They’re back. The dreamers and the pundits who regularly predict a sea change in American Jewish voting do it every election cycle and when it fails to materialize, they can be heard muttering, “Just wait ‘til next time.”
This time the cause for optimism is the enthusiastic Republican support for Israel’s war on Hamas compared to a more lukewarm Democratic response coupled with President Barack Obama’s concerns about the Palestinian civilian casualties.
The headline in The Hill, the Capitol Hill newspaper, declared: “Republicans believe that the deepening crisis in Gaza could ultimately loosen the grip that the Democratic Party has traditionally held upon American Jewish voters.”
It won’t happen.
Recent polls show Republicans are more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats, who are more pessimistic that the two sides can ever make peace, but that hasn’t stopped nearly all members of both parties from signing letters, voting for resolutions and passing legislation expressing their undying support for the Jewish state.
When it comes to the Jews, Republicans are single-issue campaigners – all Israel all the time – while Jews are multi-issue voters and Israel is not the top issue for most.
What’s more, the rest of the Republican agenda, dominated by social and religious conservatives and the Tea Parties, turns off the 70-80 percent of Jewish voters who consistently vote Democratic.
So why haven’t Republicans figured this out? They have; all the talk about votes is just a cover story.
It’s really about money, not votes.
Republicans focus their appeal on what they feel are their strengths, Israel and national security. But even there they have problems; their efforts to demonize Obama as an enemy of the Jewish state because he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the Netanyahu government only works with the voters they already have. Another problem is their national security boast only reminds voters about how their party led us into two needless wars.
The more Republicans talk about their domestic agenda – exposing deep differences on issues like Social Security, Medicare, health care, reproductive rights, immigration reform, the environment, industry deregulation, samesex marriage, tax breaks for the wealthiest, aid for the poor, gun control, pay equity, church-state separation, voter access to the polls – the more difficult it is to attract Jewish voters.
Besides, there is no way to satisfy the broad mainstream of Jewish voters without losing the far larger and more important conservative base. In the past, the typical Jewish Republican was fiscally conservative and socially moderate. Today, with the virtual disappearance of the moderate GOP faction, it is more likely to be an Orthodox Jew who is more comfortable with the socially conservative Right and its hardline views on Israel.
In a nation increasingly becoming ethnically and racially diverse, the GOP is more monochromatic – white, rural, Christian, conservative, male and angry. Republicans just lost their only elected Jew in the 113th Congress and are down to one African-American and no LGBTs.
So why bother court the Jews? Ohio Sen. Mark Hannah, the legendary political fixer, said it over 100 years ago: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” Nowhere is the money chase more apparent than in the Jewish community. Jews may not vote Republican in large numbers but they are disproportionately large contributors. To both parties.
Since giving around $100 million in their failed attempt to defeat Barack Obama two years ago, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson has become a household name, at least in the households of political junkies. And he’s reportedly preparing to spend that much or more this year to help Republicans take control of the Senate, and more in 2016.
That’s why so many Republican contenders made a pilgrimage to Las Vegas last March to kiss his ring. Ostensibly it was a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which he bankrolls in a big way, but obsequious pols were genuflecting with enthusiasm and pledging allegiance to the Likud Netanyahu government he backs in the hopes of dipping into his deep pockets.
A problem confronting Republicans in their monolithic outreach to Jews is a drift away from Israel, particularly among younger Jews who are finding it harder to relate to the policies of a government that favors the religious and the settlers at the expense of making peace with its neighbors.
The threat is not that they will turn against Israel – polls still show their sympathies overwhelmingly lie with Israel – but that they will just tune out. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that polls and other data suggest “the gap is growing between Congress and young Americans when it comes to support for Israel.”
Congress is slow to notice because it listens more to big contributors and lobbyists like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
AIPAC doesn’t directly raise money but it has enormous influence in how millions of campaign dollars are distributed.
Its major machers are usually big campaign contributors, a requirement for leadership in the organization. It may be illegal to coordinate Political Action Committees (PAC) giving but there enough loopholes to drive a Brinks truck through.
AIPAC is often the first stop for potential candidates looking to get the blessing and connect with Jewish money. The group likes to anoint a “rabbi” for each promising candidate to be a special advisor and money connection. AIPAC isn’t a PAC, but it has close ties to nearly every pro-Israel PAC. Its lobbyists brief candidates on what to say and often write their Middle East position papers for them.
Members of Congress are often out of touch with constituents because they spend more time courting contributors and listening to lobbyists than talking to voters.
What about that oft-predicted sea change in Jewish voting? Two former Jewish liaisons for president George W. Bush say it’s not in the cards.
Tevi Troy told the Hill, “I have been around many blocks and I’ve heard it so many times: ‘Now is the point that it’s all going to change.’ And it never happens. It’s like ‘Waiting for Godot.’” Noam Neusner added, “The issue here is whether the American Jewish community votes on a single issue. The answer is no.”