The End of the Jewish Left
Political theorist Michael Walzer and others argue about the death of the century-long Jewish-Leftist alliance
...The left that was at issue in the YIVO conference had little to do with what we now, in the shrunken spectrum of American political discourse, call the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. A 2005 Pew study found that Jews were the single most liberal religious group in America. Last month, a poll of American Jews showed that 62 percent planned to vote for Barack Obama in November—down from the 78 percent he got in 2008, but still more than twice as much as the 29 percent who said they would vote for Mitt Romney. Depending on your point of view, the still-durable association of Jews with liberalism and the Democratic Party is a source of either pride or bafflement (as in Norman Podhoretz’s plaintively titled Why Are Jews Liberals?).
Looked at another way, however, the softening mainstream liberalism of American Jews can be seen as the feeble remnant of what was once a fiery and uncompromising leftism. Indeed, as historian Tony Michels  said at the YIVO conference, the history of American Communism “cannot be understood without Jews.” But the mood of the conference was best summed up in the title of the keynote address, by the political philosopher Michael Walzer: “The Strangeness of Jewish Leftism.” What was once a proud inheritance now seems like a problem in need of a solution. For many Jews, it remains axiomatic that Judaism is a religion of social justice and progress; the phrase “tikkun olam” has become a convenient shorthand for the idea that Judaism is best expressed in “repair of the world.”
In his speech, and in his new book  In God’s Shadow: Politics and the Hebrew Bible, Walzer offers a contrary vision of traditional Judaism, which he argues “offers precious little support to left politics”—a truth that he recognized would surprise those who, like himself, “grew up believing that Judaism and socialism were pretty much the same thing.” If a leftist political message cannot readily be found in the traditions of Judaism, it follows that the explosion of Jewish leftism in the late 19th century was actually a rupture with Jewish history, and potentially a traumatic one.
Walzer’s reluctance to associate Judaism too simply with leftist politics, or indeed with any politics, represents a break from his earlier thinking. In his influential 1985 book Exodus and Revolution, for instance, Walzer argued that the Exodus narrative had provided a template for generations of revolutionaries and progressives in Western society, offering a model of how to escape an oppressive past and create a better future. The contrast with his new book could not be sharper. In this work, Walzer reads the Bible with an eye to its explicit and implicit teachings about politics and finds that its most eloquent message on the subject is silence. “The political activity of ordinary people is not a Biblical subject,” he writes, “nor is there any explicit recognition of political space, an agora or forum, where people congregate to argue about and decide on the policies of the community.”...MORE...LINK
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