Obama rises among Israeli Jews

However, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain still stronger.

obama 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's polling numbers are going up among Jewish voters... at least in Israel. That is the key finding of a survey that appears Friday in Makor Rishon and was carried out by the Mutagim polling group. According to the poll, some 36 percent of Israelis favor Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, while 27% support Obama. Asked whom they "prefer to be elected as president" of the US, some 37% of the respondents said they either had no preference or did not know. In a Keevoon Research, Strategy & Communications poll published in The Jerusalem Post on May 28, McCain was favored in Israel over Obama by 43% to 20%. That poll, however, was taken before Hillary Clinton bowed out of the race. The 9% lead for McCain among Israeli Jews stands in sharp contrast to a May Gallup poll of American Jewish preferences in which Obama enjoyed a whopping 29% lead among Jewish voters. That survey was also taken before Clinton dropped out of the race. Even in that poll, McCain garnered 32% of the Jewish support, which is significantly better than what Republican presidential candidates traditionally get among US Jews. Among American Jewish voters for whom Israel is an important election issue, there is a great deal of interest these days in whom Israelis want to win the election. And since the country's top political and security officials are careful not to wade into domestic US politics, polls such as these could have significance. Jewish voters are likely to be critical in the campaign, especially in key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada. Jonathan Rynhold, a senior fellow specializing in US-Israeli ties at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said a poll like this showing Obama gaining acceptance among Israeli voters could to some extent legitimize him for American Jews who want to vote for Obama but may have been skeptical for reasons connected to his polices on Israel and the Middle East. Now, he said, they could point to the poll and say that "there are quite a lot of Israelis who think that he is okay." However, Rynhold pointed out that when American Jews ask "who Israel is for," they are not necessarily referring to the general public, but rather to the Israeli political and security decision makers. He also stressed that the vast majority of American Jews don't vote for president based on Israel-centered considerations. Rynhold said the significance of one or two Israeli polls should not be overstated, and that as November's election draws nearer and influential Israeli opinion makers - not necessarily policy-makers, but politicians, columnists and academics - comment on the race, it could dramatically alter how the general public views it. Danny Ayalon, a former ambassador to Washington and now co-chairman of the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya organization, said the poll results indicated three things. The first, said Ayalon - who wrote a much-cited article on the Post's Web site in January saying that little was known about Obama's stand on Israel and the region, and calling for him to clarify matters - was that the Democratic candidate had now better clarified his position on issues important to Israel, and dispelled some previous concerns. Obama's staunchly pro-Israel speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference earlier this month had helped answer some questions, Ayalon said. Secondly, Ayalon said, "Israelis are impressed with the same things about Obama that impress the Americans: charisma, energy and dynamism. Once suspicions were removed about whether he was a friend of Israel, people here could judge him on the other factors as well." Indeed, according to the Makor Rishon poll, Obama is particularly strong in Israel among the youth - just as he is in the US - with nearly 36% percent of people aged 18-24 saying they prefer him, and some 29% favoring McCain. The third element that explained more Israeli support for Obama, Ayalon said, was his high media visibility. "If you look at the media coverage all over the world, including Israel, it is almost two-to-one for Obama. McCain is hardly mentioned. That makes a difference," he said. The telephone poll was carried out among 500 people on June 18 and 19. The margin of error is 4.5%.