Rafael Medoff: The Jewish Vote as a Factor in U.S. Politics





Rafael Medoff is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the coauthor with Sonja Schoepf Wentling of the new book "Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the 'Jewish Vote' and Bipartisan Support for Israel."

One does not usually think of the conventions of the major U.S. political parties as having any particular impact on Jewish history. But 68 years ago, the Republican National Convention adopted a plank that would shape the future of U.S.-Israel relations and redefine the role of Jewish voters in American politics.

This surprising turn of events was the result of efforts by an unlikely trio: a former president, a maverick journalist-turned-congresswoman and the father of Israel's current prime minister....

The other major surprise of the convention was the party's decision to actively seek the support of Jewish voters. In the presidential elections of 1936 and 1940, 85% of American Jews had supported Franklin D. Roosevelt. "The problem with you people," Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg once complained to a group of pro-FDR Jewish leaders, "is that every time the Great White Father [Roosevelt] waves his hand, you jump right through the hoop."

But by the spring of 1944, many Jews were deeply frustrated by the Roosevelt administration's failure to aid European Jews fleeing the Nazis, and FDR's refusal to press the British to open Palestine to Jewish refugees....

The growing bitterness in the Jewish community opened the door to Benzion Netanyahu, a young Zionist activist from Jerusalem who had come to the U.S. to mobilize public support for creation of a Jewish state. (Netanyahu, whose son, Benjamin, is Israel's current prime minister, passed away this year at the age of 102.) At a time when most mainstream Jewish leaders backed Roosevelt and ignored the Republicans, Netanyahu cultivated ties to Hoover, Luce, Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio and other senior GOP figures. He urged them to include a pro-Zionist plank in their 1944 platform. So did Cleveland rabbi and Zionist leader Abba Hillel Silver, who was close to Taft....



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