pageok
pageok
pageok
Russian Jews and the Liberal Jewish Establishment:

David Bernstein's post about conservative Jews being alienated from the liberal Jewish establishment is particularly relevant to the special case of Russian immigrant Jews. Russian Jews are politically well to the right of most native-born Jews. For example, some 75% of Russian Jews voted for Bush in 2004, compared to less than 20% of other Jews.

Russian Jewish immigrants tend to be very secular and are therefore are not socially conservative; although I haven't seen polling data on the subject, I suspect that the vast majority of Russian immigrant Jews are pro-choice, for example. But they are, on average, far to the right of native-born Jews on national security issues and economic policy (because of the experience of living under socialism). Russian Jews are in the unusual position of being a highly secular, yet also generally right-wing ethnic group.

These ideological differences between Russian and native-born Jews are not new. In the 1970s and 80s, many Russian Jewish immigrants were angered by the fact that most mainstream Jewish organizations opposed taking a hard line against the Soviet Union. However, the War on Terror (on which most Russian Jews are more hawkish than native-born Jews), has increased the saliency of these disagreements. This has led to a number of Russian vs. native-born disputes within Jewish organizations, similar to the ones documented in the Wall Street Journal article linked above.

The rapid growth of the Russian Jewish community over the last 30 years has increased the potential importance of this constituency. According to the WSJ article linked above, there are now some 700,000 Russian immigrant Jews in the US, which is about 12% of the total American Jewish population. It is also perhaps worth noting that nearly all of the Russian Jewish academics and intellectuals I can think of are conservative or libertarian - a striking fact given the reality that academics tend to be far more liberal than the general population. While Russian Jews are currently underrepresented in the intellectual world relative to native-born Jews, the gap is likely to keep closing as immigrants rise in socioeconomic status. If Russian Jews continue to increase in numbers and political/intellectual influence, the Jewish establishment may find it more costly to ignore our concerns than has been the case so far.

Will mainstream Jewish organizations moderate their leftism in order to attract more Russian Jews? It's hard to say, but I suspect that most will not. It is possible that assimilation will lead more Russian Jews to become liberal, thus closing the gap between the two communities. But I suspect that the longterm partisan profile of Russian Jews is more likely to resemble that of other relatively affluent white ethnic groups than that of native-born Jews. For these reasons, the ideological alienation of Russian Jews from most mainstream Jewish organizations is likely to continue.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Russian Jews and the Liberal Jewish Establishment:
  2. Are Politically Conservative Jews "Turned Off" by the Jewish Establishment?:
Lostingotham (mail):
A similar phenomenon can be observed among Cubans as opposed to non-Cuban hispanics. Something about exposure to the Communist utopia seems to turn its survivors off!
9.9.2006 1:19am
Ilya Somin:
A similar phenomenon can be observed among Cubans as opposed to non-Cuban hispanics. Something about exposure to the Communist utopia seems to turn its survivors off!

Yes, indeed. I've always thought that Cuban immigrants are the ethnic group most similar in political orientation to Russians, despite considerable cultural differences.
9.9.2006 1:30am
Guesterator (mail) (www):
A similar phenomenon can be observed among Cubans as opposed to non-Cuban hispanics. Something about exposure to the Communist utopia seems to turn its survivors off!

There really is something to this. My (Czech) parents exposure to that same utopia instilled in them (and me) those same feelings!
9.9.2006 3:10am
triticale (mail) (www):
My parents arrived here as infants from Belarus and Gruzia before the start of WWI. Altho they were G-dless Communists, they raised me with Russian Jew as part of my identity. It must have taken more strongly than the leftism, as I am far to the right of typical native-born Jews on national security issues and economic policy.
9.9.2006 3:24am
Ahmed (mail):
I would say a similar political stripe, being secular, socially leftward and economically rightward (as well as pro-national security) is the unusualy position of anyone who thinks about these matters clearly.

I would love to see a classicaly liberal political movement. If only one existed that could maintain credibility in a way the libertarian party cannot. When someone gets around to mking this work, I imagine they will be surprised with their success. There are too many unhappy coalitions in our nation. Condi Rice and Trent Lott occupy a tent that is too large.

What's it gonna take to get this political idea moving forward?
9.9.2006 3:45am
talboito (mail) (www):
I've found Russians, and Russian Jews especially to have a more authoritarian strain in their thinking.

Thus, it makes sense for them to align themselves with the more authoritarian party.
9.9.2006 5:06am
M (mail):
Quite a lot of Russian Jews do become religious, however. I spent some time working for HIAS in Philadelphia and our main group of on-going clients were Russian Jews. (They might be conservative but they certainly were not eager to have their welfare benefits cut!) Many who had not been (for obvious reasons) religious while living in the Soviet Union became religious when they moved to the US. This is fairly undertandable since it was the first time they had a chance to be religious and it was a (somewhat modestly) religious organization, HIAS, which helped a significant number (perhaps a majority) of them relocate to the US. It's unsurprising that this would lead to an increase in religious feeling. I can't say it's a majority that has become religious since comming to the US but it's certainly a large number. (The Russian tendency to hate 'chornys' even more than Jews also came with many of them and helps explain the Hawkishness towards Muslims, I think.)
9.9.2006 9:50am
Seth Edenbaum (mail) (www):
"(because of the experience of living under socialism)"

You mean they're all from Sweden?
9.9.2006 10:32am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
<blockquote>
I've found Russians, and Russian Jews especially to have a more authoritarian strain in their thinking.

Thus, it makes sense for them to align themselves with the more authoritarian party.
</blockquote>

I don't know about that. I find that most of us, (I'm a Russian Jew), lean to the libertarian side of things, sometimes unwittingly. The reason I personally, and many of my friends, are more aptly described as Conservatives, is that, as Prof. Somin suggests, we don't like when the government takes our money away to give it away to other people who, for whatever reason, didn't earn it themselves. We are also not fans of political correctness - a huge and vigorously enforced part of Soviet life.
9.9.2006 11:22am
liberty (mail) (www):
But the longer a time that passes since Russia was communist, the less that this might be true...? What is the trend among young native born Russian Jews?
9.9.2006 11:43am
liberty (mail) (www):
"Thus, it makes sense for them to align themselves with the more authoritarian party."

But they aren't aligned with the Democrats!
9.9.2006 11:45am
Mon:
Lostingotham writes:

A similar phenomenon can be observed among Cubans as opposed to non-Cuban hispanics. Something about exposure to the Communist utopia seems to turn its survivors off!

While this is certainly true for the broader Cuban community, we interestingly see the reverse for Cuban Jews. As someone married to a "Jewban", I can tell you that this community is very liberal and well within the "mainstream" of the Jewish establishment.
9.9.2006 12:21pm
jmjmamrmcm (mail):
One of my wife's co-workers (a super-intelligent, georgeous, blonde, Russian-Jewish, woman, with a GREAT figure, who happens to be a Republican) wants to date a Jewish man. She's been set up numerous times and has even used online Jewish dating services. She told my wife that she been hung up on quite often by prospective dates when they find out that she's Republican.
9.9.2006 12:33pm
Walk It:
MikeBU
"...when the government takes our money away to give it away to other people who, for whatever reason, didn't earn it themselves."

Tell me, how much did you have to pay to get into this country, that was built on the labor and sacrifice of generations of Americans before you? And a few years of military service really pales to what others have paid.

Funny how some might characterize you newcomers as more free-riders on the backs of earlier others, rather than paying your fair share for the use of our public institutions. Just Sayin -- it's really in how far back you want to go to claim you've earned your keep.
9.9.2006 12:52pm
...Max... (mail) (www):
Walk It: funny how some might characterize the likes of you as free-riders on the backs of earlier others, many (majority?) of which came to this country from elsewhere and built it up from scratch.

Aside from the [highly respected] minority of people who enlist and serve in the military, "earning one's keep" usually takes the form of paying the tax bill. Are YOU above the median first-generation Russian immigrant? Think before you answer, these days most of us are not political refugees but IT (and other) professionals...
9.9.2006 1:11pm
dick thompson (mail):
My last position before I retired was as a project manager who had 10 Russian immigrant Jews working for me. Every one of them was very conservative politically and not one of them would ever vote for a democrat. The reason was that they felt earning one's keep was a necessary part of life and they hated the thought of welfare and PC and the government picking up the tab. They all worked from the first as taxi drivers or whatever it took to make it here. Very entrepreneurial people from my experience.

They also hated the PC stuff and felt it was just more of the governmental inteference in the lives of people and they had mucho experience with that already. Also very patriotic people who studied our history and knew more of it than most of the native people I worked with.

The one thing they had in common with the rest of the Jews I worked with here in New York was a push for education. They made sure to live in neighborhoods with good schools and they made sure their kids studied hard.

The other thing I noticed was that while they were not strictly practicing Jews they did honor the major holidays. They just did not have the basis of religious Jews to back them up. The political belief differences were striking to me as a non-Jew.
9.9.2006 2:03pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Once knew a Russian Jew (name long forgotten) who was head of the arms and armor collection at the NY Metropolitan Museum. I remember one remark: "New York City is the cesspit of American socialism ... but it's the only Metropolitan."
9.9.2006 2:40pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Once knew a Russian Jew (name long forgotten) who was head of the arms and armor collection at the NY Metropolitan Museum. I remember one remark: "New York City is the cesspit of American socialism ... but it's the only Metropolitan."
9.9.2006 2:40pm
Walk It:
Max: " Are YOU above the median first-generation Russian immigrant? "

Not at all.
But most importantly, unlike Mike, you don't see me bitching about having to pay taxes. I think you missed it. You really should re-read perhaps the comment of his I was responding to:

"Conservatives, is that, as Prof. Somin suggests, we don't like when the government takes our money away to give it away to other people who, for whatever reason, didn't earn it themselves."

As you can tell, I agree strongly with your follow up:
"earning one's keep" usually takes the form of paying the tax bill.

Yes. That's the price of admission for citizenship -- paying taxes for our shared benefits -- even to those Ilya Somin and Mike might think "didn't earn it themselves."
9.9.2006 3:09pm
M (mail):
A very large number of Russian Jews who came here during the 70's and 80's from the former soviet union got (comparativly) generous welfare benefits for some time. As "refugees" (put in quotes since they were what are called 'statutor' refugees, meaning that they did not usually fit the normal refugee definition but were given refugee status for political reasons) they were long given, and many still are given, welfare benifits that normal immigrants have no access to. Since most can and do work they no longer get these- even comparativly generous US welfare benefits pay less than working. But, a large portion of them got welfare for some time when they first came here (most of them that came via HIAS did, at least for some time) so it's rich to hear that they now think people should not get things they didn't work for. (Espeically considering that it was a sort of charity case to allow them to come in a non-standard way anyway!)
9.9.2006 3:20pm
Walk It:
"The reason was that they felt earning one's keep was a necessary part of life and they hated the thought of welfare and PC and the government picking up the tab."

You'd like to think that as they drove on American roads, visited the libraries, sent their kids to public schools, took them to the closest ER in publically financed hospital offering Medicare and Medicaid, and slept soundly knowing they were well defended by the US military, that these newcomers became better aware of how these things were built and their role in maintaining the country.

Just because a lot of this was already in place already built and paid for, the American idea in many ways is a collective. So when you hear Midwesterners grumbling about not understanding why their taxes should pay to defend some of Israel's ill-advised actions, you might advise that on some things -- like the country's defense -- you just have to suck it up and give over a little of that which you had the opportunity to earn, all on their independent own of course.
9.9.2006 3:53pm
Ilya Somin:
In response to all the comments on welfare and taxes:

I have no objection to paying taxes for national defense and other public goods, and I doubt most other Russian immigrants do either. However, the vast majority of government spending does not go for these functions. Huge amounts pay for porkbarrel projects, subsidies to the nonpoor elderly, agricultural subsidies and so forth. The mere fact that taxes for public goods may be justified does not mean that taxation for all these other purposes is justified.

As for Russian immigrants and welfare payments, the stats overwhelmingly show that most Russian immigrants entered the work force very soon after arrival and rapidly moved up the income ladder. See, for example, this article by immigration economist Barry Chiswick. With the exception of the very elderly, few were on welfare for more than a few months. Russian immigrants, like most other immigrants, have significantly higher labor force participation rates than native-born citizens. Receiving a small amount of welfare for a few months may or may not be justified, but it is very different from permanent welfare dependency.

It's also worth noting that Russian Jews who arrived since 1991 (by now majority of all Russian Jewish immigrants) are no longer entitled to any kind of refugee benefits or status. And the Welfare Reform bill of 1996 (justifiably in my view) severely curtails welfare benefits for all immigrants, including Russians.
9.9.2006 4:50pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Ditto Prof. Somin. I'd pay taxes, walk-it, and will once I'm out of school. I just have ideas about where the money should go, that differ greatly from the ideas held by most Democrats.
9.9.2006 5:08pm
Walk It:
I have no objection to paying taxes for national defense and other public goods, and I doubt most other Russian immigrants do either. However, the vast majority of government spending does not go for these functions. Huge amounts pay for porkbarrel projects, subsidies to the nonpoor elderly, agricultural subsidies and so forth. The mere fact that taxes for public goods may be justified does not mean that taxation for all these other purposes is justified.

Welcome to the club. I suspect you're in good company with the majority of your fellow Americans -- immigrants and native born. It's not a view unique to Russian Americans, I'm sure you've noticed.
9.9.2006 5:30pm
wlpeak (mail) (www):
Well as a son of an old American family, every generation having paid for citizenship the old fashion hard way from the Revolution to the cold war, I too must say I do not appreciate my property being taken from me to buy votes, enrich personal coffers, or squandered on dubious projects outside of the original purview of the Constitution. I find nothing exceptional in later immigrants feeling likewise.
9.9.2006 5:41pm
NeoConTheoConRightReactionaryZionist (mail):
I feel like I can speak with some degree of authority on this, being a conservative Zionist jew in the San Francisco area.

The turning point was 9/11. And the Palestinian suicide bombings against Israel. Here in San Francisco, I note that many of the leftist organizations are now mostly run by Islamic groups, ie International ANSWER. I further note that several of my male friends converted. They converted from "D" to "R". I would guess that a few years ago (based on my informal circle) it was about 75/25 leaning Democrat for Jewish males in their 20's and 30's. It's probably about 60/40 Republican now. The women are a little more liberal but I would note that virtually all of the women I know who converted from Christian to Jewish are conservative.

I would note that the more pious the individual, the more likely they are to be Republican.

I agree that there is little for the Republican in Reform Jewry. It was one of the reasons I switched from Left-Reform to a more traditional (conservative) congregation.
9.9.2006 8:30pm
M (mail):
Of course even of those Russian Jews who came after '91 (and so didn't get the direct benefit of being statutory 'refugees') many indirectly benefited from this (perhaps the majority) since family-based immigration is one big way, and the family ties started with the 'refugee' movement. I'm not opposed to that. I favor more liberal immigration. But it's worth noting that special treatment allowed for this. (Immigration not based on family ties is pretty hard to do, and while surely some Russian Jews immigrated that way family based immigration outnumbers all other forms by quite a lot.)
9.9.2006 10:53pm
Vovan:
The MAIN and absolutely MAIN thing that keeps Russian Jews Republican is the party's unquestionable support for Israel. Taxes, ethnic tensions and everyting else is secondary. The media coverage of presented on New York's five Russian language TV channels is a perfect example of that phenomenon.

The elephant in the room, is the Soviet racism that former Soviets from all the republics inherited from the system that produced them - the Democratic party is seen as the party of minorities at least in NY, and with those minorities Russians want to have nothing to do with.
9.10.2006 2:23am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Conservative Jews in the San Francisco Bay area seem very rare to me. Where do they hang out? I know San Francisco has a big Russian community. My eye doctor's office has so many Russian speaking patients they need translators.
9.10.2006 7:19pm
Scrivener:
It looks like the 75% voting for Bush number (it's actually 77%) comes from the survey on this site:

http://www.ajcrussian.org/

Click on the "Исследования" tab on the right. It generates a long URL which I cannot post here.

69% of the surveyed come from Brooklyn and Queens.

46% of the surveyed are over 65 years old.

Only 12% are less than 35 years old.

It does not look like a representative sample to me.

Using AJC surveys to make conclusions about Russian Jews in the US is like surveying NYC Chinatown and extrapolating the results onto all Chinese Americans in the US.
9.11.2006 12:59am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Vovan: I haven't studied the matter scientifically, but I'm skeptical of the claim that "The MAIN and absolutely MAIN thing that keeps Russian Jews Republican is the party's unquestionable support for Israel."

To begin with, Russian Jewish immigrants into the U.S. nearly invariably came to America after deliberately choosing not to go to Israel. Unlike with American Jews who choose not to move to Israel, most Russian Jews who ended up in America were at one point largely without any geographical ties, and could have gone to Israel instead of coming to America; it was even easier in certain ways (one didn't have to wait for months to get permission to enter the U.S.) Instead, they either deliberately decided against Israel, or, in some cases, went to Israel and then deliberately chose to move to the U.S. after a few years. It's certainly possible that despite this they have great affection for Israel; but it's far from clear to me that this is so.

Second, there are two important explanations for Russian Jews' Republicanism other than support for Israel: In the 1970s and 1980s, the Republicans were seen as the party that was correct about Communism and correct about capitalism.

Third, perhaps I'm mistaken here, but my recollection is that at least from the 1970s until the end of the Bush Sr. administration, it wasn't clear that the Republicans were more solidly pro-Israel than the Democrats.

Finally, I can tell you my family's experience: My parents weren't Zionists; they just wanted to get out of Russia. My guess is that in this they are representative of those who came to America, since the serious Zionists likely went to Israel. They came to America in 1975, saw that real anti-Communist hostility mostly came from the Republicans, and that many (not by any means all, but many) Democrats -- especially the more liberal Democrats they were likely to see in L.A. (as opposed to, say, in the South) -- were too mushy on the subject, sometimes even accepting Communism as a morally and economically viable alternative to capitalism (or at least such an alternative for Communist countries). They also saw that the free-market sentiments mostly came from Republicans, and that many liberal Democrats supported, if not quite socialism, things that were a lot closer to socialism than my parents liked. Maybe that was idiosyncratic, or maybe it isn't representative of the experience of more recent immigrants; but I just thought I'd note it.
9.11.2006 3:37am
Vovan:
Professor,

Please examine this article, afterward I would still press my assertion that Israel is the chief culprit for the recent tendency of the Russian-Jewish vote to turn Republican.

I have two reasons for my assertions:

1. After the end of the Cold War, the increased immigration to Israel and the United States literally split families among the two countries.
a. The defeat of the USSR, removed the primary voting focus of the older Russian immigrants, that as you correctly suggested were strongly anti-communist
b. 9/11, caused the older and the younger generation to forego other concerns, and focus on primarily on their extended families in Israel

2. The two-pronged effect of the mass-media and israeli organizations such as "Brithright"
a. Thus, older generation of immigrants (from primarily recent 1991-present immigration waves) primarily consumes their news from sources that are extremely pro-Israel (Likud, and Avigdor Lieberman). It is not surprising, because the relatives of those immigrants in Israel, decidedly vote for the aforementioned parties. Thus mass-media in the Russian communities effectively forms an Agit-prop of sorts (no negative connotations attached) for Israel, and the party that supports Israel after 9/11 - Republican party.
b. The younger generation (16-29) (from primarily recent 1991-present immigration waves), is similarly politically motivated by pro-Israel sources. However, the role of mass-media for the generation that cannot read or write Russian, or Hebrew is filled by the Birthright organization, that is extremely active in the Community, and provides a furher connection between Russian Jews in America and Israel

Finally, it seems to me, perhaps mistakenly, that your contact with Russian immigrants is limited to the interaction between similar "Cold War" immigrants such as yourself. (Afterall, UCLA is a great law school, but I doubt that recent Russian immigrants are sufficiently represented among its student body). Russian-Jewish community, meanwhile, is subject to the similar ethnic politics that engulf other ethnic constituencies (immigration and Latinos). For now at least, I believe that Israel is the primary driving factor behind its votes.
9.11.2006 1:40pm
Howard257 (mail):
jmjmamrmcm--

As a second-generation American of Russian Jewish descent (and hardcore conservative GOP activist) myself, I would offer myself to your friend if I weren't already married. However, it is also my observation that the current politics of the Jewish community is such that she should have a lot less trouble finding a conservative Jewish man than vice versa.
9.11.2006 9:29pm
Person (mail):
American liberalism is not Soviet Communism. If Russian Jews vote more to the right because they confuse American liberalism with Soviet Communism, then they need to learn more about American politics. I would venture to guess, bluntly and without any hard evidence, that Russian Jews, just as Cubans, have a knee jerk reaction against anything remotely resembling socialism. This reaction is understandable but irrational.

Why do American Jews lean left? I think the answer is pretty clear. many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, faced discrimination and exploitation. Some of these Jewish immigrants created the American left. Emma Goldman, for example. I think Libertarians sometimes forget that unregulated markets have been very cruel. folks who don't have anything but their labor and difficulty finding work might feel compelled to accept terrible terms of employment. And history has many examples. Lochner v. New York is a good one.
9.11.2006 10:17pm
Gene Vilensky (mail) (www):
I was actually surprised to hear the 70+% of Russian Jews vote Republican number. My family is one of the few Russian Jewish families I know that votes Republican. Most vote Democrat because the Republicans "will take their welfare away." It's true.

I think that Prof. Volokh's experience is mostly indicative of his family, which were part of the intelligentsia, and the fact that his family left in the 1970's, which is when the true anti-Communist immigrants left (as someone already noted). The later generations of immigrants from 1989 and onward, especially the "New Russians" from the second half of the 1990's seem mostly to want the party that will benefit them the most monetarily. This usually amounts to voting for Democrats.

See, there is an interesting divide in the Russian community. Even among the subset of the people we would define as "hardworking" and not wanting to get something for nothing, there is still a strong preference for government provision of "vital" social services. So, while the working-age adults are likely to work late shifts, drive cabs, etc. and not go on welfare, their parents are likely to take advantage of social welfare programs, medicaid/medicare, etc. The Democrats are seen as the people who want to perpetuate this system (which allows for easy abuse by Russian immigrants... e.g. Pell Grants so that 70 year old grandmothers can take a class on Jewish history at the local college and receive the balance as a fat refund check.) and that's why most of the Russian Jewish families I know are Democratic.
9.13.2006 1:39am