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Old News: US Congress as Occupied Territory

 Two percent of the population. Eight percent of the House. Thirteen
percent of the Senate. And a village idiot member of the House from
southern Virginia found it objectionable that one Muslim, an African
American convert to Islam, should be a member of the House, one too many
because he wanted to be sworn in on the Koran. Please draw your own
conclusions. Catholics are 30%. Not surprising. Evangelicals? Who knows?
Pity the poor Episcopalians. Let us praise diversity. But within reason.
Read on.

*Jewish Membership in Congress at All-Time High*

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007; A17

While Democrats celebrated the election of the House's first female
speaker, another milestone passed more quietly: The 110th Congress
includes more Jewish lawmakers than any other in history, and all but
four are Democrats.

About 2 percent of Americans identify themselves as Jewish. But in
Congress, the proportion of Jewish members is now four times that. Six
new Jewish House members were sworn in last week, bringing the total to
30. In the Senate, the 13 Jewish members include freshmen Benjamin L.
Cardin <http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/c000141/>
(D-Md.) and Bernard Sanders
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/s000033/> (I-Vt.),
according to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Other faith-related facts: This Congress includes its first Muslim
member and, in Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/r000146/> (Nev.),
its highest-ranking Mormon ever. Catholics remain the largest single
faith group in Congress, at about 30 percent -- slightly larger than
their proportion of the U.S. population. Baptists, Methodists and
Presbyterians outnumber Jewish members, who outnumber Episcopalians.

In making its count, the NJDC, which bills itself as the national voice
of Jewish Democrats, counted only those lawmakers who identify
themselves as Jewish. (So even if he had won, Virginia's George Allen
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/a000121/> wouldn't
have made the cut.)

"This is a recent phenomenon," said NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman.
"Fifty years ago, politics was not a Jewish profession. People would say
arts and entertainment, law and medicine, retail and things like scrap
metals, but they would never say politics."

Forman attributes this success to the rise of issue-based politics,
which has begun to supplant patronage-based party machines in boosting
candidates to national office.

What's more, the new Jewish Democrats hail from states hardly seen as
Jewish strongholds, including Tennessee, Kentucky, New Hampshire and
Wisconsin. The House has one Jewish Republican, Virginia's Eric Cantor
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/c001046/>. In the
Senate, Republicans Norm Coleman
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/c001057/ > (Minn.)
and Arlen Specter
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/s000709/> (Pa.) are
Jewish.

"Jewish members used to come from Jewish districts," said L. Sandy
Maisel, a professor of government and director of the Goldfarb Center at
Colby College in Maine who is co-author with Forman of "Jews in American
Politics." "Now they come from wherever they've caught the feelings of
people on the issues of the day. . . . That's going to be a continuing
trend."

The Republican Party has sunk millions into wooing the Jewish vote, but
Jewish voters, traditionally Democratic, have moved ever further from
the GOP in recent years. In the midterm elections, nearly 90 percent of
Jewish voters voted Democratic, according to exit polls, one of the
largest proportions in history.

Pollsters say the GOP failed to counter Jewish voters' opposition to
Republican stands on issues such as reproductive rights, stem cell
research and the Iraq war. And then there's the Republican Party
platform in President Bush's home state of Texas, which has declared the
United States to be a Christian nation.

Forman does not believe Jewish members will necessarily vote as a bloc.
"They're not lock step," he said. "You have American Jews on both sides
of many issues."
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