Ho hum: Jewishness in the US presidential race

Bernie Sanders does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – Jill Stein does.

September 14, 2016 21:45
4 minute read.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Who would have thought 20 years ago that an election for president of the United States would be so heavily imbued with Jews – and that their “Jewishness” would hardly make a blip? Headlines around the world have touted Hillary Clinton as the first female candidate running for president, but she isn’t. She’s the first female candidate of a major party.

Much less known is Jill Stein of the Green Party. Stein is the first female Jewish candidate ever to run for president of the United States. She has run in the past and she is running again now.

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A Jewish thread runs throughout the upcoming election, and it runs seamlessly.

Certainly, attention has been given to Donald Trump’s Jewish grandchildren, the oldest of whom has started attending Jewish day school. And one cannot forget that Hillary and Bill Clinton’s “machatonim” are full-fledged, active, card-carrying Jews.

Bernie Sanders and his Jewish connections were just accepted throughout his candidacy. It was young American Jewish voters who felt Bernie’s Jewishness most strongly.

For young Jews, Sanders represented a new and vibrant Jewish model for leadership. A perspective that resonated with a Jewish/ American blend. These mostly first-time voters had never been exposed to this model on the national political Jewish stage.

Jewish is what counted, not Israel.

In and of itself, Israel is not high on the agenda for most of these Jewish Sanders and Stein supporters.

They certainly do not subscribe to a traditional Jewish communal point of view on Israel – Israel uber alles. These voters are extremely critical of Israel and that is what makes candidates Stein and Sanders attractive to what was, until now, a relatively quiet segment of the Jewish community.

Stein is a typical American Jewish candidate for the new generation.

The mainstream community has not embraced her – actually, they have ignored her. There are many parallels between her and the Sanders platform and Stein is making a play for his support.

She has no chance of winning.

At best, she’ll garner eight percent of the vote, more likely she’ll hit about 4%.

Jill Stein was raised in Chicago, the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her mother’s father was Orthodox and worked in real estate. Her father’s father was also Orthodox, and was a tailor.

She, however, was raised in the Reform congregation on the North Shore where social justice was the mantra.

She was a Harvard undergrad and then went on to Harvard Medical School. According to an interview in The Forward, Stein attended High Holiday services with her parents until they died.

She described herself as strongly, culturally Jewish.

Analyzing her comments on foreign affairs, especially Israeli affairs, it is clear that Stein is extremely critical of Israel – even more so than Sanders. Sanders does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – Stein does. Stein has said that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza.

We are in a phenomenon – almost a fifth dimension – of American politics. A Jewish connection for almost every candidate and it is taken for granted.

It is as if the Jewish connection was always the norm in US presidential elections. The subject is not discussed in the general press or even in the halls of power. No one even cares about Clinton’s son-in-law or Trump’s daughter or the Jewish lineage of Stein and Sanders. Think about it for a moment. Bernie Sanders – always Bernie, not Bernard – named his only child Noah Levy. Who names a child Noah Levy without knowing full well that the child will be seen and recognized by all as a Jew? Of course the Jewish media and the Israeli media have placed some interest on the Jewish elements the current election. More for the sake of entertainment and curiosity than as a vehicle for analysis, however.

The mainstream press, even in Europe where anti-Semitism is flourishing, has said practically nothing about it. The exception was Joseph Berger who, in The New York Times, took umbrage when Bernie Sanders described himself as the son of a Polish immigrant.

Berger countered by writing that no Pole would ever have referred to his father Elias as Polish – to them he was a Jew. The Arabic press has its own conspiratorial angles to these Jewish links, but that’s worthy of its own column.

The tide has turned. In the US presidential election of 2016 the Jewish angle vis a vis candidates has become ho hum. It is a testament to the new status of the Jew. It is also a major statement about the Jewish role in politics and power.

In the 1970s the question of dual loyalty plagued the Jewish community.

Could one be true to Jewish values that included love of Israel and at the same time be a patriotic American? That question no longer exists. On the one hand, that’s encouraging. On the other hand, reflexive, automatic support for and love of Israel has now come into question.

The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud. Follow him on Twitter @ MicahHalpern.

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