WASHINGTON – Standing before 10,000 American Israel Public Affairs Committee
activists three days after his speech on the Middle East set off a firestorm
within the pro-Israel community last month, US President Barack Obama didn’t
beat around the bush.
Alluding to his call for a Palestinian state to be
based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, Obama elicited quiet
laughter when he told the crowd, “I know that stating these principles – on the
issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few
He continued, “I wasn’t surprised. I know very well that the easy
thing to do, particularly for a president preparing for reelection, is to avoid
Having courted controversy, Obama has indeed found
himself in a hard place, as not only Republicans but even some Democrats were
quick to take issue with his comments.
At that very same AIPAC gathering,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer
(D-Maryland) both publicly distanced themselves from the president’s Middle East
And – perhaps just as important when it comes to preparing for a
reelection – several prominent Democratic fundraisers gave voice to concerns
about Obama, many of them anonymously.
“I have spoken to a lot of people
in the last couple of days – former supporters – who are very upset and feel
alienated,” Mort Zuckerman, a media mogul who has heavily contributed to the
Democratic party and endorsed Obama, told The Washington Times at the time of
the AIPAC conference. “He’ll get less political support, fewer activists for his
campaign, and I am sure that will extend to financial support as
“Good friends tell you how you can improve. They don’t tell you
‘everything’s great’ and then you find out nobody buys the food in your
restaurants,” fundraiser Michael Adler, who has close ties to Vice President Joe
Biden, told The Wall Street Journal of his conversations with the campaign on
how things sat with the Jewish community.
The heaviest hitter to go on
the record has been Haim Saban, who said on CNBC recently that “President Obama
has raised so much money and will raise so much money through the Internet, more
than anybody before him. And he frankly doesn’t, I believe, need any of my
While Saban never contributed to Obama – he gave heavily to
his 2008 party competitor, Hillary Clinton – and he committed to giving to Congressional races, his comments still struck a
nerve and have revived questions about how much of the Jewish vote and
fundraising machine Obama will retain in 2012.
Republicans have been
quick to jump on the statements.
“Certainly there is a strain in the
Democratic Party that is deeply troubled and that demonstrates a shift [away]
for 2012,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish
He added that the level of the threat was demonstrated by the
Democrats’ concern for beating back that perception.
that there’s cause for concern,” he said.
Tevi Troy, who once served as
Jewish liaison in the George W.
Bush White House, said that with
estimates concluding that upward of 50 percent of Democratic donors are Jewish,
“if you’re going to take away some percentage of [those] donations to Obama,
we’re talking some serious money.”
David Harris of the National Jewish
Democratic Council, however, differed with the GOP assessment.
going to do everything they can to spread disinformation to distort reality,” he
“There are a significant number of Jewish Democrats who feel
strongly about this pro-Israel president, and I’m not deeply
But even if the Republicans are right in their
characterization, that doesn’t mean it will have a huge impact on the race. With
such a deep pool of Jewish Democratic contributors and a Jewish constituency
that cast 78% of its votes for Obama in 2008, the impact of dissenters could be
Troy himself concedes, “There’s no doubt that President Obama is
going to have a lot of money in his reelection coffers,” and even that “Obama is
going to have a majority of the Jewish vote, because every Democratic
presidential candidate has a majority.”
But, he continued, “the question
is how much money and how big is the margin.”
Troy argued that when
Republicans could erode even some of the Democrats’ large majority in the Jewish
community, it could have an effect. He pointed to swing states such as Ohio and
Florida, where he said modest GOP inroads among Jews had contributed to George
W. Bush’s victory.
“If I were representing a Democratic candidate and I
wanted to raise $1 billion for an election campaign, I would do everything I
could not to tick off Jewish Democrats and Jewish voters,” he said.
Norm Ornstein, an expert on campaign financing at the American Enterprise
Institute, doubted that the noises being made at this point would translate into
major problems for the president.
Obama, now an incumbent, mastered the
art of Internet fundraising and has yet to be challenged by an amorphous
“I don’t think Obama’s going to lose a lot of sleep
over fundraising problems,” he surmised. “There are going to be some headaches
there, but I think he’s not going to have any problem achieving his
He noted that “obviously you don’t want to have significant
fundraisers unhappy with your president,” but said a major clash would have to
transpire with Israel over the next few months to have a serious impact on the
“Are you going to see them give to a Republican candidate if it’s
Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann? No, not very likely,” he added of alienated
Jewish Democratic givers.
According to Ornstein, more are likely to
simply sit out the race, but the numbers likely to do so as this point wouldn’t
have dramatic implications.
“It makes a small difference, but not a large
difference, and it’s something that a sitting president can overcome,” he said.