Partisanship and Our Jewish Identity
Whether from the media or our personal experiences, we see that political discourse can quickly turn from productive to polarizing. At Yeshiva University, however, there are times where we are able to collectively transcend our party lines when dealing with our unique commonality: our Jewish identity.
In a 2014 religious landscape study, Pew Research Center reported that 64% of American Jews identify as or lean toward Democrat, 26% of American Jews identify as or lean toward Republican, and 9% did not lean either way. Further analysis from this particular study showed the disparities of Jewish support regarding specific issues like abortion and environmental regulation, for example.
Coupling those findings with the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) 2019 survey, “American Jews on Antisemitism in America,” affirms that our Jewish identity transcends partisan lines. For instance, the survey showed that 88% of Jews found anti-Semitism to be a problem in America, and 84% of Jews deemed saying “Israel has no right to exist” to be an anti-Semitic statement. These two examples indicate the Jewish unity can be found when confronted with threats against our existence as a people and Israel’s existence as our homeland; these are two fundamental factors of our Jewish identity.
The reality of non-partisan Jewish identity is one I personally experienced on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at an event titled, “President Trump’s Order on Anti-Semitism.”
I had the distinct privilege of inviting Marc Stern, the Chief Legal Officer at the AJC, to delineate the legal ramifications of President Trump’s executive order on anti-Semitism, passed in December of 2019. Held within the intimate setting of Furst Hall’s 206 classroom, this event successfully unraveled the complexities surrounding the President’s order. I initially presumed that an event tackling this national controversy would limit the diversity of our pool of attendees, isolating students like political discourse often does. However, the event drew YU students from all dimensions of the political sphere.
Organized primarily between the Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society and Yeshiva University Political Action Club (YUPAC), the event was also co-sponsored by the Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA), Stern College for Women Student Council (SCWSC) and the Political Science Society. Additionally, the event received unique “tripartisanship” when the YU Democrats, YU Libertarians and the YU Republicans joined in co-sponsoring it.
During the event, students of various political and ideological affiliations leaned in as Stern simplified and sifted through the facts and fallacies surrounding President Trump’s executive order. He further broke down the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, a critical component to understanding the President’s order.
Stern went on to broaden the conversation to confront challenging questions facing the Jewish community: When does anti-Israel rhetoric cross the line into anti-Semitism? Is BDS anti-Semitic? Are Jews a race, a nationality, an ethnicity, or a combination of the three? How do we navigate the legal system in combatting rising anti-Semitism on the college campus and the world around us? All of these pressing questions were answered from a place of genuity, not a political agenda, and the attending students seemed to recognize that.
When my fellow YU students embraced this event and the nationally contentious issues it addressed, they nullified the unwarranted partisanship regarding Zionism and anti-Semitism. This, however, should not be conflated to insinuate that all Jews must be politically in-sync; such a notion is far from the truth and is very dangerous.
Jews, like all people, can ideologically or philosophically differ on the correct approaches to combatting anti-Semitism or resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for example; the plurality of ideas within our Jewish perspectives is healthy and necessary. AJC’s aforementioned survey captured the difference of opinion Jews have with broader political frameworks. Similarly, Gallup’s 2019 report “American Jews, Politics and Israel” revealed that, despite 95% of Jews having “favorable views of Israel,” there were still disparities in their perspectives on former Presidential Candidate Hilary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, and current President Donald Trump, for example. The point is less so to focus on the intricate details on Jewish political opinions, and more so to acknowledge that the foundational aspects of our Jewish identity — our history, our nationhood and our Zionism, to name a few — remain strong, intact and non-partisan.
Partnering with the AJC and various YU clubs created a space where the diversities within our student body were trumped by our identity as Jews. During that evening event, whether Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, students were joined together by our collective identity as Jews, disregarding our political affiliations and ideologies. In today’s political climate, we see that many issues have unnecessarily become politicized; we must ensure that our Jewish identity is not one of them.
Photo Caption: Marc Stern, Chief Legal Officer at the AJC, spoke to YU students at an event.
Photo Credit: Sruli Fruchter