If American Jews are tacking to the right, nobody told them.
That is the finding of a national public opinion study released last week.
According to the National Survey on Race Relations and Changing Ethnic Demographics in the United States of America, commissioned by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Jews in this country align themselves more with African-Americans on attitudes toward race and poverty, and with Hispanic-Americans on attitudes about immigration, than do other whites.
This contradicts the assertion made in recent years by conservative members of the Jewish community that American Jews had adopted more conservative views and started to drift away from their long tradition of liberalism.
"The responses of American Jewry reaffirms that this community is more sensitized and more realistic than is white America about the realities of racism and discrimination," according to a statement issued by the foundation. "Similarities between African-American and Jewish responses occur throughout the survey and in some instances Jews and Hispanics also score alike.
"White America is in denial about ethnic changes and race attitudes … and unwilling to handle the massive ethnic demographic changes facing our nation," the statement said.
The study was released during a national debate over the role of race in the United States heightened this summer by the perception that the government responded too slowly to the needs of African-Americans who suffered losses in Hurricane Katrina.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, foundation president, said the study, which he called "the first poll gauging American reactions to the changing demographics of the country," revealed no major changes in the opinions of American Jews.
He said it confirmed "quantitatively" what Jews and non-Jews had long believed anecdotally.
"It shows the need to reach out and strengthen alliances with the new America," Rabbi Schneier said.
The results of the FEU study reflect the figures reported earlier this year in the American Jewish Committee’s "Jewish Distinctiveness in America: A statistical portrait."
The AJCommittee report, based on the General Social Surveys conducted between 1972 and 2002 by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, found that "Jews identify themselves as liberal more than do others," particularly in such areas as "support for policies promoting integration and racial equality."
The findings of the FEU study "are not a surprise," said Diane Steinman, executive director of the AJCommittee’s New York chapter.
"Jews have been in the vanguard over the years of savoring civil rights," she said. "Jews tend to endorse liberal reasons" (such as racism and inadequate government funding for anti-poverty programs) "for the socio-economic disparities between blacks and whites."
The Global Strategy Group, a market research and polling company, conducted the national poll of 1,388 American adults, including 206 interviews with African-Americans and 200 each with Jews and Hispanics.
Asked if "little or nothing will be done to deal with the issue of race and poverty" following Katrina, 66 percent of African-Americans and 65 percent of Jews agreed. The figure for whites and Hispanics was 47 percent.
Similarly, only 16 percent of African-Americans and 27 percent of Jews agreed that "President Bush cares about the needs of minority communities in America," while 47 percent of whites and 38 percent of Hispanics agreed.
In another area, immigration, a critical issue to Hispanic-Americans, the Jewish response was closer to the Hispanics’ than to the answers of whites or African-Americans. Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 57 percent of Jews said "legal immigration makes America stronger," higher than the figure for whites and African-Americans, and fewer Jews or Hispanics agreed that "immigrants take jobs away from Americans."
Again, Steinman said, not surprising.
"Jews have benefited from liberal attitudes toward immigration," she said, "and we remember that it’s part of the Jewish tradition to welcome the stranger."
The Jewish response to the study broke with the minority communities in only one area: affirmative action. Forty-six percent of Jews said they supported affirmative action "to address racial discrimination." Seventy percent of African-Americans and 64 percent of Hispanics indicated support for the practice; the figure for whites was 45 percent.
The Jewish community has maintained a longstanding opposition to affirmative action, which it sees as similar to the quotas that formerly restricted Jewish admission to universities and certain jobs.
"Many whites, including many Jews, equate affirmative action with preferential treatment," Steinman said. "If you go back to the history of Jews in America, what made it possible for Jews to enter the mainstream was the belief that merit should be the only factor."
The survey broke down responses by age and ethnic background. Ninety-three percent of the respondents agreed that "children should be exposed to different cultures and ethnic groups," and 80 percent agreed that "diversity is one of the strengths of the country."
"This survey is very good news: good news across the age spectrum," Steinman said. "What the results are saying is that [Americans] … are comfortable living in diverse communities, that they believe that America will not be made weaker by becoming a ëmajority minority’ culture.
"The picture is extremely positive," she said. "The story is not just about Jews. Americans are not reeling from diversity: they are embracing it in large numbers.
"With a growing number of citizens from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds, four states (California, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii) are composed primarily by members of minority communities. Another nine, including New York and Florida, "are on the way," the foundation’s statement said.
"According to leading demographers," it said, "the United States will be a majority minority nation within the next 35-40 years."