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Values, Faith and a Hearty Democratic Vote of Confidence

August 27, 2009 By:
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield
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Fishing is a funny thing -- sometimes, you end up reeling in a catch you regret, no matter how much right-wing pundits like Dick Morris try to spin things. That seems to be the case with a recent poll conducted by the conservative Christian group, the Traditional Values Coalition, surveying American Jews aligned with the Democratic Party.

So why would TVC even bother with this poll? Probably because they were looking for dissatisfaction among Democratic Jews on how President Obama is handling the Middle East, particularly with regards to Israel. But what they found must have thoroughly disturbed and confused them.

The poll showed that there is strong disagreement between American Jewish Democrats and the administration on specific issues regarding the possibility of peace in the region and the best approach to settlements. For instance, 44 percent said, "Obama is naive in thinking he can make peace with the Arabs."

Just 20 percent agreed with the statement that "if Israel could settle its dispute with the Palestinian refugees and give them a nation of their own, that the Arabs would live in peace with Israel," while 52 percent chose "the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel, and that giving them a nation of their own will just make them stronger."

So far, TVC got the outcome it was looking for. But the results of the survey also indicate that despite these real differences, the same audience remains very supportive of the Obama administration's actions in trying to bring peace to the Middle East.

Jewish Democrats gave Obama a 92 percent approval rating; and noted by a 58-16 margin that they believe "Obama is doing a good job of promoting peace in the Middle East."

This poll -- whether one agrees with the president or not -- reminds us that real values-driven support is about more than agreement about a specific policy position or its implementation. Respondents to the survey were capable of something that its sponsors, and most American politicos, often fail to see -- that deeply held values and principles can be pursued through many avenues and practices. Even when groups disagree about the latter, they can sustain real relationships that are animated by the former.

American Jewish Democrats -- so committed to Israel that they remain deeply suspicious of its Arab neighbors -- share the president's desire for peace. This poll shows that they are willing to work out their disagreements about how to achieve peace together, rather than walk away from that shared commitment.

Even more powerful is the evidence from this survey of how ingrained those values are among Jewish Democrats.

Even though they do not necessarily believe that the steps being taken by the administration are likely to bear fruit, they support the effort. Talk about a show of faith! Those responding to this survey embody what is seemingly impossible, but ethically and morally desirable.

If that isn't a reasonable definition of faith, I don't know what is. Perhaps most interestingly, it is brought out by a group that is increasingly disinterested in classical religion, more likely than ever to describe itself as "secular," and pretty much the polar opposite on almost every issue from those who conducted the survey.

I guess we are all more alike than we often first recognize, and in ways that surprise us. I guess that sometimes a fishing expedition that nets an unexpected and undesirable catch from the fisherman's perspective may still bring in a good haul from the point of view of both the fish and those watching from the shore.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the president of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. A version of this appears on his blog, "Windows & Doors" on Beliefnet.com.

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