Every time anyone suggests Barack Obama’s hostility to Israel will cost him some Jewish votes, the anger from both the Democratic Party establishment as well as outraged liberals is considerable. So it was little surprise Ben Smith’s report yesterday in Politico generated considerable pushback from those invested in the continuation of the political status quo in the Jewish community. But, as I wrote yesterday, the problem for Democrats is not the once fashionable idea Jews were being seduced by the lure of conservative ideology, but the plain fact the leader of their party is someone who has a problem with Israel.
Still, the arguments made by those who claim there is unlikely to be any shift in the Jewish vote deserve to be discussed in some detail.
The first such argument could be summarized as denial about Obama’s problem with pro-Israel voters. An example is former congressman Ron Klein’s piece in Politico today in which he says the president’s views on Israel have been “misrepresented” by nefarious Republicans. According to this view, although Obama’s views could be “more artfully communicated,” they are substantially no different from those of previous presidents. All it will take to quell Jewish dissent will be for wavering Jews to be convinced to ignore their own lying eyes and ears and again listen to Democrats who assure them about Obama, as they did in 2008.
This is, of course, nonsense.
Obama has picked fights with Israel almost from the first day of his administration. While he has not trashed the alliance altogether, something that would be too politically costly to even contemplate, the president has staked out new ground on settlements, borders and particularly Jerusalem that were different from those of his predecessors and which have tilted the diplomatic playing field against Israel. His ambush of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month may have backfired on him as the Israeli was able to make his defiance of the president’s dictat on borders stand up to the cheers of Congress, but there was no mistaking Obama’s hostility. The idea this can be explained or rationalized is wishful thinking on the part of Democrats. Those voters who consider a candidate’s attitude toward Israel when they decide whom to vote for are bound to think less well of Barack Obama next year.
Paul Waldman at the American Prospect raises a better counter-argument to the possibility of a possible shift in Jewish votes. According to Waldman, the whole discussion is irrelevant simply because most American Jews are ideological liberals who will never vote for a conservative Republican.
He’s right when he implies the idea most Jews are single-issue voters who only care about Israel is a myth. Some Jews simply don’t care at all about Israel while others are aligned with leftist groups that believe it must be bludgeoned into submission for the sake of peace and are completely comfortable with the policies of the Obama administration. Still others are concerned with Israel’s welfare but tend to prioritize domestic issues over any foreign policy consideration. Others, and this may be the largest group here, are simply deeply partisan Democrats who just can’t bring themselves to vote for a member of the GOP.
Most Jewish liberals are still far more afraid of conservative Christians than they are of al-Qaeda, Hamas or Hezbollah. It is not even so much a question of ideology as it is of culture and prejudice. These voters don’t care how much a Republican loves Israel. If it means voting for a half-hearted friend of the Jewish state or one whose attitude is even more questionable, they will do it rather than support a candidate who is pro-Israel but also a pro-life evangelical. This means it is more than likely no matter how bad things get between Israel and Obama, the president will likely garner a majority of the Jewish vote next year. But to concede this point doesn’t mean a significant shift might not occur.
Are there swing Jewish votes and enough of them to make a difference in 2012? The answer is yes, and I’ll discuss who they are and what they might do next year in my next post.