Amid all the angry accusations, posturing and bluster of the two national political conventions, it’s worth noting the level of diversity achieved in this country when the presidential election will feature an African-American incumbent running against a Mormon, and each having a Catholic as his running mate.
An Orthodox rabbi, Meir Soloveitchik of New York, gave the invocation at the Republican National Convention, and a Conservative rabbi, David Wolpe of Los Angeles (a Jewish Week columnist) is scheduled to do the same at the Democratic National Convention. No big deal, right?
Observing the composition of the national tickets, Haviv Rettig Gur, writing in The Times of Israel this week, notes that opinion and values seem to matter more these days than race and religion. That’s a good thing, and it extends to state as well as national politics, and to a Supreme Court with three Jews and six Catholics — the first time there is no Protestant on the bench.
Perhaps most remarkable is how unnoticed these changes seem to be among an electorate that has not, for the most part, made an issue of identity politics.
Consider, as well, how until recent times American Jewry would be deeply fearful of a high-profile Jew becoming the most influential political donor in the country, seeking to sway the American electorate in a national election. Indeed, Sheldon Adelson would seem to be the kind of personality who would keep the leaders of American Jewish defense organizations awake at night worrying.
After all, here is one of the wealthiest men in the country running casinos and gambling establishments in Las Vegas and Asia, accused of financial improprieties, and spending more money than anyone else on the presidential election in seeking to depose the incumbent.
What’s more, Adelson, a major supporter of Birthright Israel and other Jewish causes, is equally outspoken on Mideast politics, believing that the Palestinian leadership seeks the destruction of Israel. Several years ago he founded a free daily newspaper in Israel, which is seen as right of center and supportive of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And it was Adelson at Mitt Romney’s side on the candidate’s recent visit to Israel.
With it all, though, there has been relatively little made of Adelson’s religion, even among those upset at how new campaign finance laws allow a single individual to have so much influence over elections.
While the liberal press, led by The New York Times, keeps reporting on Adelson and his clout, the conservative media has long targeted George Soros, another Jewish billionaire who has made no secret of his liberal political views and support of left-of-center causes.
Whether Americans find the actions of such men laudatory or reprehensible, they are exercising their rights, and the fact that they are Jewish is not a central issue.
We’ve come a long way, and while we need to maintain our vigilance — there are still more than enough anti-Semites out there — it is important to recognize just how accepted American Jews are in our society.