Commentary Magazine


GOP “Wedge” on Israel May Motivate Evangelicals More than Jews

During each of the past few election cycles, Republicans have sought to make inroads in the Jewish vote by highlighting their party’s strong support for Israel. Those efforts to use Israel as a “wedge” issue largely failed. The question that some observers are asking this morning is whether President Obama’s latest shot fired across the bow of Israel’s government will be enough to motivate a significant number of Jewish voters to support the GOP next year. But while Obama’s move may motivate some Americans to support a given candidate, the votes up for grabs may not be Jewish.

By demanding that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the starting point for peace, Obama tilted the diplomatic field significantly in the direction of the Palestinians. Moreover, there is no doubt that the timing of the statement, coming only one day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to arrive in the United States, was intended to humiliate the Israeli.

Republican presidential hopefuls weren’t slow to pick up on this point.  Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and even Ron Paul all issued statements yesterday taking issue with Obama’s gift to the Palestinians. For Romney, Obama had not only “disrespected Israel” but was “throwing Israel under the bus.” Michele Bachmann declared that the president “had betrayed our friend and ally Israel.” Tim Pawlenty not only termed the emphasis on the 1967 borders “a dangerous demand,” but also stated “Jerusalem must never be re-divided. But can any of these candidates make significant inroads among supporters of Israel ?

It needs to be understood that the majority of Jewish voters who are both ardent liberals and partisan Democrats won’t vote for a Republican under just about any circumstances. A Democrat doesn’t have to be more pro-Israel than his opponent to get their support; he just has to be considered plausibly pro-Israel. That’s a low standard but it’s one that allowed Obama to get 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. But outside of the hardcore left, a negative record on Israel would still be a handicap, depressing fundraising and losing centrist votes. Although Obama’s apologists will claim he still meets that standard, this latest swipe at Jerusalem will not be forgotten and will cost him some money and votes though probably not enough to significantly influence the outcome in 2012

While many observers will dismiss the GOP contenders’ stands on the 1967 borders as mere pandering, the fact is the votes that are up for grabs as a result of this controversy are probably not those of disillusioned Jewish Democrats. Many evangelical and other conservative Christians are devoted friends of Israel and consider this, alongside social issues such as abortion, a litmus test for candidates in a way that most Jews do not. And it is the members of this group, who vote in large numbers in Republican primaries and caucuses that will more readily influence the outcome of those contest than any Jewish support.

So rather than focus on whether the GOP has a chance to win over the Jews, it might be wiser to ponder which of the candidates is best placed to demonstrate to Christians their unswerving support for Israel.