“The Jewish Vote” Uncovering its Origin and Role
in Shaping American Bipartisan Politics in Support of Israel
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Sonja Schoepf Wentling and Rafael Medoff in their recent book, Herbert Hoover and the Jews: the Origins of the “Jewish Vote” and Bipartisan Support for Israel, we gain some fascinating insights into the political history of Herbert Hoover and more significantly into the origins of the “Jewish vote”.
In a chapter entitled “Hoover and the Origins of the Jewish Vote,” Wentling and Medoff initially revisit Roosevelt’s reluctance to act on behalf of European Jewry covering the period of 1942-1945. In turn, they provide a fascinating account of Republican efforts in 1944 to embrace the case for a Jewish State in Palestine and in turn, seek to pull the Jewish vote away from the Democratic Party. “…for the first time in history, the Republicans and Democrats adopted planks pledging support for Jewish statehood and actively competed for Jewish electoral support on that basis.”
In this political analysis the reader is introduced to the humanitarian orientation of President Hoover and to the political environment covering a twenty-five year period, 1919-1944, in which this former President would play a high profile role. “Despite Hoover’s record on Jewish concerns, most mainstream Jewish leaders refrained from building ties to the former president or other prominent Republicans.”
For Hoover, who was born in West Branch, Iowa, his Quaker upbringing would frame his social and political values. Over the course of his public career he would hold to the view that America was unique among the nations, and with this historical status, came a special responsibility. American exceptionalism was also a perspective that he would share with his Jewish friends.
During his Presidency, and at other times throughout his political career, Hoover was outspoken in his support of Jewish claims to Palestine. As early as 1922, he called for developing in Palestine “an asylum for the less fortunate masses of the Jewish people and as a restoration of religious shrines.” During his tenure as President (1928-1932), Hoover would speak out in support of the Zionist cause, despite facing strong opposition from his own State Department. Of the course of his Presidency, Hoover would issue statements of support to both Jewish and Pro-Zionist Christian groups.
Toward the end of this book, the authors move away from Hoover and focus almost exclusively on the “Jewish vote” seeking to identify any possible shifting patterns over the years that would suggest a change in the historic support garnered by Democrats among the Jewish electorate.
At the same time the authors offer a far less sympathetic view of Franklin Roosevelt; commenting, for example, on Roosevelt’s involvement with the Evian Conference of 1938, they would write: “Roosevelt exhibited a kind of amateur geographer’s fascination with the idea of moving people around and creating new countries or societies.”
One might ask what is the ultimate goal of the writers: Is this book intended as an attack on the Democratic Party, and in particular, President Franklin Roosevelt for his failure to intercede on behalf of European Jewry, or is it a thoughtful historical study of the rise of Herbert Hoover and his impact on shaping and empowering the pro-Israel agenda?