Israel and the Jewish vote in America

Obama reelectedNow that Barack Obama has been re-elected for another 4 year term, it’s time for analysis both of the Jewish voting patterns in the elections, and for the future of the US-Israel relationship.

Two articles on a similar theme caught my eye today. The first by Richard Baehr from Yisrael Hayom is entitled “Israel, the Jews and a second Obama term“.

… at least among American Jews, the Republican brand is not in decline, but growing. The national exit polls suggested that Jews voted 69% for Obama, and 30% for Mitt Romney, a result almost ten points better for Romney than for John McCain in 2008, who lost 78% to 21% among Jewish voters in that year’s exit poll survey.

[...]

Overall white support for President Obama dropped from 43% in 2008 to 39% in 2012, and the decline in Jewish support mirrored this. Obama won because of his strength among minority voters. He gained about 45% of his total vote from minority groups — African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians — while Romney obtained fewer than 10% of his total vote from these groups.  [...]  American Jews represent a declining share of the U.S. population every year (2% now, down from 4% fifty years back), and it is likely that the rapidly growing Hispanic population will be the primary target of the two parties going forward, even if the Jewish vote has come a bit more into play.

Of course, even as the Jewish vote becomes less significant each cycle (Obama is ahead in still undecided Florida despite his drop-off in Jewish support there), Jewish financial support for campaigns remains important. Here there is a big difference between the two parties. Republican Jews consider U.S. support for Israel a key issue if not the most important issue in their voting and financial support for candidates. Israel ranks far down the list of issues of importance for Jewish Democrats, including the most generous contributors to campaigns. Now that the Democrats have won, what will that mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship in a second Obama term?

[...]

In the past two weeks, there have been stories in the press about secret U.S.-Iranian negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program being conducted in a third country. Those stories have been filled in a bit the last few days, with reports that the president’s closest advisor, Valerie Jarrett, has been meeting with her Iranian counterparts in Bahrain. It is not clear what, if anything, the U.S. would offer the Iranians for a cessation of their nuclear program, or for greater international controls over it.

[...]

This theory has a corollary: that Netanyahu agreed not to attack Iran in the months leading up to the November U.S. election, in exchange for U.S. support for such a military strike after the election. Presumably, the current talks are required to prove that the president did everything in his power to avoid such military action until it was required as a last resort — with all other options played out, and completion of the Iranian program in sight. I would take the other side of any wager on this theory as reality.

Those less sanguine about Obama’s intentions towards Israel suggest that any U.S. deal with Iran over its nuclear program would be at Israel’s expense. Specifically, Iranian concessions would be accompanied by a renewed drive by the U.S. to force a deal between Israel and the Palestinians to create a Palestinian state (translation: U.S. pressures Israel to make the concessions required to get such a deal done). There is no evidence, however, that the Palestinian Authority has any real interest in a final agreement with Israel, the so-called two state solution, since it would likely require the Palestinians to give up future claims against Israel, and give up on the right of return. U.S. pressure on Israel might then do little other than to further exacerbate tensions between the two countries.

[...]

The likelihood that foreign affairs, and more particularly, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the Iranian nuclear program, will be a big focus for the president in his second term, is based in part on the sense that Obama may not be able to accomplish much on the domestic front.  [...]

If gridlock continues on the domestic front, the president, who has always been anxious to burnish his legacy with major accomplishments, may look abroad to do it. That could well put Israel in his sights.

There have always been fears by some analysts that once Obama was unrestrained by domestic political considerations (no more elections to run), he could pursue his real ideological agenda, both domestically and internationally. Given his history as a community organizer, his background in the Muslim world, his commitment to redistribution policies both here and abroad, and his past close relationships with many people who are or were bitter foes of the State of Israel (Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, Ali Abunimah, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers), that agenda could take a darker turn with regard to Israel, and seek to fundamentally alter the historic relationship between the two countries. Sadly, if this is the course that is pursued, many in the American Jewish community will not put up much of a fight about it, since Israel just does not matter that much to them.

The second article I read, echoing the sentiments in the above item about the importance (or lack of it) of Israel to the American Jewish community was written by the Fresno Zionism blog, explaining that “Jewish support for Obama is not mystifying“.

Somewhere between 68 and 70% of American Jewish voters went for Obama, depending on whose exit poll you believe. Israelis that I talk to are mystified. “Are they crazy? What were they thinking?” they ask.

It’s not really mystifying. Here are some general facts about non-Orthodox and secular (the large majority) American Jews:

Although they will say that they support Israel, they do not know the history of the Middle East and the 100-year old conflict over Jewish sovereignty. They are well-educated, which means that they went to universities where, if they studied the conflict, they are likely to have been assigned books and articles by the revisionist (read: anti-Zionist) historians. They will certainly have been exposed to numerous lectures and films presented by Palestinian advocates and student groups. If they are left-of-center and engaged in antiwar or other ‘progressive’ causes, they will certainly be bombarded with extreme anti-Israel propaganda as well.

They tend to be liberal, which means that they get their news of current events from sources like the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, etc. What they will see and hear will generally confirm their mildly left-wing beliefs, but in one area — Israel — will be consistently and deliberately biased to an extreme degree.

They are very concerned about what they perceive as the danger of a Christian takeover of American society, in which Christian symbols and prayer will be officially sanctioned in public places, abortion and contraception will be prohibited on religious grounds, their children will be required to sing Christmas carols, etc. They associate Christianity with antisemitism — but do not seem to be alarmed by growing antisemitism on the Left, or in the black community.

They are less threatened by Muslims, whom they see as another minority in the US who suffer from discrimination, like blacks and Jews. They seek interfaith cooperation, and are not alarmed by the treatment of Islamist organizations as mainstream by the administration.

[...]

He [Romney] is at a huge disadvantage from the start. And the issue of Israel has little or no power to sway American Jews, because, as I’ve argued, deep in their hearts they are not sure that Israel is not really a colonialist oppressor of third-world Palestinians. In an emotional sense, many of them are not with Israel.

We know that politics is mostly emotional, so when Republicans or pro-Israel Jews presented arguments that Obama was not a friend or Israel, they bounced off. Accepting and acting on them would mean going against their deeply felt liberalism and voting Republican, something many could not bring themselves to do. And their pro-Israel feeling is not strong enough to push them over the edge. So they looked for reasons to justify their emotional position.

The Obama campaign presented simplistic talking points to ‘prove’ that he is pro-Israel. They did not have to stand up to analysis. Liberal Jews were looking for a rational excuse to justify their emotional stance, and the talking points provided one.

It’s remarkable that Jewish support for Obama — 78% in 2008 — dropped as much as it did!

For people like me and for average Israelis who are not involved in the American Jewish community, this article is both an eye-opener and a lucid explanation for the massive Jewish support for Obama. It’s a rather gloomy prospect though.

If you find all this as terribly depressing as I did, Uri Heitner reassures us that Israel has a friend in the White House. While I wouldn’t go as far as Heitner in calling Obama a friend, there’s a certain amount of logic in what he writes:

In one of their televised debates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney competed over which of them was more friendly toward Israel. This refuted the myth of Israel’s isolation and the myth that there is a rift with the U.S. over the issue of Jerusalem. Some people asserted that the candidates were only trying to woo Jewish voters and donors and were seeking to benefit from the mythical Jewish influence and some espoused fairy tales that were even more shameful than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Israel is not isolated. Israel’s political situation is much better than it is portrayed by the country’s media. This was demonstrated during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent trip to France, where France’s Socialist President François Hollande went out of his way to greet Israel’s leader with open arms. Hollande is not facing an election and French Jews are not considered to be a powerful interest group.

The alliance between the U.S. and Israel is rock solid and both major American political parties are committed to it. This alliance is a major strategic asset for Israel. The strength of the alliance does not mean, however, that the two countries agree on every issue.

[...]

Israel’s alliance with the U.S. has remained strong and has survived a number of serious crises. The most serious disputes actually occurred with Republican administrations (those of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush). Those disputes dwarfed any of the disagreements there have been with the Obama administration.

Just as the myth that Israel is politically isolated is unfounded, so is the myth that Obama is a hostile and Islamist president who loves the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama made many mistakes at the start of his first term. With the naive belief that he could repair the rift between the U.S. and the Muslim world, he adopted conciliatory policies, even toward Iran. Much to his credit, however, he learned from his failures and did not stick to those policies. (The killing of Osama bin Laden was a symbol of Obama’s active fight against radical Islam.)

Obama made a rookie mistake by pushing Israel into a settlement construction freeze. This allowed the Palestinians to climb a tree from which they have still not come down. But Obama himself no longer holds that position.

Another Obama mistake was his naive faith in the Arab Spring and his belief that Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt would be replaced by secular democratic forces.

Obama has been and remains committed to the alliance with Israel. He has increased aid and strengthened security cooperation between the two countries. He has led the campaign to thwart unilateral Palestinian efforts at the U.N. and gave a thoroughly Zionist speech at the U.N. General Assembly in 2011. He has brought the free world to impose significant sanctions on Iran for the first time — sanctions that could be effective and eliminate the need for military action — and he has pledged to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

I think Heitner overstates his case somewhat, but he’s right that Israel is not a partisan issue, and we must take care that it doesn’t turn into one, no matter what the American Jewish voting patterns may be.

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28 Responses to Israel and the Jewish vote in America

  1. BO’s base is hard left and passionately “anti-Zionist”. In his first term he proved that he intends to rule from the left, frequently by bureaucratic fiat and disregarding public opinion. During his reelection campaign he unified various hard left interests; never turned towards center — or at least what was considered center a decade ago. These will be trying times for Israel. I think you should look for allies elsewhere.
    Check out these Obama supporters:
    http://lonelyconservative.com/2012/11/obama-supporters-celebrate-the-destruction-of-israel/
    Not atypical.

    • anneinpt says:

      Yeah, as I said, it’s a pretty gloomy outlook. And I agree with you (and disagree with Heitner to a large extent) about Obama’s stance.

      Re that horrifying video, I saw it earlier on Israellycool. It shocked me on several levels: first, the pure antisemitism and hatred of Israel shining (if that’s the right word) through; secondly, the utter ignorance about the Jews’ and Israel’s history, especially from Jewish youngsters, and thirdly the gutter-level of language employed, mainly by the first interviewee. His constant swearing and almost incomprehensible English (was it English?) should make everyone very worried about the future of America.

      • Rob Harris says:

        I think people need to acknowledge the ugly reality that there is a great deal of anti-Semitism within the American black community, and (perhaps to a lesser extent) the latino community too. These are the two biggest minority blocks within the Democratic party, and with the demographic changes within the US which are increasingly making the Republicans unelectable, there is evidence of a worrying trend that the US will no longer support Israel in the following decade unless these issues are confronted.

        It is doubly ironic as Jews did more for the civil rights movement in the 60’s than perhaps any other non-black group, and almost as a parallel, Obama was rejected by the black community early in his career because he was seen as being a shill for whites and Jews – the black anti-Semitism that helps him today hurt his own career on two prior occasions!

        • anneinpt says:

          You’re right about minority antisemitism, and yet it is so politically incorrect to point out this sad fact.

          I had no idea that Obama was thus rejected by his community early in his career. What a very interesting point! I wonder how much this affected his position vis-a-vis Israel today (although I would not call him an antisemite).

  2. reality says:

    another item -Obamas wife is virulently anti semitic/zionist-they couch the antisemitism in cool words to make it anti zionism & not anti semitism or anti Israel(no difference) & she has a lot of influence on Obamas policies. All the papers yesterday were talking about Netanyahu needing to restart the”friendship” between him & Obama. Forgive me for saying this, but it was Obama who constantanly put Bibi down,ignored him & generally treated him like a bully in a school yard. Just as the Americans chose Obama(for the life of me I cannot understand them as nothing good came out of the first 4 years for them financially etc) & we have to respect their wishes so too the US will have to respect our wishes according to who will become prime minister & if Netanyahu is re elected with a high right wing electorate our wishes & stand must be respected even if Obama & his advisors don’t like it!

    • Ed Klein’s “The amateur” describes the beginning of the 0bama admin/regime as a tug-of-war for influence between three people — all of them products of the Chicago machine — each representing a faction: the pragmatic relative moderates represented by then WH chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, the New Class doctrinaire leftists represented by Valerie Jarrett, and the perpetually aggrieved represented by Michelle “for the first time of my life I am proud of my country”. Guess who left to become mayor of ChiTown (in a typical Chicago election)? Yes, Bill Daley (son and brother to mayors Bill Daley father and son, respectively) came in — and then suddenly left in disgust.
      Neal Stephenson wrote a novel “REAMDE” recently. Transpose the last two letters to see the novel being written now ;-)

      • anneinpt says:

        Hello New Class Traitor, thanks for your informative and insightful comment. You’ve given us more background to the Obama administration, giving more depth to the picture we (or at least I) have. I’m really not very up on American politics, being British-born and now living in Israel.

        I didn’t quite understand what Bill Daley left in order to become mayor of Chicago, and why did he suddenly leave in disgust? I thought it was Rahm Emanuel who became mayor.

        Anyway, welcome to my blog! :-)

    • anneinpt says:

      Thanks reality, I’d forgotten about Michelle Obama and her own associates, and their influence on Obama.

      You are absolutely right that it was not Bibi who “lost” the friendship with Obama, but vice versa, and those calling on him to reset the relationship are in fact endangering Israel’s relationship with America.

      (I edited this comment to add the link).

  3. Andrea says:

    Hi Anne,

    You have come back to full activity on your blog ! I wish this beautiful moment for your family will last for a very long period of happiness |.

    Concernig Obama I happened to find a survey committed by a Jewish Org . http://www.jewishdatabank.org/
    I am not so sure links it works so I will send you by mail in a separate way – I think it would be profitable for everyone to read it for different reason. If this survey looks evidently unreliable to you we can forget about it but if a good percentage of info are quite right well … there is a lot to think about.
    Before this election among 12 jewish senators 10 were democrat, 2 independent and 0 GOP. Then we had 24 Jewish rep in 20 differet states and if my counting is correct only 1 was GOP. Note that 2 jewish rep have been elected in state with highest percentage of Muslim voters.
    Most of Jewish house holders have an income higher than average jewish democrat rep.but this do not lead them to GOP. Among very rich Jews ( sterotype alert ) in Washington with more USD 200 000 percentage of democrats seems to be 70%.”They have pockets like episcopaliand but vote like Puerto Ricans” says a common motto.
    Most of them are aging, well educate, intermarried and not part of organized community.
    In Washington
    61% defined themselves as Democrats and 14% as Republicans.
    Jewish women are more Democrats than jewish males ( 77%)
    Jewish attending synagogue are more Demcrats that the one are not member of Synagogue ( 73% ) – at least in Washington
    Percentage of Democrats among Orthodox drammatically falls but they are still the majority 56% being Republican 28% (2 to 1 ratio )
    Israel in therm of importance as an issue in candidate choice was 8th of 15th in 2008.
    Obama never visited Israel but Regan ( two mandates ) and Bush 1 did the same.
    By reading this I am not surprised at all about 2012 outcome.

  4. anneinpt says:

    Thanks for the link below Andrea. I didn’t read all the data there, but none of what you have written surprises me. It matches various other reports and opinion pieces that I have read.

    We also need to remember that even though Obama is no friend of Israel, the relations between Israel and the US during the Republic term of Bush I and James Baker was very tense, much worse than during the Democrat Bill Clinton’s term. So the fact that Obama is a Democrat is not per se what makes the US-Israel relationship bad. It’s the personalities themselves that influence the situation.

  5. rachel says:

    Many of these comments and your own blog reveal how out of touch you are with the sentiments and thoughts of American Jews. You even say as much that you don’t understand them. Some of these comments suggest voting for Obama was voting against Israel. What rubbish! The fact is all American presidents have been friends to Israel. And even as you have mentioned, there has been more Israeli tensions between previous Republican presidents than with this Democratic one. What you have failed to mention about Romney and the Republican party is how they alienated women. Women – Jewish women included of course – voted for Obama by a huge percentage. There were even two Republican candidates – both defeated – who spoke of “legitimate rape” and were against abortion for women even in cases of incest. As for the dire state of our economy, most Americans believe Bush era Republican policies are responsible. Romney’s American was a white male country club America. Jews never belonged or wanted to be in such a racist, bigoted club. In addition, Romney and Tea Party members called 47 percent of the country moochers, lazy people, who did not belong in “their” America. American Jews saw this was morally indefensible. Obama’s win proved the rich, including the morally bankrupt Sheldon Adelson (who has an embarrassment to most American Jews) cannot buy elections in America.

    • anneinpt says:

      You are right that all American presidents have been friends to Israel although there are certainly different degrees of friendship. And as we have both mentioned, it is perversely Republican presidents who have caused more problems for Israel than Democrats.

      Regarding Romney vs. Obama, please remember that I am not American so I have no vote. I certainly wasn’t a big fan of Romney and thought the Republicans could have don a lot better with their choice. And yes, he and some of his colleagues said some ridiculous things about a lot of important subjects like abortion, women’s rights etc. However I didn’t express any opinions about this because – as I said before – I am not American so the candidates’ opinions on domestic issues don’t concern me.

      I only commented as far as Israel is concerned. In this respect I feel my view is as valid as yours. We have to agree to disagree. But I certainly wish America congratulations and all the best in this next Obama term.

    • cba says:

      ” Obama’s win proved the rich… cannot buy elections in America”
      And yet the Obama campaign out-spent the Romney campaign.

      Just for the record, like Anne, I am not an American so I didn’t vote. Also for the record, I didn’t like either candidate.

      • anneinpt says:

        Thanks cba. I noticed an interesting thing in the American elections. The Democrats made a huge talking point about Romney’s wealth, but as you say, the Dems outspent the Republicans, and certainly there is no lack of extremely wealthy Democratic supporters. George Soros comes to mind and there are many others.

        • rachel says:

          This is not true, not according to Ad Age giving only one source, which I believe is nonpartisan. http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/romney-outspent-obama-advertise/238241/.
          In the presidential race Republicans outspent the Democrats with Romney’s money coming from big interest groups and also people like Adelson and the Koch brothers, billionaires who care only about their tax bill. Soros pretty much sat out this election. Important to remember that the money for the Democratic race came mainly from private citizens and yes many of them are wealthy but nothing like the Koch brothers.

  6. rachel says:

    Obama and the Democrats are friends of Israel. The more you refer to American politics the more you get it wrong. Do you have any desire to learn or do you prefer your ignorance?

    Romney didn’t care about Israel. He belongs to a religion whose main purpose was converting people. He said whatever he thought would get him elected. Who even knew what he thought about anything?

  7. Andrea says:

    Some among our American friends – irrespective of the fact they are Democrats or Republicans – look like to be very passionate about the topic of 2012 elections and they find extremely difficult to understand how it is difficult for moderate people ( the ones which usually stay in the middle – neither Liberals or Conservative in American language ) out of USA to appreciate what is going on . To make thinghs worse there are few of them who think to belong to an enlightened minority with the right to teach us how to let our minds driven to the full level of knowledge.
    Well, I stay with Anne with her balanced view on USA politics. I do not think she and other contributors here are ignorant even if I disagree with most of their comments on USA. They have different views fro mine and then – thank you G-d we are not al the same
    Labelling the others and their religion do not help at all. Sorry for my intrusion but I thought it was right to say my word.

  8. rachel says:

    Of course you are entitled to express your opinion. Who said you were not? But as an American I can tell you her criticism of Obama and the Democrats is not fair or balanced. It gives all you readers the wrong impression of how American Democrats feel about Israel or their level of commitment. She spouts misleading information about the election and president Obama and many people who read this blog and have never been to America accept it as truth.She is not fair and balanced.

    Of course Israelis must look out for their own best interests but if America doesn’t stand with you who will? France?

    • cba says:

      “She spouts misleading information about the election and president Obama and many people who read this blog and have never been to America accept it as truth”

      Anne,I’m very impressed with the power of this blog.

      And here was I thinking the almost unanimity of the press in “spouting misleading [and demonizing] information” about Israel was a teensy bit more of a problem. But I guess we all put our energies into what’s important to us.

    • Rob Harris says:

      Rachel, its evident that the level of polarisation in American politics is worse than in other parts of the West, and a great deal of it has to do with identity. I have been surprised at the level of animosity many Democrats feel for Republicans, and that is reflected on many internet forums for example. That isn’t a healthy situation to be in, and I think people like yourself need to stop watching The Daily Caller (forgive the presumption on my part) and try to transcend it for the sake of your own nation. The truth is indeed that there are unpleasant reactionary elements in the Republicans but they do not truly define the broad swathe of politics that such a big party represents – perhaps 48% of the nation. There are bad eggs in the Democrats too but again they do not necessarily represent the be all and end all of the party.

      What Anne and other peeps who support Israel are concerned about is the tide turning in the Democrat party. I think you’re in denial about this phenomenon as there are very many pointers justifying that belief. Even major Democrat supporters like Alan Dershowitz are worried too so don’t blame people at the frontline like Anne when they criticise the Democrats. Their safety, and that of their families, depends on Israel remaining a secure nation. If Israel became a partisan issue in the US, and it looks like it may by the 2020 elections, then a major source of its security would be lost. Don’t take anyone’s word for it (least of all mine) – engage with the issue with an open mind and see if there is cause for Israeli supporters to be worried, and if there is then consider discussing it with your fellow Democrats.

      I made similar points to a passionate OWS figure last year. I tried to explain that it wasn’t an attack on his group to point out that there are extreme elements within his group that he needed to be aware of.

      • anneinpt says:

        Excellent reply Rob, and thank you for expressing my thoughts more cogently and eloquently than I ever could.

        You also hit the nail on the head when talking about many Democrats being in denial about Israel’s very real security issues and fears.

  9. Andrea says:

    Rachel, you are moving like an elephant in a crystalware shops. What is the purpose of mentioning France here ? do you need to provoke some French reader ? next time it wil be Irish or Polish ?
    I am rather pro – democrats or, should I say that If I were American I would vote Obama ( but who care ? do not think people is interested in my opinion- this is Anne’s opinion not Andrea’s ) but your way of discussing is frankly irritating.
    There are more Americans who have never been to Europe or Israel than the other way round. How many non- Americans newspaper ( or even Israeli ) are read by enlightned American Liberal Jews ? I suspect that many of them are not able to even write a single phrase in a not English language – to not mention Hebrew.
    So accept other point of view other than mainstream liberal american . Hearing the other bell sound helps a lot.

    • anneinpt says:

      Andrea, thank you for answering Rachel in my absence. You answered much more elegantly and a million times more patiently than I could have managed. And you expressed my thoughts exactly.

      Thank you again.

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