Why the Ultra-Orthodox Vote Republican
Turner, a political neophyte, ran against President Obama’s record (and Weiner’s indiscretions). The result was seen as reflecting President Obama’s deep unpopularity in Haredi and Orthodox communities, where he is perceived as being pro-Arab, anti-Israel—and even secretly Muslim. Although the district’s voters are predominantly registered as Democrats, Obama carried it by only 55 percent in 2008. A pre-election survey this fall by Public Policy Polling found that 54 percent of district voters disapproved of Obama’s policy toward Israel. Turner won by a margin of 54 to 46 percent.
Not all of the opposition was domestic. Some of it came from Israel, where Obama is even less popular than he is in Haredi Brooklyn. Cross-pollination is significant between the 700,000 Haredim in Israel and the 250,000 to 500,000 (estimates vary) in the United States. Twenty years ago, the West Bank was not a Haredi issue, and Haredi political parties could enter into coalition agreements with the dovish Labor party without facing blowback from the Haredi street—in Israel or here. But this is no longer the case.
Israel’s housing shortage is especially severe in Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem, forcing some Haredim (with their large families) to take extreme measures such as living in storage lockers or on parking ramps. But many have left the city for the Haredi neighborhoods of West Bank cities like Beitar Illit and Beit Shemesh, or for the all-Haredi Emmanuel. Approximately 30 percent of the Jewish population of the West Bank is now Haredi. As a result, Israeli Haredi political views have hardened.
The newfound Haredi concern for retaining the West Bank is skillfully exploited by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to New York City’s former mayor Ed Koch. Koch, a Democrat who is hawkish on Israel-related issues, told Weiner’s old voters to vote Republican to send a message to President Obama, to let him know that adopting policies not in sync with Israel’s current right-wing government is unacceptable. New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a former member of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League who represents some of the same constituency Weiner did, endorsed the Republican for the same reason.
Of course, there are many broader factors in the Haredi shift to the right.