Opinion

Should Jewish conservatives stay Republican?

A campaign to convince Jewish Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries could come at a heavy price.

U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
Irit Tratt
Irit Tratt
Irit Tratt is a pro-Israel advocate residing in New York.

In New York, this week’s deadline for submitting changes to individual voter ballots is renewing pressure on Jewish Republicans to switch their party affiliation.

New York is one of 12 “closed primary” states in which primary voting is limited to those registered with a specific political party.

New York’s reputation as a bastion of deep blue liberalism leaves many conservatives struggling to explain the logic behind backing candidates whose chances of winning, particularly in left-leaning enclaves, are slim at best.

Jewish Democrats regard the state’s reflexive ideological leanings as an opening to consolidate power by encouraging conservatives to adjust their political preference. They claim that the certainty of a Democratic victory renders voting for Republicans pointless. Thus, it is prudent to vote strategically in order to stave off progressive challenges to more moderate Democrats.

While well-intentioned, attempts to subordinate the New York GOP are, at best, a stopgap. It only temporarily fends off the threat from Democrats whose sympathies are increasingly with the Palestinians and against Israel.

Moreover, rewarding Democrats’ lack of action on stemming antisemitism within party ranks with more Jewish votes is a misguided strategy. It will only undermine Republican lawmakers who are often the first to oppose anti-Israel policies.

For example, Democratic efforts to enlist Jewish conservatives are underway in New York’s redrawn 16th congressional district, represented by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a member of the anti-Israel congressional “Squad.”

While Bowman is not on the ballot this year, steps are being taken to expand on last year’s primary results, in which many Jewish voters, most of whom reside in Westchester County, rallied behind Bowman’s opponents— Vedat Gashi and Catherine Parker.

Before the primary, Jewish leaders—ranging from clergy to community members—told Jewish voters that “many general elections in and around New York have not been competitive for decades.” Their messages contained general references to the rise in New York lawmakers “espousing troubling positions.” Some included a link that directed voters to a site where they could change their party affiliation.

It didn’t work. Bowman won handily with almost 60% of the vote—more than Gashi and Parker combined.

Those who feel compelled to praise Jewish figureheads’ stance against anti-Israel progressives should remember that, two years before the primary, Bowman’s damaging views had already been publicly revealed. Yet they went uncontested in the district’s Jewish strongholds. It was only in the days leading up to Bowman’s 2020 primary against pro-Israel Democrat Eliot Engel that concerns about the soon-to-be-elected lawmaker were openly raised.

Unsurprisingly, Bowman went on to win 84% of the vote, with polls suggesting that Jewish Democrats found it more palatable to back a progressive endorsed by the far-left group Justice Democrats than cast their ballot for a Republican.

Bowman did little to conceal his dangerous positions when he ran. Yet an apathetic liberal electorate paved the way to his victory. Two years too late, Jewish Democrats looked to Republicans to help remove an anti-Israel politician they were complicit in electing.

Democratic candidates who make passing references to support for Israel are a constant. Yet once reaching office, many lawmakers, regardless of political persuasion, are influenced by partisan loyalties. The Democrats’ party-line defense of antisemitic Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) during the February vote on her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee discredited claims that moderate Democrats would defy the party leadership on repudiating antisemitism.

Last month’s decision by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to hold an antisemitic congressional “Nakba Day” event was similarly protected by Democrats, with only a handful denouncing the event. It was Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy who stepped in and canceled the gathering, which was set to be held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

With the sponsorship of far-left Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the event was moved to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions’ hearing room, where Tlaib was permitted to address the crowd and spew bile at Israel.

Liberal assumptions regarding conservative voting patterns were debunked in last year’s midterm elections, in which New York was largely credited with handing Republicans the House majority. Of the 11 New York House seats that went red, four were in districts carried by President Joe Biden in 2020 and previously held by Democrats.  

Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leader Sean Patrick Maloney’s loss to Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) in a district Biden won with over 60% of the vote indicates that Jewish Republicans should stick to their guns.

Importantly, Lawler’s victory has led to concrete results. He recently introduced legislation that called for eliminating public funding to colleges and universities that authorize antisemitic events on campus. The bill was introduced in response to City University of New York School of Law student Fatima Mousa Mohammed’s antisemitic commencement address last month. The bill’s cosponsors are all Republicans, with newly elected Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) among its early supporters.

Democratic attempts to recruit Jewish Republicans marginalize lawmakers like Lawler, whose robust response to antisemitism and pro-Israel policies underscore his emerging role as a dependable ally of the American Jewish community.

The idea that conservatives can help elect moderate Democrats also ignores Jewish Republicans’ role in moderating Republicans. While yet to be entrenched or embraced like extremists on the left, right-wing firebrands have found a measure of success in party primaries. For example, Florida’s Laura Loomer, who openly promotes her friendship with antisemitic white nationalist Nick Fuentes, came within seven points of defeating incumbent congressman Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) during last year’s primary in the state’s 11th congressional district.

Loomer’s loss came after she won the Republican nomination in a neighboring House district in 2020. The conservative provocateur then lost to long-time Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.).  

Jewish Democrats should not fault their conservative brethren for failing to reverse the damaging progressive trends embedded in the Democratic Party. Those who want to improve the party from within are correct to promote moderate candidates. But Jewish conservatives must resist liberal recruitment drives, which, if left unchecked, may come at an unexpectedly high political price.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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