It is no secret that Jews in America have historically not favored the Republican Party. Several polls estimated that only 25 percent of Jews voted for Bush in 2004. Although disputed for of its small sample size, the National Jewish Democratic Council's 2006 poll showed only 12 percent of Jews voted for the GOP. The Jewish Community Relations Council estimated that Bush got just 19 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000.
Commentators in the Jewish community and party pollsters debate endlessly why Jews are not more favorably disposed toward the GOP. Jews are wealthier and more educated than the average American, generally oppose affirmative action and favor strong support of Israel. On these counts the GOP should, many say, have greater appeal.
Is it because Jews have an historical affinity for FDR and the party of immigrants and the "little guy"? Is it because of Jews' religious devotion to "tikkun olam" -- repair of the world -- which they translate to support for governmental social services? Maybe some of each but perhaps something else is at work
The dustup over the location of Mitt Romney's presidential announcement -- the Henry Ford Museum -- may be revealing. For Jews over the age of 40 or so, the name Ford means more than Mustangs and American innovation. Ford, of course, was a notorious anti-Semite, publisher of the International Jew (an update of the Protocols of Zion), and an apologist for Hitler who received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler's Nazi government in July 1938. In many Jewish homes, owning a Ford was verboten.
He was no cultural icon.
Fast forward to today. As soon as Romney announced that he would make his presidential announcement at the Ford Museum, the accusations and statements started to fly. The National Jewish Democratic Council came out first, chastising Romney for making a pilgrimage to the site of this famous anti-Semite. Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks fired back in a press release today, saying, "I'm saddened and disappointed by the attack today by the NJDC against Gov. Romney."
Jennifer Rubin is a freelance writer living in northern Virginia. She was previously a labor lawyer in Los Angeles. Pointing out that former President Clinton had once said nice things about Ford, the RJC said that "The RJC believes that the NJDC does a disservice to Gov. Romney's strong record of support for the Jewish community and to their own reputation by their actions."
The NJDC responded, ""Presidential campaign announcements are as much about symbolism of the location as the substance of the speech. Mitt Romney went to a museum named after the most premier anti-Semite and xenophobe in American history. But his choice of location suggests that he should do his homework on basic American history."
It is doubtful either of these groups believe Romney is really an anti-Semite. Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein perhaps said it best: "I don't think Romney is guilty of anything other than obliviousness.
But you could argue that obliviousness is indicative of a broader problem with the social conservatives Romney is trying to court, which is a lack of sensitivity to the concerns many Jews have about their place in American society."
Indeed, the incident may say something not only about Romney but about the GOP's problem with Jews. In his boatload of advisers, Romney apparently did not have anyone to say, "You know, a lot of Jews really hate Ford, and it might mess up your message. Let's try Edison's lab to make a point about American innovation."
The GOP has become a rural, overwhelmingly Christian and Southern party. It is not populated by urban ethnics who, even if they aren't Jewish, understand Jews' cultural references and sensibilities. Ask an Italian New Yorker in October why the restaurants are empty, and he'll say "It's Yom Kippur, silly." You would never catch a Greek from Chicago saying, as a Republican from southern Virginia just did, that asking the state to apologize for slavery was like "asking the Jews to apologize for killing Christ."
In short, the Republicans are not just our kind of people, many Jews say. They don't sound like us, they don't talk like us and they don't understand us. Unless and until that changes, Jews likely will likely be voting overwhelmingly Democratic for years to come.
Jennifer Rubin is a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia. She was previously a labor lawyer in Los Angeles.