Biden says Jewish ‘influence’ behind American cultural politics is ‘immense… immense’

Israel/Palestine
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Joe Biden gave a speech to a Jewish group Tuesday night at which he said that the Jewish influence “behind” American culture is “immense.” Praising a Jewish audience, he spoke of the prominent roles Jews had played in transforming American attitudes toward civil rights, feminism, and gay rights. The loquacious veep struck a high-water mark in philosemitism:
 
You make up 11 percent of the seats in the United States Congress. You make up one-third of all Nobel laureates. So many notions that are embraced by this nation that particularly emanate from over 5,000 years of Jewish history, tradition and culture: independence, individualism, fairness, decency, justice, charity. 
The speech, which is up at Politico, had a political dimension: it was delivered at a Jewish American Heritage Month reception hosted by the Democratic National Committee. More from Jennifer Epstein’s coverage:
 

“You can’t talk about the civil rights movement in this country without talking about Jewish freedom riders and Jack Greenberg,” he said, telling a story about seeing a group of Jewish activists at a segregated movie theater in Delaware. “You can’t talk about the women’s movement without talking about Betty Friedan” or American advances in science and technology without mentioning Einstein and Carl Sagan, or music and Gershwin, Bob Dylan and “so, so, so many other people.”

“I believe what affects the movements in America, what affects our attitudes in America are as much the culture and the arts as anything else,” he said. That’s why he spoke out on gay marriage “apparently a little ahead of time.”

“It wasn’t anything we legislatively did. It was ‘Will and Grace,’ it was the social media. Literally. That’s what changed peoples’ attitudes. That’s why I was so certain that the vast majority of people would embrace and rapidly embrace” gay marriage, Biden said.

“Think behind of all that, I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good,” he said.

Jews have also been key to the evolution of American jurisprudence, he continued, namedropping Brandeis, Fortas, Frankfurter, Cardozo, Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan. “You literally can’t. You can’t talk about the recognition of … rights in the Constitution without looking at these incredible jurists that we’ve had.”

“Jewish heritage has shaped who we are – all of us, us, me – as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years. And that’s a fact,” he said.

It’s been picked up by the Times of Israel and Haaretz, the latter saying that Biden praised Jewish leaders for helping change American attitudes about gay marriage.

Writes Bruce Wolman:

Guess who is running for President? This is about the worst pandering I’ve ever seen. Gays didn’t drive gay marriage, Jews in Hollywood and on the internet did. Is Joe sacrificing the Orthodox vote?
Of course, some of those Jews are gay themselves. I tend to agree somewhat with the vice president: Jewish cultural/political influence has been staggering (and matriarchal culture suited us to play an important role in the women’s movement). And Biden has opened a door, even with his use of the prepositional phrase “behind all that.” Behind is about quiet influence. And if we’re so influential, doesn’t that give people the right to discuss that influence– say in the instance of the lobby, the Jewish marriage to Zionism and the effect of that collision on US policy in the Middle East? Of course. (It also opens the door on Jewish exceptionalism, certainly a core belief of my upbringing….)


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