13 Pages

Was There a "Jewish Politics" in Western and Central Europe?

ByPaula E. Hyman

The study of modern Jewish politics in Eastern Europe and the United States takes as a given a liberal or left-of-center pattern of Jewish political behavior which distinguishes the Jews from their fellow countrymen. The central scholarly debate concerns the sources of Jewish political distinctiveness. One school of thought argues, broadly speaking, for a situational understanding of Jewish politics; the other for a cultural influence. According to the first, the disproportionate representation of East European Jews in left-of-center and radical politics stems from several factors. Their experience of discrimination and the realization of their blocked mobility reduce the stake of both Jewish students and artisans in the ruling political system. In defining Jewish politics in Western and Central Europe as a matter of struggling for emancipation and then defending Jewish rights against the onslaught of anti-Semitism, students of Western and Central European Jewish communities have implicitly accepted the terms in which these communities presented themselves to the larger society.