Ever since the confrontation between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May of 2011 about the president’s attempt to dictate that the 1967 lines would be the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations, speculation about the impact of this on the president’s re-election has been intense. Since then, numerous polls have shown it is highly unlikely that Obama would get anywhere close to the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he received in 2008. Republicans are eager to take advantage of this factor in November, much as they did last year when a special election in New York’s 8th congressional district went to the GOP over this issue. But leave it to the New York Times to focus an article on this almost completely on billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is the centerpiece of an article on the front page of today’s Times about an ad campaign undertaken by the Republican Jewish Coalition highlighting the “buyer’s remorse” felt by many Jews who voted for the president four years ago but will not support him again because of his stands on Israel and the state of the economy. That the RJC would be running such ads in battleground states is hardly surprising, especially because the question of the Jewish vote being a possibly decisive factor in the outcome this year has been a matter of discussion for months. Not only did I write about this in the March issue of COMMENTARY, but just yesterday, Reuters also devoted a feature to the way Jewish voters could make the difference in Florida. But for the Times, it’s all about Adelson, who, despite being mentioned in the headline (“Mogul’s Latest Foray Courts Jews for the G.O.P.”) and the caption to a photo showing the ads, is just one of several RJC supporters who helped underwrite their production and distribution. Though liberal Jews quoted in the article are in denial about the president’s problems, and the paper would like to make it appear this is merely the function of a plutocrat’s whim, the reason why the ads are resonating is that a significant percentage of Jewish voters have been disillusioned by the president’s attitude toward Israel.
Framing the issue as one that is merely the result of Adelson’s money does little to illuminate a genuine problem for the Democrats. Though liberals are right to claim the president will carry a majority of Jewish votes this year, even the most optimistic polls show his share of the Jewish vote will decline by 10 percent though the decline may turn out to be much greater than that. Mitt Romney, whose trip to Israel this week will help highlight the differences between him and the president, is likely to get the highest percentage of Jewish votes than any Republican since Ronald Reagan. Though in absolute numbers this may not amount to much, in states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the margin between the two candidates will probably be razor thin, this will be meaningful.
The denial of these facts by Obama supporters like J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, who was given the last word in the piece to claim “there is no such thing as a Jewish problem for the president,” is absurd. But you don’t have to believe the Republican Jewish Coalition to understand that the Obama campaign knows it is in trouble with the Jews. All you had to do was to observe the all-out Jewish charm offensive that the administration has been conducting since Obama’s ambush of Netanyahu last year.
For three years, Obama focused on hammering Israel, picking fights with its government and seeking to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. But once the New York congressional race and national polls made it plain that Obama was bleeding Jewish votes in a manner reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, the president and his surrogates have been working overtime to persuade Jews to accept the dubious assertion that he is the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House. Those efforts will help contain his losses and, as even the Republicans concede, most Jews are such partisan Democrats and so liberal that there is virtually nothing Obama could do to Israel to cause him to get less than 50 percent of the Jewish vote. But a result that saw his share decline to the mid-60 percent level or lower would be a disaster for the Democrats, and they know it.
The president’s Jewish problem would exist even if there were no Sheldon Adelson. But those who wish to demonize the casino mogul would like to change the subject from Obama’s fights with Israel to Adelson’s money. While Adelson is an easy target, attacks on Republican efforts to tap into Jewish buyer’s remorse won’t make the Democrats’ problems disappear.