American election reflections

Is it good for the Jews? As with virtually every issue that impacts upon Jews and the Jewish state, that depends upon whom you ask.

Obama at Kotel 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Obama at Kotel 370
(photo credit: reuters)
NEW YORK – Finally, after months – or was it years? – of political wrangling, after the most expensive election campaign in history, after tense and intense debate on both sides of the Jewish aisle, the vote is in, and Barack Obama is presidentially ensconced for another four years.
Is it good for the Jews? Well, as with virtually every issue that impacts upon Jews and the Jewish state, that depends upon whom you ask.
Certainly, there are those Jews who passionately support and defend Obama. They point to the fact that under his administration, Israel has received more financial and military assistance than at any other time in history; that he pulled out all the stops to block Palestinian statehood in the United Nations, and that he instituted harsh, unprecedented sanctions against the Iranian regime, while cooperating with Israel in an ongoing attempt to disrupt Tehran’s nuclear program.
Others will question the sincerity of Obama’s commitment to Israel, focusing on the fact that he chose not to visit our country during his first term – while paying courtesy calls to several Arab nations – and on his rather undiplomatic treatment of our prime minister. They wonder just how far Obama is prepared to go to confront the Iranians, considering his avowed pledge to lower the American military presence in the Mideast, as opposed to increasing it.
However you view the man, what is beyond doubt is the level of Jewish interest in this race.
Israelis voted in record numbers of absentee ballots – four times that of the previous presidential election – with more than 5,000 votes being cast from Israel for Florida alone. Both parties strenuously pursued Jewish backing, as evidenced by “Israel” being mentioned 32 times in the Obama-Romney foreign policy debate.
What I find most revealing – and disturbing – is the growing schism between the priorities and concerns of American vs Israeli Jews.
While exit polls show Romney received 85 percent of the Jewish vote from Israel, America went completely the other way. The latest figures suggest that 70% of American Jewry stuck with Obama. While that is somewhat down from the 78% in 2008 – though now Democrats say it was never more than 74% – it is still a staggering statistic. It suggests that we are on totally different wavelengths, our peoples separated by much more than just an ocean and several time zones.
I think the magnitude of this growing gap was epitomized by Barbra Streisand’s pitch to the National Jewish Democratic Council, wherein she urged all Jews to return Obama to office.
While she did mention that Obama continues to stand strongly with our ally Israel,” the bulk of her remarks focused on Obama’s support for women’s issues, universal healthcare, Planned Parenthood, abortion, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender rights.
Israel is still on the list, to be sure, but nowhere near the top.
A similar illustration comes out of the Ohio Senate race, where State Treasurer Josh Mandel lost to incumbent Sherrod Brown.
Mandel, an ex-Marine who served with distinction in Iraq and is a practicing Jew, was shunned by the Jewish establishment in Ohio, largely because he espoused traditional Jewish values that clashed with liberal sentiments.
When asked, for example, why he did not support same-sex marriages, Mandel answered, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but does the Bible not say, ‘When a man shall take a woman?’ Where does it say, ‘When a man shall take a man?!’” Even the Cleveland Jewish News, Ohio’s largest Jewish paper, supported his opponent. (Mandel publicly canceled his subscription in protest).
What is so worrisome is that Israel – which has always been a great equalizer among Jews, connecting us all along the faith spectrum – is rapidly losing its relevance for large chunks of American Jews. From one side, the assimilated, unaffiliated and non-observant, who – Birthright participants notwithstanding – have visited the Jewish state at the same percentage they voted for Romney (30%). At the other end is (for lack of a better term) the haredi community, which seems perfectly content to remain firmly imbedded in the Diaspora, holding Israel at armslength, with some even characterizing the State of Israel as “Galus with a Kotel!” What this election ultimately means for us in Israel is anybody’s guess; as Crosby, Stills and Nash sang, “Time will tell us who is trying to sell us.”
But if there is one clear, positive lesson we can and should learn from the American model, it is that a state of civility reigns the moment the final vote is counted.
Defeated candidates pledge their allegiance to their country, just as Romney, in his brief concession speech, wished Obama success and urged all Americans to put aside their partisanship and unite as one. When is the last time you heard an Israeli politician on the losing side of the ballot box congratulate the victor, and appeal to the nation to get behind its duly-chosen leader? That is the hallmark of Democracy and a proposal we ought to pass unanimously.
The writer is a Ra’anana city councilman and a former Republican election judge in Chicago.