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Charges That Chicago Voters are Anti-Semitic Proven Wrong

Don Rose 28 February 2011 No Comment

Elements of the Jewish press spent the recent municipal election wringing their hands, agonizing about whether anti-Semitism would rear its ugly whatever and cripple Rahm Emanuel’s campaign. Some naïve—perhaps paranoid—writers declared outright that Chicago would never elect a Jewish mayor.

When called for an opinion I tried to make clear that, though anti-Semitism certainly exists in this vast city, it would play an infinitesimal role. Absolutely nothing definitive if at all. The fact is, it’s hard to find a case in recent major elections where anti-Semitism played any significant role.

Given that the country’s Jewish population is around 2 percent and until recently the U.S. Senate was 13 percent Jewish, one might say we have a bit of philo-Semitism. A Jew running for vice president very likely helped Al Gore win the popular vote in 2000. Analysts searched for signs of anti-Semitism and found little of significance—Gore-Lieberman lost where Democrats were expected to lose anyway. (Lieberman’s devout Orthodox Judaism was actually admired by many in a demographic where you might expect some anti-Semitism.)

In last year’s Illinois senate primary, a Jewish candidate came remarkably close to beating a better known, better financed gentile—and most analysts think that if David Hoffman had won, he would have defeated Republican Mark Kirk. In 1983, a Jewish Republican came within a hairsbreadth of defeating an African American Democrat, Harold Washington. I’m certain that numerous otherwise anti-Semitic voters picked Republican Bernard Epton because a Jew was preferable to a black in what I call the hierarchy of political prejudice.

In this context, it’s fair to note that Emanuel was the only white-Anglo candidate running against three African Americans and two Latinos. Had Tom Dart, an Irish Catholic, been in the race, it’s conceivable that ethnocentrism—tribalism, if you will—would have helped result in a different outcome. In some places anti-Semitism might have come into play (certainly not by Dart).

Emanuel’s 55 percent total included more than 58 percent of the African American vote—a demographic where studies theoretically show a higher portion of anti-Jewish prejudice than among whites. He carried 5 out of 10 majority-Latino wards.

Gery Chico, whose father was Mexican, came in a poor second with 24 percent. His base was among Latinos and white city workers whose unions opposed Emanuel. It’s possible Chico’s white vote was delimited by his heritage. But then a Latina won 60-40 over a black woman for city clerk.

Ethnocentrism or the hierarchy of prejudice?

In my home ward’s aldermanic runoff there are hints of tribalism—not prejudice–where most of the big-name backers of the Jewish frontrunner are Jewish and those of her Irish-Catholic opponent share his heritage. We have a history of electing Jewish aldermen and Irish-Catholic Democratic committeemen—or vice versa, as at this moment.

Nonetheless, most of Chicago’s presumed political prejudices fell like the Berlin Wall in this election. We voted like grown-ups. My coreligionists can finally stop that hand wringing.

**

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Living Room at the Standard Club of Chicago

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