Jewish Immigrants and Politics

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American Jewish Labor Movement
"ABOLISH CH[ILD] SLAVERY!!" in English and Yiddish, probably taken during May 1, 1909 labor parade in New York City. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

While Jewish immigrants from Germany tended to be politically conservative, the wave of Eastern European Jews that started in the early 1880s were generally more liberal or left wing, and became the political majority. Many came to America with experience in the socialist and communist movements. Many Jews rose to leadership positions in the early 20th century American labor movement and helped to found unions that played a major role in left wing politics and, after 1936, in Democratic Party politics.

There were six Jews in the Senate before WWI, and six Jews in the House of Representatives in 1917. [1] Currently there are 14 Jews among 99 U.S. Senators: 12 Democrats and two independents (who both generally vote with the Democrats). There are 30 Jews among the 435 U.S. Representatives: 29 are Democrats and one is Republican. In the 2000 presidential election, Joe Lieberman was the first American Jew to run for national office on a major party ticket when he was chosen as Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's vice-presidential nominee.

In the 2008 presidential election, 78% of Jews voted for Barack Obama, who became the first African-American to be elected president. Additionally, 83% of white Jews voted for Obama compared to just 34% of white Protestants and 47% of white Catholics. [2] Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, is Jewish.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz
Joachim Prinz was a German rabbi and an American Jewish leader. After his emigration to the United States, he became vice-chairman of the World Jewish Congress, an active member of the World Zionist Organization and a participant in the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.

Though critics charge that Jewish interests were partially responsible for the push to war with Iraq, Jewish Americans are actually more strongly opposed to the Iraq war than any other major religious group or even most Americans.

As a group, American Jews have been very active in fighting prejudice and discrimination, and have historically been active participants in civil rights movements since the 1930s, including active support and participation in the black civil rights/desegregation movement, active support and participation in the women's rights movement, and active support for gay rights movement (though a split exists within the group by observance). Reform and increasingly, Conservative Jews are far more supportive on issues like gay marriage than Orthodox Jews are. A 2007 survey of Conservative Jewish leaders and activists showed that an overwhelming majority now supports gay rabbinical ordination and same-sex marriage. [3]

Seymour Siegel suggests that the historic struggle against prejudice faced by Jews led to a natural sympathy for any people confronting discrimination. Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, stated the following when he spoke from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial during the famous March on Washington on August 28, 1963: "As Jews we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a twofold experience—one of the spirit and one of our history... From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years we say: Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe... It is for these reasons that it is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is, above all and beyond all such sympathies and emotions, a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience. [4]


  1. Coming to America, by Roger Daniels, Perennial, New York, 2002.
  2. CNN Exit Poll
  3. Conservative Leaders Back Gay Rabbis
  4. Joachim Prinz March on Washington Speech