The Jewish Telegraphic Agency is reporting today that the Democratic Party is in the process of launching a major counter-offensive designed to quash the general perception that President Obama is not a stalwart friend of Israel. According to the Democrats, the whole idea of a conflict between Obama and Israel is a myth propagated by the Republicans as part of their perennial futile chase for Jewish votes.
But unlike previous elections when the Democrats were able to mock GOP efforts to portray themselves as better friends to Israel than their opponents, the evidence for a split between Jerusalem and Washington is more than an assertion by the Republican Jewish Coalition. It was the plain fact that three times in the last three years, President Obama has picked a public fight with the government of Israel. That doesn’t mean Republicans are saying that all Democrats are anti-Israel, as the Democrats have claimed they did in the past. The bi-partisan standing ovations given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his address to Congress illustrated gives the lie to any such charge.
But anyone who witnessed on television the drama that played out between Obama and Netanyahu last month understood that there was an argument going on and that, in the end, the Israeli prevailed. The Democrats think they can beat down the idea that Obama isn’t friendly to Israel by claiming the president’s mention of the 1967 lines in his Middle East policy speech was not a change in American policy. But, if so, why did Obama (who made the same “nothing to see here” claim in his speech to AIPAC) also say that he deserved credit for being bold enough to say it?
That is not to say that Obama has abandoned the alliance with Israel. He hasn’t. But on key issues such as Jerusalem and borders, he has tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. His refusal to couple these demands on Israel with similar ones put on the Palestinians such as a request that they drop the “right of return,” has discomfited Israel and made peace an even more remote possibility.
Moreover, while Jewish Democrats say that it is inadmissible for the GOP to even raise the issue of Israel as a matter of public debate, the people of Israel have their own opinions about Obama. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, do Israelis, whom polls show overwhelmingly believe that Obama is no friend of the Jewish state, have the right to say who is pro-Israel?
Even those who are not one-issue voters understand that this administration made a concerted effort to distance itself from Israel from its first day in office. Some Jews, especially those on the hard left and in the J Street lobby may applaud this shift. But even those who care deeply about the Democrat’s core domestic agenda and would never vote for a Republican are disturbed by Obama’s confrontational attitude toward Israel. That means the votes of Jewish independents and less fervently partisan Jewish Democrats will be, depending on the identity of the GOP nominee next year, in play to some in extent next year.
For decades, Jewish Republicans pined after another Ronald Reagan who would match the record 39 percent of the Jewish vote the GOP won in 1980. But they were looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. For all of Reagan’s virtues, it was the presence of Jimmy Carter on the ballot that year that motivated so many Jews to vote Republican. Next year and for the first time since 1980, the Republicans will have another Democrat with a less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward the Jewish state to run against. Obama will still win the majority of Jewish support in 2012 but his presence on the ballot ensures that the Democratic share of the Jewish presidential vote will plummet. Anyone who thinks speeches and op-eds from the likes of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is enough to prevent this is dreaming.