In the 1990’s, as the Republican Party swept into a House majority with their own “Contract with America,” Jack Wertheimer took to Commentary to look at the Jewish equivalent: the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council’s Joint Program Plan. An umbrella organization that sought to speak on behalf of the whole Jewish community, the NJCRAC’s Domestic Agenda was virtually indistinguishable from the Clinton-era embrace of a cradle-to-grave welfare state and progressive views on social issues like capital punishment and abortion. Wertheimer challenges the enunciation of these views in the name of the Jews. Is it really right to liken the agenda of the Democratic Party to mitzvot? Are these Jewish positions born of any kind of careful wrestling with texts? Is this sort of communal political positioning really in the interests of the Jewish people? To all these questions, Wertheimer offers a firm “No.”
One cannot help wondering: as a community, would it not be wise to maintain neutrality as between the two major political parties, except where the immediate interests of Jews are at stake? Is not doing otherwise the height of political folly, tantamount to inviting one of the parties to write off the Jews altogether?
One consequence of being identified so directly with the Democrats is that the organized Jewish community has effectively removed itself from any role in the critical battles now shaping up among Republicans. The GOP contains a right-wing extreme that is isolationist and not afraid to invoke populist bigotry, including anti-Semitism. It also contains internationalists and politicians who seek to rebuild American society through constructive and responsible programs. As the internal factional battle unfolds, the organized Jewish community finds itself on the sidelines, asking its Democratic friends to intervene in the struggle for control of the Republican party.