcoming generation finds itself roughly evenly split over whether the real bad guys are Hamas or Israel.
In the wake of the October 7th atrocities, the Harvard/Harris Poll asked, “In general in this conflict do you side more with Israel or Hamas?” Among American voters aged 65 years or older, 95 percent sided with Israel over Hamas. But 48 percent of the much less white 18- to 24-year-old cohort backed Hamas.
A majority of young people answered the question “Do you think the Hamas killing of 1,200 Israeli civilians in Israel can be justified by the grievances of Palestinians or is it not justified?” that the October 7th slaughter was justified by Palestinian grievances, compared to only 10 percent of voters 55 or over.
Other polls found much the same generation gap: In the NPR/Marist survey, 83 percent of baby boomers (1946–64) said the U.S. should support Israel vs. 48 percent of those born from 1981 to 2005. And,
An Oct. 17 Generation Lab poll of 978 college students found that 48% of them do not blame the Oct. 7 attacks on Hamas.
An obvious reason for declining support for Israel among American voters is because the U.S. isn’t as white Christian as it used to be. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that “for white Americans, the most common [modal] age was 58.” And, as we see in the polls, white Christians tend to love Jews and Israel. In contrast,
The most common age was 11 for Hispanics, 27 for blacks and 29 for Asians as of last July, the latest estimates available. Americans of two or more races were by far the youngest racial or ethnic group in the Census Bureau data, with a most common age of just 3 years old. Among all racial and ethnic minorities, the most common age was 27.
Some of us have been pointing out this mechanism by which increasing diversity makes American voters less enthusiastic toward Israel to our Jewish friends for many years. For example, in my 2015 column “Are Jews Losing Control of the Media?” I observed that the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement had made its greatest progress in the most demographically futuristic institutions: the University of California campuses, where whites had long been reduced to a minority as they eventually will be in the rest of the country. I summed up:
In California, the state with the largest number and greatest diversity of newcomers, immigration is destabilizing the American order in which Jews have thrived.
The irony, of course, is that Jewish organizations have long tended to heavily promote the diversification of the American population, the precise policy that now threatens American support for Israel in the long run. For example, the Anti-Defamation League published a pamphlet in 1964 collecting the late President Kennedy’s articles backing higher immigration that introduced the title phrase “A Nation of Immigrants” into the national discourse.
Jewish leaders have tended to have multiple motivations, some articulated and some vague, for promoting diversity:
(1) To let in more Jewish immigrants, of course, just as the Kennedys wanted to let in more Irish immigrants;
(2) Nostalgic ancestor worship of their own immigrant forefathers;
(3) A belief that their Jewish forebears were the best immigrants ever, combined with a reluctance to be so rude as to admit publicly that it was unlikely most newer groups could live up to the high standard set by old Jews;
(4) An urge to make the Jewish role in American history seem more important by elevating Emma Lazarus’ 1883 “huddled masses” poem to the second most important Founding Document, behind only the Declaration of Independence, and outranking such once-important statements as the Preamble to the Constitution and George Washington’s Farewell Address;
(5) A desire for logical consistency over the centuries: For 21st-century descendants of 19th-century immigrants to say that times have changed and now enough is enough would be something that an Italian might say, but Jews hold themselves to higher standards;
(6) An impressive ethnic self-confidence that while, sure, Scots-Irish can’t be expected to compete against the whole world and succeed, Jews can and will;
(7) To make Jews seem less diverse by bringing in more exotics, such as women in chadors;
(8) To make it harder for a majority to unite against Jews;
(9) To rig future elections in favor of the Democrats by bringing in Democrat-leaning future voters;
(10) To boost the Dems’ grand strategy of a coalition of the fringes;
(11) To irritate old Americans into opposing immigration, thus providing the ADL with Bad Guys to fundraise against;
(12) An assumption that even as immigration tips the voting scales by importing anti-Zionists, the massiveness of the Jewish advantage in political fundraising (two-thirds of the dollars donated by the top fifty donors in 2018 were from Jews) would mean that all would be well;
(13) And a general Alfred E. Neuman “What, me worry?” attitude toward skepticism about immigration; after all, we were immigrants so what’s the worst that could happen?
Quite possibly, some of those reasons are implausible or just plain irrational. But as Sam Spade says after explaining to Brigid O’Shaunnessy at the climax of The Maltese Falcon his seven reasons for why he’s handing her over to the cops: “Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them.”
So, it’s unlikely that the events of October 2023 will lead American Jews to rapidly convert to immigration restrictionism. As Tevye observes in Fiddler on the Roof, the heart of Jewishness is tradition. And being enthusiastic about immigration is the essence of tradition to many American Jews.
Nonetheless, there is a possibility that the aftermath of October 7th will finally help break up the intellectual stasis that has hamstrung Jewish-American thought in the 21st century.
It’s quite possible, unfortunately, that October 7th will lead to Jews doubling down on wokeness as long as Jews get to be at the top of the totem pole of sacred classes.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that more Jews will recognize that they will never be conceded the top spot and the other contenders for most sacred minority are not their friends. Instead, what’s actually good for the Jews is America’s pre-woke culture of free speech and open debate.
We shall see.