Though we here in Israel are nearly half way around the world from the United States, the Fourth of July is in the air. US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro Monday night hosted the traditional annual Fourth of July celebrations at his residence, where both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikva” were sung.

Consul-General Daniel Rubinstein is to host a reception to celebrate the 236th anniversary of American independence in Jerusalem Wednesday evening.

Numerous American expats will barbecue or mark the USA’s Independence Day in some other way. And to add to the festive atmosphere, Israel has received word that prospective Republican candidate for US president, Mitt Romney, is planning a visit to the Holy Land this summer.

One impetus for Romney’s trip is a desire to reach out to Jewish voters whose support for US President Barack Obama has apparently weakened over the past year.

According to the most recent Gallop polls, the incumbent enjoys a 64 percent to 29% advantage over Romney among US Jews. Though at first glance Jewish support for Obama remains impressive, a slightly different picture emerges if we look at these results in relation to past elections.

The vast majority of US Jews are die-hard Democrats. It has been 32 years since a Republican – Ronald Reagan – received 39% of the Jewish vote, the highest of any Republican candidate in recent history – due in large part to dissatisfaction with Jimmy Carter, who received just 45%. If Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, manages to surpass the 30% mark, Jewish Republicans would view it as a major victory. Also, the present level of support among US Jews marks a sharp drop from Obama’s 74% to 23% advantage prior to the 2008 elections. And this reflects a decline which is about five points worse than the drop among all registered US voters.

Assuming the drop in support for Obama is the result of dissatisfaction with Obama’s policies vis-à-vis Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a trip to Israel might help Romney garner more Jewish support at home.

Indeed, many on the Right have played up Romney’s planned visit, noting that it underscores Obama’s failure to include a trip to the Jewish State in his presidential agenda (though he did visit Israel at the same stage in the 2008 presidential campaign as Romney’s slated visit).

Some on the Right have conjectured that Obama is avoiding a visit to Israel now because he wants to play down the tensions that exist between himself and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Others have even claimed that Obama is concerned that if he comes to Israel, he will be booed by Israeli crowds.

However, there is little evidence to support these claims. Obama’s weakened support among US Jews probably has little to do with his policies with regard to Israel.

AJC surveys in the past four years have shown that Israel has consistently ranked no more than fifth on American Jewish voters’ priority list.

A paper by Dr. Eric Uslaner of the University of Maryland found that in the 2004 US presidential elections, only 15% of Jews said that Israel was a key voting issue.

Ranking higher are domestic matters such as unemployment, house prices and health care and international military conflicts in which US soldiers’ lives are placed in danger.

“It’s the economy, stupid” is just as pertinent with Jewish Americans as it is with the larger US voting population.

As for Obama’s supposed lack of popularity among Israelis, a recent BESA Center-ADL survey found that 22% of Israelis believed that Obama would promote Israel’s interests better if re-elected while 29% said Romney would; half were undecided – hardly conclusive evidence of Obama’s lack of popularity.

Cynics claim that a visit by Obama to Israel at this stage would be perceived as a cheap attempt to garner Jewish support and signal that the incumbent is nervous. But we disagree.

Obama has proved to be a true friend of Israel during his first term as president, though he has made mistakes – the building freeze in Judea and Samaria was the most glaring example. A visit to Israel would be a fitting conclusion to four years of sometimes rocky, but generally positive, relations between the White House and the State of Israel.

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