The Obama Effect

This election highlights a growing phenomenon: non- Jewish Republican candidates outflanking Jewish Democrats in pro-Israel positions.

August 30, 2011 22:11
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)


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When an Orthodox Jewish, kippa-wearing Democratic candidate might lose a congressional election in the most Jewish (and 75% Democratic) congressional district in America – a seat occupied by Democrats for nearly a century – to a non-Jewish Republican, something significant is going on. And Golda Koppelman knows what that something is.

New York’s 9th Congressional District (Brooklyn and Queens) is gearing up for the September 13, 2011 special election to fill the seat vacated by disgraced Democrat Anthony Weiner. Koppelman, a Holocaust survivor who has lived her American life in the district, is a devout Jewish mother and grandmother, with family in both Israel and America. Like many of her generation, she’s also a devout Democrat. Until now.

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“I have never voted for a Republican in my life” she says. But in this election, “I don’t even care who the Democrat is; I am voting Republican to show Obama I am upset with his policy on Israel.”

Koppelman is not alone. That attitude toward President Obama accounts in large part for the surprising emergence of Israel policy as a key issue between two pro-Israel candidates, Democrat David Weprin and Republican Bob Turner. They’re statistically tied in recent polls.

Turner, a no-nonsense businessman, Zionist and deficit hawk, is not only endorsed by pro-Israel stalwarts Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Peter King; he recently received a major endorsement from Democratic former mayor and outspoken Zionist Ed Koch.

Koch recently blasted Obama for “tying Israel’s hands by demanding that negotiations on borders begin with the 1967 armistice lines…. The President made no demands upon the Palestinian Authority. He did not demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, if negotiations end successfully. Nor did he demand that Hamas, now part of the Palestinian Authority, forswear violence and agree to accept the Jewish state of Israel if negotiations conclude successfully. Nor did he demand that the PA state it will engage in land swaps. The President… has ended, in effect, the special relationship which began with president Harry S Truman.”

Koch argues that if the staunchly pro- Israel, heavily Jewish and reliably Democratic NY-9th elects a Republican, it will be a “political shot heard around the nation.” With Obama’s 2012 reelection at stake, a Republican win “will certainly get [Obama’s] attention” and possibly prompt a reassessment of his disturbingly harsh treatment of Israel.


This election also highlights a growing phenomenon: non-Jewish Republican candidates outflanking Jewish Democrats in their pro-Israel positions. The most notable example is Col. Allen West, a rising Republican African-American star, arguably the most fearless, unapologetically pro-Israel congressman from either party, who recently defeated incumbent Jewish Democrat Ron Klein in heavily Jewish South Florida.

The trend reflects the timidity of the sizeable Democratic Jewish congressional contingent. Of the current 40 Jewish members of Congress, exactly one is a Republican. Where are all those vocal congressional Jewish Democrats who certified Obama as “100% kosher” prior to his election?

Too many, evidently, are fair-weather Zionists, unwilling to make waves.

Would Democrat Weprin be any different? So far, he has dodged questions about whether he endorses Obama’s reelection. And while Turner is adamant that “not a single American dollar should be going to the Palestinian Authority while it is paying terrorists and condoning rocket attacks on Israeli families,” Weprin is so opaque on the issue that Turner has offered “a $1,000 reward to any New Yorker who can clearly explain” Weprin’s position on cutting off aid to the PA.

Turner has been profoundly critical of Democrats’ spinelessness in Israel’s defense. As one example, he cites Obama’s less-thansolid backing of Israel following last year’s Turkey-to-Gaza flotilla incident, while letting Turkey off the hook (the White House is still asking Israel to apologize): even those pro-Israel Democrats who spoke out merely “condemned Turkey, not our policies toward Turkey.”

The pattern recurred in statements following last week’s lethal terror attacks and missile bombardment of southern Israel, where Weprin would only condemn the attacks themselves, but would not join Turner in criticizing Obama’s terror-enabling policies or his allowing of US tax dollars to be funneled to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails.

Weprin, a career politician, is a nice enough man. He maintains that, as a Democrat, he can be more effective in changing President Obama’s position on Israel “from the inside.” Good luck with that. Congress is crowded with nice enough Jewish Democrats who, pro-Israel though they profess to be, can’t seem to find the words to push back against their president. What happens if Obama wins a second term, and is unconstrained by reelection or fundraising concerns?

The idea of sitting in shul next to an actual congressman, or talking policy with him over herring and Scotch afterwards, is appealing (though constituents looking to attend services with Weprin might be disappointed: he doesn’t actually reside in the district). But is it more important than restoring America’s special relationship with Israel?

The New York Times described Weprin as “a good Democratic soldier.” Precisely. That’s hardly what pro-Israel NY-9th voters like Koppelman are in the mood for.

This election, they are voting Republican.

The writer is an American attorney and political commentator living in Israel. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.

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