Can love translate into votes?

Washington Watch: Republicans’ support of Israel does not put American Jewish voters in their pockets.

By DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD
July 13, 2011 22:39
4 minute read.
PM Netanyahu, US President Obama at White House

PM Netanyahu with US President Obama at White House 311. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO)

The Democrats are running scared, the Republicans are delusional, and the Israeli government should be worried.

A new Gallup poll shows 60 percent of American Jews approve of Barack Obama’s overall performance – well below the 78% he got in 2008. That number may be 14 points ahead of his approval rating among all voters, but it’s giving Democratic operatives heartburn and Republicans high hopes for a mass exodus of Jews to the red side of the ballot.

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Republicans – focusing on the 60% and ignoring Obama’s 85% approval rating among Jewish Democrats in the same poll – have been predicting a sea change in Jewish voting for as long as I can recall.

In 2008, some were confidently predicting Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), with a solid pro-Israel voting record and popular in the Jewish community, would be the first Republican to win a Jewish majority. To make sure that happened, the Republican Jewish Coalition spent millions on a fear-and-smear campaign against the Democratic nominee, painting him as the Muslim Manchurian candidate.

Fortunately for Obama, that strategy snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, especially in the key state of Florida, and helped assure a large Democratic turnout.

I don’t know if they’re smart enough to avoid trying that again.

Not that Obama isn’t vulnerable.

Although his administration has given stronger support for Israel’s security than its predecessors, even providing advanced technology such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that the Bush administration refused, and has supported Israeli positions on Hamas, Iran and the Palestinian UN strategy, many feel there is something missing.

There’s none of the warmth that friends of Israel have come to expect. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t get along with Bill Clinton either, but Clinton and George W. Bush demonstrated a warmth toward Israel that Obama lacks.

He just doesn’t have it in his kishkes.

Obama is “pretty low on the trust and confidence scale” with Israel and the Jews, said Aaron David Miller, a Mideast policy advisor in several administrations and currently a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He isn’t an enemy of Israel, but “he’s not in love with the idea of Israel” either.

THE ADMINISTRATION’S Mideast policy has been a failure, poorly planned and explained. On settlements, borders and other issues Obama has undercut the confidence of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Even Bush’s national security advisor said there is no real difference between his old boss and Obama on the border issue – in fact, Bush publicly spoke of the need for land swaps across the pre-1967 lines in a 2008 appearance with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and no one complained – but Bush expressed it much better.

And Obama would be well advised to publicly endorse Bush’s refugee policy: Palestinians go to the Palestinian state and Jews to the Jewish state.

Aggravating Obama’s problem is his failure to visit Israel as president. He’s flown over Israel on his way to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere, but never bothered to stop in and say shalom.

Part of the problem is that the insecure Israelis need constant reassurance, but it goes much deeper; Obama missed an invaluable opportunity to go over the head of the foot-dragging Netanyahu and speak directly to the Israeli people about his commitment to Israel’s security, and to help bring peace with its neighbors.

Republicans are enjoying the Democrats’ discomfort but they shouldn’t get too complacent. Jews haven’t been single-issue voters for at least two generations, and the GOP’s love of Israel isn’t enough to make Jewish voters overlook the influence of the religious Right and the tea partiers in the Republican party.

MOST VOTERS see both parties as equally supportive of Israel, although Democrats generally favor a stronger push for it while Republicans tend to be more reluctant, with some even suggesting that to be propeace is to be anti-Israel.

The real name of the game is money.

Jews are about two percent of the voting population and shrinking, but we make up a significant proportion of contributors to both parties. That’s why Democratic operatives are scurrying about reassuring big Jewish givers of Obama’s commitment to Israel, and Republicans are trying to lure them away. JTA, however, reports it finds no evidence of any dramatic partisan shift in donations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu can get more votes in the US Congress than in the Knesset, but don’t confuse the enthusiasm of American lawmakers with their Jewish constituents.

Polls by and for Jewish organizations in recent years have shown that Israel is diminishing as a determinative issue for Jewish voters. A survey this spring for media watchdog CAMERA showed only 6% of Jewish voters consider Israel the issue “which matters most to them” in the 2012 election. For most, it’s fifth or sixth on their priority list. Many Jewish voters say they are turned away by the GOP emphasis on what have been called the 3 Gs – guns, God and gays.

Israeli leaders have another problem.

The president and the congress are negotiating trillions in budget cuts, and Israel’s annual $3 billion-plus is a tempting target as resources are stretched to the breaking point. Explaining why they cut Social Security, Medicare and local projects while protecting foreign aid to a prosperous Israel is not a job any of them would relish.

dmb@his.com


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