What is the political impact of the Jewish minority on American society?
A little over two percent of the population of the United States, about 6.7 million people, identify themselves as Jewish. Whether this small minority of the population exercises a level of political influence out of proportion to its numbers has been the subject of much debate over the years – usually for the wrong reasons. The contributions of the American Jewish population in the sciences, in arts, in the advance of civil rights, in medicine, and in politics clearly has been out of proportion to its percentage of the overall population. Whether this is good or bad is purely a matter of perspective. It is up to the individual to decide whether any given segment of a nation’s population exercises too much political influence or is overrepresented in certain professional or academic fields. In a democratic society such as the United States, such matter should not be relevant.
There is no question that American Jews have been influential in facilitating U.S. diplomatic support for the State of Israel. Created out of the ashes of the Holocaust, but representing the attainment of an ancient goal of returning to the land of their ancestors, Israel has proven an extremely divisive element in international politics. The tremendous influence generated by control of much of the world’s oil and natural gas deposits has made the Arab world, a vocal and militant opponent of Israel’s existence, a powerful foe for the Jewish state, and American Jews believe it is their responsibility to ensure that Israel’s security is not threatened by the overwhelming numerical and geographic superiority of its adversaries. That the American Jewish population, together with religious conservatives, has been able to ensure that the foreign assistance promised under the terms of the 1978 Camp David Peace Agreement continues to be allocated to Israel has been an enduring indication of the influence of Israel’s American supporters – much to the consternation of those who believe that America’s national interest lies with the much more numerous and economically powerful Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, as well as the desperately poor but heavily-populated Republic of Egypt.
Again, Jews comprise a little over two percent of the population. Eight percent of the U.S. Congress is Jewish. Whether that indicates a disproportionate degree of political power can be debated. Whether these figures are the natural and desirable outcome of a democratic process, however, is another matter. Most American Jews are politically liberal, and are active supporters of social changes consistent with liberal political thought. As such, their role in facilitating political and social change often comes under attack from political conservatives. Sometimes, that conservative opposition is grounded in theological or geopolitical calculations, such as the issue of support for Israel or the mainstream liberal position on abortion rights. Sometimes, elements of anti-Semitism are involved, although this has been a much greater problem among the American left than among conservatives. Both sides of the political aisle, however, include members who believe Jews wield too much influence in government.
As mentioned, it is inarguable that the American Jewish population has political influence over certain issues, like support for Israel and for civil rights. Whether that influence is excessive is a matter of perspective.