Pollster John Zogby is, as everyone knows, the brother of Democratic activist and Israel foe James Zogby. The latter was often frustrated by the overwhelming support for Israel among Democrats but a new poll from his brother should certainly be encouraging to all those who would like the see the Democratic Party shake off the influence of the pro-Israel community.
John Zogby writes in Forbes today that a Zogby interactive survey reveals that while 78 percent of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain see Israel’s and America’s interests as “identical,” only 28 percent of those who voted for Barack Obama think that is true.
Of course, the question is a false one. No two countries, not even America and Israel, which share common values and a belief in democracy, have “identical” interests. The United States is the sole superpower in the world while Israel is a tiny country the size of New Jersey, beset by enemies wishing to destroy it. There’s no way the two nations could or even should see eye-to-eye on everything. The question is whether they allow tactical differences to obscure the vast areas of agreement between the two.
However, Zogby is undaunted by this false choice and reports similar gaps between Republicans and Democrats to other questions such as whether Israel strengthens U.S. security or whether the U.S. should “get tough” with Israel over settlements. All show McCain voters more sympathetic to Israel than Obama voters.
Partly, this reflects something that is surely true. The base of the Republican party — religious Christians — are overwhelming sympathetic to Israel, more so in some cases than American Jews, the vast majority of whom voted for Obama.
But Zogby uses this data to jump to some misleading J Street-style conclusions. He thinks it means that most American Jews who voted for Obama did so because they, like some on the left, really wanted him to distance America from Israel and to pressure it to make concessions that the Jewish state’s democratically elected leaders think are unwise. What he fails to understand is that GOP efforts to entice Jewish Democrats to reject Obama last year did not fail because most Jewish Democrats don’t care about Israel. They failed because Obama’s efforts to reassure them that he was reliably pro-Israel allowed them to vote for him because of their substantive agreement with the Democrats on domestic issues.
Zogby is right when he says: “Concern about Israel is only one of the many issues that Americans Jews care about. Most back Obama’s liberal policies on the economy, social issues such as reproductive and gay rights and other questions of equality and fairness.” It is also true that support for Israel is getting very thin on the left and that assimilation has taken its toll on the pro-Israel sensibilities of some American Jews whose ties to the rest of the community, as well as to Israel, have weakened.
But jumping to a conclusion that mainstream Jewish Democrats would happily support a president who puts unconscionable pressure on Israel to make concessions to Hamas, or fails to take action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is another thing entirely.
Zogby is clearly urging Obama to do just that and argues that, since ardent supporters of Israel didn’t vote for him in the first place, there would be no political danger in abandoning the Jewish State. In this way, Zogby seems to be channeling former Secretary of State James Baker who in 1991 memorably noted that the Jews didn’t vote for his president so “F___ ‘em.” The difference here is that Jews did vote for Obama and he would be making a big mistake in assuming that most of them wouldn’t blink if he threw Israel under the bus.