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.