Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jewish vote

Will Rand Paul Hijack the Pro-Israel GOP?

For the past generation, Republicans have been able to argue with justice that their party is more consistently pro-Israel than that of the Democrats. That wasn’t just the result of President Obama’s antagonism toward Jerusalem and George W. Bush’s friendship. Rather, it was an acknowledgement that a significant portion of the influential left wing of the Democrats was hostile to the Jewish state, while those few Republicans who were not friends of Zion had been marginalized. While Pat Buchanan had been more or less kicked out of the GOP in the 1990s, left-wingers like the ones who booed the adoption of a platform plank on Jerusalem at the Democratic National Convention this year were numerous and not without a voice in the party’s councils. But that may be about to change.

Republicans are congratulating themselves on breaking the 30 percent mark in their share of the Jewish vote this year, even though they could point to Barack Obama’s problematic relationship with Israel. As I pointed out on Wednesday, anyone who assumes the GOP will continue to gain ground among Jewish voters needs to remember that they won’t have that advantage four years from now. But the really bad news is that the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party will make it clear that a significant portion of the GOP probably shouldn’t be characterized as part of the pro-Israel consensus. With the retirement of Rep. Ron Paul from electoral politics, the baton of the libertarian extremist/isolationist camp will pass to his son Rand, the senator from Kentucky. The younger Paul is more politically astute and probably a lot more marketable to a mainstream audience than his father was. But he is no less opposed to a mindset that sees a strong America and a strong alliance with Israel as integral to U.S. foreign policy than the older libertarian. That makes it entirely possible that under Rand’s leadership, radical libertarians will move from the fever swamps of the GOP to the mainstream. That’s bad news for the Republican Party, and could make their efforts to attract more pro-Israel and Jewish voters even more futile than they have been in the past.

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For the past generation, Republicans have been able to argue with justice that their party is more consistently pro-Israel than that of the Democrats. That wasn’t just the result of President Obama’s antagonism toward Jerusalem and George W. Bush’s friendship. Rather, it was an acknowledgement that a significant portion of the influential left wing of the Democrats was hostile to the Jewish state, while those few Republicans who were not friends of Zion had been marginalized. While Pat Buchanan had been more or less kicked out of the GOP in the 1990s, left-wingers like the ones who booed the adoption of a platform plank on Jerusalem at the Democratic National Convention this year were numerous and not without a voice in the party’s councils. But that may be about to change.

Republicans are congratulating themselves on breaking the 30 percent mark in their share of the Jewish vote this year, even though they could point to Barack Obama’s problematic relationship with Israel. As I pointed out on Wednesday, anyone who assumes the GOP will continue to gain ground among Jewish voters needs to remember that they won’t have that advantage four years from now. But the really bad news is that the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party will make it clear that a significant portion of the GOP probably shouldn’t be characterized as part of the pro-Israel consensus. With the retirement of Rep. Ron Paul from electoral politics, the baton of the libertarian extremist/isolationist camp will pass to his son Rand, the senator from Kentucky. The younger Paul is more politically astute and probably a lot more marketable to a mainstream audience than his father was. But he is no less opposed to a mindset that sees a strong America and a strong alliance with Israel as integral to U.S. foreign policy than the older libertarian. That makes it entirely possible that under Rand’s leadership, radical libertarians will move from the fever swamps of the GOP to the mainstream. That’s bad news for the Republican Party, and could make their efforts to attract more pro-Israel and Jewish voters even more futile than they have been in the past.

As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, the coming civil war among Republicans over foreign policy will putt two traditional rival camps — the neoconservatives and the so-called “realists” — on the same side against what could be a rising tide of Rand Paul supporters who believe their small government credo ought to mandate massive defense cutbacks as well as the withdrawal of America from its place on the world stage.

Up until now, this wasn’t much of a contest because although Ron Paul could get throngs of his youthful libertarian crowd to applaud his absurd rationalizations of rogue regimes, such as Iran, or his belief that American imperialism helped generate anti-American terrorism, most Republicans weren’t buying it. But with a leader who doesn’t come across like everybody’s crazy uncle, the libertarian faction has reasonable hopes of doing much better. It’s not outlandish to believe, as Bill Kristol said on Fox News on Wednesday, that Rand Paul is likely to be a first-tier presidential candidate in the 2016 Republican primaries. If so, and I think he may be right, then there will be no question that it will call into question the assumption that there is wall-to-wall backing for Israel in the GOP.

To say that is not to jump to the conclusion that the younger Paul is an odds-on favorite to win the next Republican presidential nomination or that his views reflect those of the majority of Republicans. I think the chances of Paul ever being nominated are slim to none and that is in no small measure due to the fact that his embrace of his father’s foreign policy views — albeit expressed by the Kentucky senator in terms that are more subtle and less likely to be viewed as crackpot theories — will cripple any hope of ever capturing the party leadership.

Some Tea Party activists, like the staffer for Freedom Works who was quoted by Eli Lake as worrying about the possibility that a budget deal would avoid crippling defense cuts, believe their small government ideology requires a complete retrenchment of American defense and foreign policy. While some in the grassroots may share those sentiments, there is every reason to believe that the majority of those who identify with the movement also have traditional conservative views about the importance of American military power. Many also believe it vital that the U.S. maintain its alliance with the only true democracy in the Middle East: Israel.

The idea that the Republican Party will go back to its pre-World War Two embrace of isolationism is based on an imperfect understanding of the party’s base and its core beliefs. To argue, as some on the both the left and the right may, that there is a contradiction between believing in small government on domestic affairs but supporting a strong military, is to ignore that the requirement to “provide for the common defense” of the nation is enshrined in the Constitution that Tea Partiers revere.

Nevertheless, Rand Paul will be far more of a force in the Republican Party in the coming years than his father ever was. That’s a problem for conservatives who hope the GOP remains a bulwark of common sense about national defense and foreign policy. It will also mean that one of the party’s most prominent spokesmen will not be someone who will be viewed as reliably pro-Israel.

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GOP Jewish Gains Illustrate Their Problem

The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.

First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.

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The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.

First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.

As for the cause of a nearly 20-percent swing in the Jewish vote since 2008, it is difficult to argue that Israel was not a key factor in explaining the change in the last four years. Though liberals will point out that President Obama lost ground with virtually all demographic groups except for African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters, the gap between the nearly 10 points he lost among Jews and what may turn out to be about a three-percent drop in his overall vote total in 2008 requires an explanation. Since it is highly unlikely that a generally liberal Jewish community was more perturbed by the economy, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that four years of battle between the president and the government of Israel took a toll on Obama’s share of the Jewish vote.

The five- to six-percentage point difference between his overall decline and the ground he lost among Jews is easily understood as the product of the fights Obama picked and the questions his conduct raised among pro-Israel voters about his trustworthiness. While a small percentage of the Jewish vote, it is still a sign that a significant number of Jewish Democrats cared deeply about the issue. Though few Jews consider Israel the No. 1 issue at stake yesterday, the RJC poll reported that 76.5 percent of the respondents consider Israel to be either “very important” (30.2 percent) or “fairly important” (46.3 percent). And that seemed to be reflected in the poll in which 22.8 percent said Obama was “pro-Palestinian” and 17.4 said he was just neutral.

By posting a 50-percent gain over what McCain received, the RJC can claim a moral victory of sorts. It can also credibly assert that with its ad campaigns aimed at Jewish voters, it is building its brand and increasing market share in the community. The 31-32 percent Romney got also marks the highest total for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. That’s nothing to sneeze at and should, at least in theory, scare Democrats into thinking that they are on the wrong end of a trend that could ultimately start to make even more serious inroads into their longtime near-monopoly of the Jewish vote, especially when you consider that Republicans continue to do best among Orthodox Jews, the fastest growing sector of the community.

Those who will argue that the RJC didn’t get much in return for the prodigious effort they made with Jewish voters should take into consideration that the Democrats took this threat seriously. Not only did they campaign hard to defend Obama’s record on Israel in the last year, with extravagant and inaccurate praise of him as the Jewish state’s best friend to ever sit in the White House, the president noticeably adjusted his policies as part of an election-year Jewish charm offensive. Without it, it’s probably the case that Democratic losses would have been much greater.

But the GOP shouldn’t be celebrating too loudly.

The problem with looking at the 2012 results as part of an upward trend for Republicans is that this election was a unique opportunity to win Jewish votes that may not be replicated again for many years.

For more than thirty years, Jewish Republicans have looked to the 1980 election, in which Ronald Reagan set the modern record for the GOP share of the Jewish vote with 39 percent. In that period, they have searched for another Reagan who could do as well. They have found that even when their nominee was considered an even more ardent friend of Israel than the Gipper — as George W. Bush was when he ran for re-election in 2004 — they still fell far short of their goal.

Their problem was that they were looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of another Reagan, what they needed was someone to play the role of Jimmy Carter, the president whose antagonism to Israel set in motion the 1980 exodus of Jewish voters to the GOP. That’s exactly what they got in Obama.

If, as RJC leaders Matt Brooks and Ari Fleischer insisted on a teleconference with the press about the poll today, it was unfair to expect a party to do better than the 10 percent gains they got yesterday, it must still be observed that they are highly unlikely to be presented with as inviting a target four years from now. Indeed, if a Republican couldn’t do better than 32 percent with Obama as an opponent, it’s likely they will lose ground rather than gain more if they are presented with a Democrat who is demonstrably more sympathetic to Israel than the president.

While the growth of the Orthodox community gives the RJC some hope, their encouraging 2012 results are really just more proof of their intractable problem: convincing an overwhelmingly liberal group to vote for Republicans.

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How Worried is Obama About the Jewish Vote? Very Worried

The overall tone of the foreign policy debate portrayed President Obama’s insecurity about the race as he swung away at Mitt Romney as if he was the challenger rather than the incumbent. But if there was any particular element of the electorate about which he seemed concerned, it has to be the Jewish vote. President Obama’s all-out effort to portray himself as Israel’s best friend and Iran’s most ardent foe showed just how desperate he is about the possibility that he will lose Jewish votes as a result of spending the first three years of his administration constantly picking fights with the state of Israel and attempting to establish daylight between its positions and those of the United States.

That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability. Even more interestingly, he found himself staking out a position on Iran’s nuclear program that had to alarm those advocating a compromise on the issue as well as his European negotiating partners in the P5+1 process. The president didn’t endorse Israel’s calls for “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear capability as did Romney, but he did say that the only solution to the standoff involved a stand that would make the sort of compromise that realists and foreign policy establishment types approve impossible:

And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

The deal that the compromisers want and which seems to be in the cards if the direct talks between the U.S. and Iran that the New York Times reported over the weekend would commence after the elections would involve an agreement that would leave the Iranian nuclear program in place but have their enriched fuel shipped abroad.

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The overall tone of the foreign policy debate portrayed President Obama’s insecurity about the race as he swung away at Mitt Romney as if he was the challenger rather than the incumbent. But if there was any particular element of the electorate about which he seemed concerned, it has to be the Jewish vote. President Obama’s all-out effort to portray himself as Israel’s best friend and Iran’s most ardent foe showed just how desperate he is about the possibility that he will lose Jewish votes as a result of spending the first three years of his administration constantly picking fights with the state of Israel and attempting to establish daylight between its positions and those of the United States.

That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability. Even more interestingly, he found himself staking out a position on Iran’s nuclear program that had to alarm those advocating a compromise on the issue as well as his European negotiating partners in the P5+1 process. The president didn’t endorse Israel’s calls for “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear capability as did Romney, but he did say that the only solution to the standoff involved a stand that would make the sort of compromise that realists and foreign policy establishment types approve impossible:

And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.

The deal that the compromisers want and which seems to be in the cards if the direct talks between the U.S. and Iran that the New York Times reported over the weekend would commence after the elections would involve an agreement that would leave the Iranian nuclear program in place but have their enriched fuel shipped abroad.

Critics rightly point out that even if the Iranians went along with this, it would mean a situation that would be a standing invitation for Tehran to cheat its way to a nuclear weapon. Their model would follow the way North Korea hoodwinked the Clinton and Bush administrations when it was assumed that the deals they signed with Pyongyang precluded that rogue nation going nuclear.

But the president has closed off that option. He is now committed to a position that is incompatible with Iran having any sort of nuclear program. His statement also makes the Iran talks that some senior officials in his administration thought were a done deal impossible. If the president is to keep his vow to prevent Iran from going nuclear, it is clear that he is now more or less forced to accept Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position on “red lines,” since the terms of the negotiations that the Europeans have pushed in the P5+1 talks have now been ruled unacceptable.

While many in the audience focused on his bragging about a 2008 visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum (as if Romney hadn’t been there himself on his various tours of the country) and to the town of Sderot, the real news is the way the president has now ruled out any compromise on Iran.

It isn’t clear whether these pledges will erase the memory of his ongoing fights with Netanyahu over borders, settlements and Jerusalem in the minds of Jewish voters. Romney’s passionate support of Israel and his pointed reminder that the world noted that the president avoided Israel when he visited the Middle East will likely win the GOP more Jewish votes than it has won in a generation. But it’s a given that Iran was sent a signal in Boca Raton that a second term sellout of Israel on the nuclear issue was just made a lot more difficult.

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Obama Holding Onto Liberal Jewish Voters Despite Israel, Iran Concerns

American Jews may take a more jaundiced view of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting their opinions about the presidential race. The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee shows President Obama likely to take a smaller portion of the Jewish vote than he did in 2008 but avoiding the catastrophic decline that Republicans hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 65-24 percent margin among Jewish voters. That represents a marked decline from the 78 percent he got in 2008 (though Democrats now claim the number was only 74 percent). But Romney’s inability to get more than a quarter of the Jewish vote shows that resistance to the GOP among this largely liberal group is still intense.

That still shows a potential loss among Jewish voters for Obama that was larger than his expected decline from the totals he had in 2008 among the rest of the population. That can be reasonably interpreted as a backlash against the administration’s endless rounds of fights with Israel’s government, such as the latest one over Iran that gave the lie to the Democrats’ election-year Jewish charm offensive. But Romney’s failure to make more of this weakness on Obama’s part undermines any scenario by which lost Jewish votes for the Democrats could alter the outcome in swing states like Florida. While the poll shows some progress for the GOP this year, the data show that liberal ideology and partisan affinity for the Democrats still overwhelms any concerns about the Middle East for the majority of Jews.

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American Jews may take a more jaundiced view of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting their opinions about the presidential race. The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee shows President Obama likely to take a smaller portion of the Jewish vote than he did in 2008 but avoiding the catastrophic decline that Republicans hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 65-24 percent margin among Jewish voters. That represents a marked decline from the 78 percent he got in 2008 (though Democrats now claim the number was only 74 percent). But Romney’s inability to get more than a quarter of the Jewish vote shows that resistance to the GOP among this largely liberal group is still intense.

That still shows a potential loss among Jewish voters for Obama that was larger than his expected decline from the totals he had in 2008 among the rest of the population. That can be reasonably interpreted as a backlash against the administration’s endless rounds of fights with Israel’s government, such as the latest one over Iran that gave the lie to the Democrats’ election-year Jewish charm offensive. But Romney’s failure to make more of this weakness on Obama’s part undermines any scenario by which lost Jewish votes for the Democrats could alter the outcome in swing states like Florida. While the poll shows some progress for the GOP this year, the data show that liberal ideology and partisan affinity for the Democrats still overwhelms any concerns about the Middle East for the majority of Jews.

While previous polls of Jewish voters have encountered skepticism because of sample size, this AJCommittee poll avoids that problem. Though the margin of error is fairly large at five percent, the sample consists of 1,040 Jews rather than the much smaller numbers of previous polls, including one also sponsored by the organization that showed Obama leading by a larger margin in Florida than many though reasonable.

The breakdown by denomination shows the depth of the Republicans’ problem. Obama has large leads among Conservative and Reform Jews as well as those who call themselves “just Jewish.” But Romney has a 54-40 percent edge among Orthodox voters. Given that the survey showed only 8.3 percent of the Jewish voting population were Orthodox, that accounts for the lopsided margin. However, that does give the GOP some hope for improving their lot in the future, since the Orthodox are the fastest growing sector of American Jewry.

Given the ongoing tussle between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the former’s refusal to set red lines about the Iranian threat, it is interesting to note that 64 percent of Jewish voters don’t believe the president’s policies of diplomacy and sanctions will stop Iran. An equally large majority — 65 percent — would support U.S. military against Iran with an even larger number backing Israeli action that Obama opposes.

This data can be interpreted in one of two ways. On the one hand, Jewish voters may actually believe Obama will use force in a second term to stop Iran, rather than doubting him as apparently the Israelis do. On the other, it may be more proof that whatever their opinions about Israel or Iran, most Jews simply do not view these issues as priorities when they vote. American Jews are not only not one-issue voters, Israel ranks fairly low in their list of priorities with 61.5 percent listing the economy as the most important issue, 16.1 percent saying health care, 4.7 percent listing abortion and 4.5 percent mentioning U.S.-Israel relations. Only 4.2 percent called it the second most important issue and 6.1 percent said it was the third most important.

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Florida Poll is Bad News for Jewish GOP

As I’ve noted before, just about every poll taken in the last year shows that President Obama is likely to lose ground among Jewish voters when compared to his performance in 2008. That’s also the finding of a new American Jewish Committee poll of Jewish voters in Florida. But while, as JTA notes, both Republicans and Democrats have sought to spin the numbers as good news for their side, in this case President Obama’s supporters have the stronger case.

The poll shows that the president leads Mitt Romney by a 69-25 percentage-point margin with five percent undecided. That is less than the 74-78 percent of the Jewish vote Obama got in 2008. But it is far less of a decrease than other polls have shown. More to the point, if these results hold up, it is not enough of a shift to be considered large enough to help swing the state if Florida turns out to be close. For that to happen, the GOP needs to hold Obama closer to 60 percent than 70 and get Romney up over the 30 percent margin. The drop in Obama’s support is explained by the answers to poll questions that show the positions of the majority of Jewish voters on topics like Israel and Iran to be significantly different from those of the administration. But those issues don’t appear to be enough to convince enough Jewish Democrats and independents to forsake the president in favor of Romney.

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As I’ve noted before, just about every poll taken in the last year shows that President Obama is likely to lose ground among Jewish voters when compared to his performance in 2008. That’s also the finding of a new American Jewish Committee poll of Jewish voters in Florida. But while, as JTA notes, both Republicans and Democrats have sought to spin the numbers as good news for their side, in this case President Obama’s supporters have the stronger case.

The poll shows that the president leads Mitt Romney by a 69-25 percentage-point margin with five percent undecided. That is less than the 74-78 percent of the Jewish vote Obama got in 2008. But it is far less of a decrease than other polls have shown. More to the point, if these results hold up, it is not enough of a shift to be considered large enough to help swing the state if Florida turns out to be close. For that to happen, the GOP needs to hold Obama closer to 60 percent than 70 and get Romney up over the 30 percent margin. The drop in Obama’s support is explained by the answers to poll questions that show the positions of the majority of Jewish voters on topics like Israel and Iran to be significantly different from those of the administration. But those issues don’t appear to be enough to convince enough Jewish Democrats and independents to forsake the president in favor of Romney.

The poll illustrates something we already knew. The vast majority of Jewish voters identify with the Democratic Party and are more liberal than the rest of the population. Though the Democrats hold on the Jewish vote is, as a Pew survey proved, slipping, the gap between the parties is still not close.

There is also some cognitive dissonance at play here. While a majority of those polled support the president’s handling of relations with Israel, an even larger majority approve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support an Israeli attack on Iran that the president has worked harder to prevent than he has to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Clearly some of those who back Israel haven’t connected the dots between the candidates’ positions on the issues and their own.

But while the decline in Jewish support for Obama in this survey is enough to support, as do other polls, the conclusion that the president’s stand on Israel has hurt him, it is still only a marginal rather than a decisive shift. Indeed, if Obama can still wind up getting 70 percent of the Jewish vote after years of Israel-bashing and a clear determination not to act on the Iranian nuclear threat, then it must be conceded that other issues, such as the Democrats’ class warfare attack on Romney or the fake “war on women,” means more to Jewish voters than Israel.

It should be noted, as with other polls, that this poll’s credibility rests on its sample. In this case, the overall sample is not large, consisting as it does of only 254 registered voters. More to the point, it may undercount the Orthodox, who tend to be more conservative and Republican than other Jews, since it shows that they are only three percent of the total, a number that may be low even for Florida.

That said, Jewish Democrats have good reason to be encouraged by this poll. As for the GOP, it shows they need to keep hammering away on Israel and Iran — points that are being made in ad buys in Florida targeting Jewish voters — if they hope to succeed in November.

UPDATE:

The American Jewish Committee has now belatedly released the margin of error for this survey as being six percent. While earlier I pointed out that the sample size for this poll was small and that it may have undercounted Orthodox Jews, having such a big margin of error seriously undermines its credibility. This means that President Obama’s share of the Florida Jewish vote could be as low here as 63 percent (as well as being as high as 75 percent). That should calm the nerves of some Republicans who had to be perplexed by the results as well as cause Democrats to restrain their glee. But it should also encourage the GOP to redouble their efforts in this sector since, as I wrote, the breakdown on issues like Israel and Iran ought to give some room for Romney to gain ground at the president’s expense.

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Pew: Jews Identifying Less With Democrats

There’s been a lot of debate about just how much Jewish support Barack Obama is going to lose this year. But other than some truth-challenged blind partisans like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, few have challenged the assertion that the president is likely to get fewer Jewish votes in November than he did in 2008. The only question his how much of a drop off can we expect?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gave us another clue today when it released a graphic showing a marked decline in Jews identifying as Democrats over the past four years. In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the party while only 20 percent were linked to the GOP. In 2012, those numbers have gone to 66 percent for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans. If the presidential vote reflected party affiliation, that would mean the president is certain to lose significant ground from 2008, when his share of the Jewish group has been estimated to be from 74-78 percent (Democrats claimed 78 percent four years ago but now say the number was smaller)–though not as big a drop as some surveys have seemed to indicate. Nevertheless, this is important since it is likely that many voters, especially Jews who have historic ties to the party, might be willing to vote against President Obama while still calling themselves Democrats. But no matter how you slice it, this seems to set Democrats up for their worst showing among Jews since 1988.

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There’s been a lot of debate about just how much Jewish support Barack Obama is going to lose this year. But other than some truth-challenged blind partisans like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, few have challenged the assertion that the president is likely to get fewer Jewish votes in November than he did in 2008. The only question his how much of a drop off can we expect?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gave us another clue today when it released a graphic showing a marked decline in Jews identifying as Democrats over the past four years. In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the party while only 20 percent were linked to the GOP. In 2012, those numbers have gone to 66 percent for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans. If the presidential vote reflected party affiliation, that would mean the president is certain to lose significant ground from 2008, when his share of the Jewish group has been estimated to be from 74-78 percent (Democrats claimed 78 percent four years ago but now say the number was smaller)–though not as big a drop as some surveys have seemed to indicate. Nevertheless, this is important since it is likely that many voters, especially Jews who have historic ties to the party, might be willing to vote against President Obama while still calling themselves Democrats. But no matter how you slice it, this seems to set Democrats up for their worst showing among Jews since 1988.

There are a couple of interesting points to be gleaned from the Pew survey.

The first is something that has been noted about other polls that break down the potential presidential vote by ethnicity and religion. Though the president seems likely to lose ground from the better than 53 percent of the total vote he received in 2008, his losses among Jews are greater than those in any other group. Given that it is impossible to argue that Jews are more likely to dislike his economic policies or his health care bill more than any other religious or ethnic groups, the only possible explanation for this decline is his policy toward Israel. Dissatisfaction with the president’s problematic relationship with Israel — highlighted again last week as he snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and refused to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program — is the most likely explanation for an otherwise puzzlingly high rate of disaffection on the part of Jewish Democrats.

The other is that the current numbers actually show a slight improvement for the president since 2010 when the margin between the two parties was actually smaller, with a 63-31 percent gap between Democrats and the GOP. Clearly, Democrats have gained ground all across the board since their midterm debacle. The boost for the Democrats could also reflect some minimal success for the administration’s Jewish charm offensive that seemed to have affected their Middle East policies until the latest dustup between Obama and Netanyahu.

These numbers are by no means conclusive, and there’s no telling whether the president might continue to gain ground among wavering Democrats and independents in the coming weeks. But these results also show that it is entirely possible that the president’s share of the Jewish vote may turn out to be on the low end of the range of possible outcomes rather than, as Democrats have argued, on the high side.

Indeed, since there is still a stigma in some Jewish quarters about openly expressing support for conservatism or the Republican Party, it may be that the Jewish vote for Obama may turn out to be much lower than the figure for affiliation. If so, that will be a signal victory for the GOP and help change the outcome of the election in closely fought states like Florida or Ohio.

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Has Netanyahu’s Iran Bluff Been Called?

Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.

The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.

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Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.

The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.

That leaves the Israeli stuck with a grim choice between ordering an attack or to simply accept the American decision and wait until the inevitable moment when the Iranians announce their success.

The divisive debate about a unilateral attack that has gone on in Israel in recent months has obviously undermined Netanyahu’s position with the Americans. Whereas earlier in the year, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak seemed to have their country with them as they blustered about the nuclear peril from Iran. Their saber rattling was credible enough to force a reluctant Obama administration as well as the Europeans to finally enforce tough sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. The P5+1 talks would never have happened had the Western powers and the Russians and Chinese not feared that Israel would act on its own if they didn’t get serious about pressuring Iran. But the abject failure of those talks and Iran’s ability to continue to generate oil revenue despite the sanctions allowed Tehran to escalate its drive to enrich enough uranium for a bomb. And the Americans and the international coalition they assembled weren’t interested in pushing the issue beyond the show of diplomacy.

In essence, Netanyahu is back where he was a year ago with the only difference being that Iran is one year closer to a nuke and President Obama seems to think he need no longer fear Israel’s threats. As John rightly predicts, that sets the stage for Obama to demonstrate the sort of “flexibility” on Iran that he has promised to show to Russia if re-elected. That will leave Israel not only facing the peril of a nuclear Iran but also having lost the help of its sole ally on the issue.

That leaves us wondering not so much what Obama or Netanyahu is thinking right now but what American Jewish supporters of the president are making of this dispiriting display of pique from the White House. Over the last year the president has embarked on a charm offensive intended to minimize the decline in his share of the Jewish vote. But by choosing to avoid an opportunity to reassure them and Israel of his intentions on the existential threat from Iran, Jewish voters have just been given another reason to abandon the president.

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Arguing About the Jewish Vote

At the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner takes me to task for “manipulating the facts” in a post I wrote yesterday about the Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential race. What facts did I “manipulate”? Just this: I reported that the poll’s breakdown of voters by religion showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 59-35 percent margin with 6 percent undecided. But Rosner doesn’t say I falsified the numbers. His criticism is that I didn’t ignore them.

According to Rosner, the sample size of the poll is too small for any statistics about the admittedly tiny percentage of the voting public that is Jewish to be meaningful. That’s a fair point and I should have noted that the sample here, as in just about any poll that is not focused only on Jews, is pretty small and might not be accurate. But it is significant that even this small sample seems to reflect the same trend that other larger and perhaps (or perhaps not) more reliable polls have consistently shown for the last year: Barack Obama is going to get far fewer Jewish votes than he got in 2008. To deny that, as some of the president’s Jewish cheering section has been urging us to do, is absurd.

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At the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner takes me to task for “manipulating the facts” in a post I wrote yesterday about the Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential race. What facts did I “manipulate”? Just this: I reported that the poll’s breakdown of voters by religion showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 59-35 percent margin with 6 percent undecided. But Rosner doesn’t say I falsified the numbers. His criticism is that I didn’t ignore them.

According to Rosner, the sample size of the poll is too small for any statistics about the admittedly tiny percentage of the voting public that is Jewish to be meaningful. That’s a fair point and I should have noted that the sample here, as in just about any poll that is not focused only on Jews, is pretty small and might not be accurate. But it is significant that even this small sample seems to reflect the same trend that other larger and perhaps (or perhaps not) more reliable polls have consistently shown for the last year: Barack Obama is going to get far fewer Jewish votes than he got in 2008. To deny that, as some of the president’s Jewish cheering section has been urging us to do, is absurd.

Rosner also says I’m wrong to cite the figure of 78 percent as being Obama’s percentage of the Jewish vote in 2008. He says it was 74 percent. He might be right, as exit polls are far from exact. You never know whether people are telling canvassers the truth about how they voted and several times in recent history the actual results have been quite different than what the exit polls said they would be. But the initial reports from national exit polling done on Election Day four years ago was 78 percent. Indeed, that is the number that the National Jewish Democratic Council trumpeted in their triumphal post-election press release. It is also still the number published by the reference site Jewish Virtual Library. Of course, in contrast to 2008, Democrats are eager these days to lower estimates of Obama’s vote rather than to inflate it since it will cushion the blow this fall when he winds up with a far lower percentage of Jewish support than last time.

Rosner also assumes that Obama will get more than 59 percent of the vote and chides me for assuming that’s the number he will get, even though all I did was to speculate that he will likely not wind up with all of the undecided voters and might get a result closer to that number than to the 64 percent of Jewish votes that Michael Dukakis got in 1988.

Perhaps Obama will equal Dukakis’s total or slightly better it. My point was not to harp so much on the 59 percent figure but to point out that any result in that vicinity or even the number Dukakis would get constitutes the worst result among Jews for a Democrat in 24 years. As it happens, a Gallup poll of Jewish voters conducted in July showed Obama doing no better than Dukakis. And since Jewish polling in the last year has consistently shown that this is a very real possibility, it’s hard to take claims of “manipulation” seriously. No matter how you slice it, unless there is a dramatic shift in the president’s direction, the result will be a historic decline for the Democrats that will (if you assume he’ll get 64 percent this year and got only 78 percent in 2008) see him lose at least 14 percent off the total he got four years ago.

As I’ve written about some of those other polls in the past months, the main point to be gleaned from them is not so much the absolute totals but the same one I discussed yesterday. No matter how much you soft-pedal Obama’s decline in Jewish support, the only explanation for it that makes any sense is concern over Israel. That is the only conceivable reason why Jewish voters, no matter how large or small the sample, have consistently shown a greater willingness to desert the president than any other ethnic or religious group.

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Poll Shows Obama Getting Lowest Jewish Support Since Carter

President Obama may be enjoying a slight, if likely temporary, bounce in the polls this week. But one of the surveys showing him with a lead in a tight race over Mitt Romney also provides a breakdown of the data that confirms predictions that he is losing up to a quarter of the Jewish votes he got in 2008. The Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll gives a breakdown of religion along with other demographic groups and shows Obama leading among Jews by a margin of 59 to 35 percent with six percent undecided. While that is still a majority it is a dramatic decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he got four years ago.

Obama has a 46-44 percent lead over Romney in the TIPP poll. That means Obama is suffering from a decline in support throughout the electorate from his 2008 victory when he won 53 percent of the vote. But the president’s loss of approximately 25 percent of Jewish voters this year is not matched by a similar decline in any other demographic group. Indeed even in the unlikely event that Obama was to win almost all of the undecided voters in the survey, that would barely match Michael Dukakis’ 64 percent of Jewish votes in 1988. Far more likely is a result that would leave the president with the lowest total of Jewish votes since 1980 when Jimmy Carter received 45 percent in a three-way race with Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel.

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President Obama may be enjoying a slight, if likely temporary, bounce in the polls this week. But one of the surveys showing him with a lead in a tight race over Mitt Romney also provides a breakdown of the data that confirms predictions that he is losing up to a quarter of the Jewish votes he got in 2008. The Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll gives a breakdown of religion along with other demographic groups and shows Obama leading among Jews by a margin of 59 to 35 percent with six percent undecided. While that is still a majority it is a dramatic decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he got four years ago.

Obama has a 46-44 percent lead over Romney in the TIPP poll. That means Obama is suffering from a decline in support throughout the electorate from his 2008 victory when he won 53 percent of the vote. But the president’s loss of approximately 25 percent of Jewish voters this year is not matched by a similar decline in any other demographic group. Indeed even in the unlikely event that Obama was to win almost all of the undecided voters in the survey, that would barely match Michael Dukakis’ 64 percent of Jewish votes in 1988. Far more likely is a result that would leave the president with the lowest total of Jewish votes since 1980 when Jimmy Carter received 45 percent in a three-way race with Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel.

Over the past year, Jewish Democrats have scoffed at predictions of a dramatic loss of support for Obama. The president’s attitude toward Israel was a major issue in the special election in New York’s 9th Congressional District and allowed Republican Bob Turner to steal a long-time Democratic stronghold with a disproportionately large Jewish population. But Democrats dismissed that result as an outlier and have been predicting that the president, who has conducted an election year charm offensive toward Jewish voters after three years of constant fights with Israel, would recoup any potential losses by Election Day.

Given the fact that a majority of Jews identify as liberals, the Republican Party’s social conservatism would seem to set up Romney for the same shellacking among Jewish voters that every GOP candidate has received since 1988. Instead, the TIPP poll shows him threatening to rival Ronald Reagan’s modern record set in 1980 when he won 39 percent of Jewish votes, the most ever by Republican since World War One. Since it is unreasonable to assume that Jews are any more riled up about the economy than any other faith or demographic group, the only possible explanation for this stunning result is dissatisfaction with Obama on Israel.

While Jews constitute a tiny portion of the total electorate anything close to a 59-35 percent result could have a major impact on the outcome in Florida with its large Jewish community. But it could also be meaningful elsewhere, especially if states like Pennsylvania or Ohio turn out to be close.

This problem was highlighted by last week’s fiasco at the Democratic National Convention when pro-Israel language was first removed from the party’s platform and then clearly not supported by the majority of delegates when some of it was put back into the document. The spectacle of the majority of Democratic delegates on the flower booing when both God and Jerusalem were put back into their platform will linger with viewers. Though Jewish Democrats like Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz have sought to dismiss this incident as a non-story, the TIPP poll illustrates its importance.

For decades, Jewish Republicans have sought a GOP candidate who could equal Reagan’s achievement but they were mistaken. They needed a Democratic opponent like Jimmy Carter and in President Obama they may well have found one.

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Dems Turn to Explain a Troubling Platform

Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

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Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

Democrats spent the day backpedaling and, taking a page from the book of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fibbing furiously about getting AIPAC to sanction the platform. Nobody believed these assertions, leaving pro-Israel Democrats like Alan Dershowitz saying the decision was “deeply troubling” since “I don’t think it is a good thing that the Republican platform seems to be more pro-Israel than the Democratic platform.”

The divide between the two parties on social issues is well established and it is hardly surprising that Republicans would mollify conservatives in their document while Democrats turned their convention’s first night into a celebration of abortion as well as other liberal positions on social issues.

Dershowitz’s conscience may be eased by the reported decision of the party to reinstate the more pro-Israel text that had been in the 2008 platform. But the willingness of the Democrats to deliver a symbolic slight to the pro-Israel community at the very moment when they are trying so hard to stop Jewish voters from deserting President Obama was still telling. If the dropping of language supporting Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital and the designation of the country as America’s most important ally in the region was done at the behest of the White House that gives cold comfort to those who worry about what a second Obama administration will mean for Israel. More important, at this point such a move is a blow to the credibility of the election-year Jewish charm offensive the administration has been pursuing.

It is true that no Republican president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital any more than Obama has done. But the current administration has also done more to undermine Israel’s claim to the city than any predecessor. It has made an issue about the right of Jews to live in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods and considered housing starts there as an insult to Vice President Biden. Under Obama, Jerusalem has been treated as being no different from the most remote West Bank hilltop settlement. That gives extra importance to the platform language of the president’s party.

Even if we put this down as mere symbolism or believe the Democrats backtracking will silence their critics, it will provide some serious food for thought for undecided voters as we head down the homestretch of the presidential campaign. While the stands of the parties on social issues was never in doubt, the Democrats have just given wavering pro-Israel Jews one more reason to think about not voting for President Obama.

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Obama’s “Pro-Israel” Defenders

What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

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What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

Obama checked the boxes. He did what he had to do in these instances, and not an iota more. Even the Iron Dome funding that Saban touts in the column was one of those “bare minimum” obligations. Financial backing for Iron Dome was part of a deal struck by President Bush in 2007, and Obama fulfilled it. What else was he going to do? Break the promise? Oppose additional funding efforts from congress?

Saban goes on to set up a straw man that the only real grievance Obama critics have is that he hasn’t visited Israel yet:

So what’s the case against Mr. Obama? That he hasn’t visited Israel since he was a candidate in 2008? Perhaps these critics have forgotten that George W. Bush, that great friend of Israel, didn’t visit Jerusalem until his seventh year in office.

It was actually Saban who complained that Obama hadn’t visited Israel back in May 2011, when he indicated he might not contribute to Obama’s reelection campaign. That apparently changed after Saban had a personal meeting with Obama earlier this year, and donated $1 million to Democratic super PACs over the summer, as David Frum points out.

A common complaint from Israel supporters is that Obama doesn’t do enough to show his feelings for the Jewish state. But that seems far less important than what he does behind the scenes. Out of the public glare, the administration has tried to water down Iranian sanctions efforts in congress. They’ve also reportedly pressured Israel against taking action on Iran. Obama backtracked on agreements between Bush and Sharon on the 1967 lines — and then adamantly denied this was a policy change. His administration quietly scrubbed mentions of Jerusalem as an Israeli city from its websites, and — when caught — frantically tried to scrub them from Bush-era documents while claiming this had always been the policy. Obama expanded the standard interpretation of a settlement freeze, providing yet another excuse for Palestinian intransigence. And the Democratic National Committee weakened the pro-Israel language in its platform this year, in order to conform to Obama’s policies.

Pro-Israel Democrats have plenty of reasons to support Obama — but none that have anything to do with his Israel policy. They can try to spin Obama’s record as much as they want, but at the end of the day they’re just lowering the bar for what it means to be pro-Israel in the Democratic Party.

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The Motive for Partisan Lies About Israel

As Alana wrote last night, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has now produced an audiotape of a talk given by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz that resolves the mystery surrounding her recent comments about Israel. There is now no doubt that, despite her denial on national television last night, Wasserman Schultz told a group of Jewish Democrats that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said, “that what the Republicans are doing is bad for Israel.” Oren says he never said such a thing and that denial is credible since, as he pointed out, Israel has good friends on both sides of the political aisle. That leaves us not only with the question of why Wasserman Schultz felt constrained to lie about it but why she ever made such a claim in the first place.

Wasserman Schultz lied about making the claim that Oren backed her ideas about the GOP because she probably didn’t know there was a tape of her talk and figured she could simply deny the truth. Perhaps she also thought Oren would not wish to contradict her publicly. She didn’t count on the fact that the ambassador is an honorable man and that it is not in his country’s interest to allow the Democrats to falsely portray him as taking sides in a partisan dispute. That DWS has been publicly outed as a brazen liar is a disgrace to her party, the Congress and the Jewish community she pretends to lead. But it is not terribly surprising given the vicious partisanship she has come to exemplify. Yet of far greater interest is the argument this lie was used to buttress: the claim that Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel is hurting the Jewish state.

DWS and other Democrats have sought to brand the GOP as dragging what ought to be a bipartisan concern into the mud of election year politics. This is an absurd and hypocritical charge that says more about their contempt for democracy that it does about their love for Israel.

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As Alana wrote last night, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has now produced an audiotape of a talk given by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz that resolves the mystery surrounding her recent comments about Israel. There is now no doubt that, despite her denial on national television last night, Wasserman Schultz told a group of Jewish Democrats that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said, “that what the Republicans are doing is bad for Israel.” Oren says he never said such a thing and that denial is credible since, as he pointed out, Israel has good friends on both sides of the political aisle. That leaves us not only with the question of why Wasserman Schultz felt constrained to lie about it but why she ever made such a claim in the first place.

Wasserman Schultz lied about making the claim that Oren backed her ideas about the GOP because she probably didn’t know there was a tape of her talk and figured she could simply deny the truth. Perhaps she also thought Oren would not wish to contradict her publicly. She didn’t count on the fact that the ambassador is an honorable man and that it is not in his country’s interest to allow the Democrats to falsely portray him as taking sides in a partisan dispute. That DWS has been publicly outed as a brazen liar is a disgrace to her party, the Congress and the Jewish community she pretends to lead. But it is not terribly surprising given the vicious partisanship she has come to exemplify. Yet of far greater interest is the argument this lie was used to buttress: the claim that Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel is hurting the Jewish state.

DWS and other Democrats have sought to brand the GOP as dragging what ought to be a bipartisan concern into the mud of election year politics. This is an absurd and hypocritical charge that says more about their contempt for democracy that it does about their love for Israel.

It is true that both Democrats and Republicans are strong supporters of Israel. As President Obama learned to his dismay last year when both parties cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to a joint meeting of Congress, there is a bipartisan coalition that stands ready to back the Jewish state even against ambushes set by a president of the United States. That consensus is a reflection of broad support for Israel by the overwhelming majority of Americans. But it is not maintained by silence or acquiescence when the leader of one of those parties picks fights with and seeks to undermine Israel’s government.

For the past several election cycles, the standard argument of Jewish Democrats has been to seek to quash any discussion of the issue, not because they truly feared that such a debate would damage the pro-Israel consensus but because any discussion is bound to center on the fact that there is a sizeable portion of their party that is not terribly supportive of the Jewish state.

Democrats also know that only one issue endangers their hold on Jewish votes: Israel. Most Jews are liberal and can be counted on to oppose the Republicans on domestic issues. But in the past few decades, Republicans have not only matched their rivals in their fervor for Israel but also often exceeded it. Moreover, in Barack Obama, Democrats have produced a president who is, in Aaron David Miller’s phrase, “not in love with the idea of Israel” and sought from his first moment in office to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state.

In any debate about how bad Obama has been for Israel, Democrats can make arguments about his preservation of the security relationship and seek to downplay the awkward moments he has produced. But that is not their purpose as DWS’s indiscreet lie about Oren showed. What they want is to have no debate about Israel whatsoever.

But far from strengthening the pro-consensus such a stance would be a harbinger of its dissolution. Accountability is the backbone of democracy. If a politician strays from his campaign promises on Israel the only way to keep them honest is to have an opponent make an issue of this betrayal. Indeed, the only reason why Obama reversed three years of fights with Jerusalem and initiated an election year Jewish charm offensive was his fear that he would lose votes to the Republicans.

Rather than resting on their laurels, Democrats need to be made to compete for the votes of pro-Israel voters. So should Republicans. Those Democrats who want to spike this discussion are doing so for the sake of partisan interests that they clearly prize more than the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus. The lies about partisanship merely betray how low they are willing to go for this purpose.

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Will Ryan Help Obama Win Jewish Votes?

One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.

Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

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One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.

Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.

Democratic plans to demonize Ryan will find a ready audience among liberal Jews. Obama’s questionable record on Israel was never going to affect the votes of a majority of Jews. The issue was not whether Obama could hold onto more than 50 percent of Jewish votes, but how much of the 78 percent he got in 2008 would he be able to retain. The most optimistic estimates of the Democrat vote will keep him in the mid-60s, with his share of Jewish ballots in Florida probably being even lower. But Democrats are hoping that some of those Jews defecting from their ranks will start to slink back to Obama due to fears over the future of Medicare. Just as a loss of 10 to 25 percent of the Jewish vote could make the difference in Florida and perhaps even affect the outcome in Pennsylvania or Ohio if the election is close, a backlash against Ryan could also be decisive.

But Democrats shouldn’t count on the Jews falling back into their column so easily.

First, those Jewish voters who are most vulnerable to Mediscare tactics were already going to vote for Obama. If you are the sort of person who truly believes the Republicans are going to throw Bubbe over the cliff, you probably were never sufficiently concerned about Obama’s pressure on Israel and unwillingness to confront Iran to cross over to the GOP. The minority of American Jews who consider Israel’s security to be a major influence on their votes are not going to be so easily bulldozed by the Mediscare routine. Voters who believe the president will sell out Israel are not the most receptive audience for a Democratic campaign based on the idea that Romney and Ryan will sell out the elderly.

Democrats also forget that Jews are just as capable of figuring out that the only way to save Medicare is to face the issue head on rather than pretend, as Democrats intend to do, to preserve the status quo. As much as the left will lap up the attacks on Ryan and his budget, the centrist voters who are in play this fall may not be as easily fooled as liberals think. And there is another possibility that nobody on the left is prepared to even consider: a lot of those Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers who care about Israel may just decide they like Ryan a lot more than Obama.

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Obama Loses Pro-Israel Surrogates

Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:

“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …

Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”

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Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:

“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …

Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”

Ouch. Ross can advise any campaign? And speaking in the past tense about supporting Obama’s policies? It doesn’t sound like there was much love lost there. Ross did just return to the Washington Institute, but it’s hard to imagine he would be blamed for taking some time to help the president of the United States on the campaign trail. Note that Ross also bluntly criticized the president’s early focus on the settlement freeze in WaPo last month.

Aaron David Miller, Ross’s deputy on the peace talks under the Clinton administration, suggests that Ross wasn’t thrilled with the idea of trying to sell Obama’s Israel record to Jewish voters:

“Dennis is about doing things,” said Aaron Miller, who was Ross’s deputy on the peace process during the Clinton years and is now a scholar at the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “The peace process is stuck and is likely to remain stuck. The fact is no amount of hand-holding is going to assuage the concerns and suspicions of a pro-Israel community which has now seen some of its fears realized. It may well be that this is the other piece of this. I wouldn’t want to try to sell Obama to the Jewish community in this environment.”

Whatever the reason for Ross sitting this one out, it doesn’t look good for Obama or his pro-Israel outreach. The New York Times reports that another one of Obama’s top Jewish surrogates, Penny Pritzker, is also taking a less active role in the campaign than she did in 2008. Obviously, the president will always have the die-hard believers to stump for him at synagogues — Alan Solow, DWS, Robert Wexler. But will that be enough to combat the GOP’s serious play for the Jewish vote?

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Democrats’ Jewish Problem is Obama

The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.

But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows

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The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.

But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows

The credibility of those who assert that Obama is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House is undermined not only by the memory of the fights he picked with the Jewish state over the course of his first three years in office or by the fact that he was determined to distance the United States from Israel in an attempt to draw a contrast between his policies and those of his predecessor. The fact that the president has been forced to resort to a Jewish charm offensive intended to erase these incidents from the public’s memory is testimony to the White House’s concern that there will be a political price to be paid for the distance Obama created by himself and the Israeli government.

As Politico noted in the same article, such Republican efforts to eat into the Democrats’ historic advantage among Jewish voters are not new. Major investments were made four and eight years ago to no avail as John Kerry and Barack Obama won huge Jewish majorities that were second only to African-Americans in terms of margins for the Democrats.

The difference this year is not about Republican campaign tactics. It is about the Democrats’ heightened vulnerability. For decades, Jewish Republicans longed for another presidential candidate like Ronald Reagan whose percentage of Jewish votes has not been equaled in the last 30 years. But what they really needed was not another Reagan but another Jimmy Carter. While Obama may not be as unpopular among Jews as Carter, there is little question that his open hostility to Israel’s government will ensure a drastic reduction from the 78 percent of Jewish votes he won in 2008, a loss that could put battleground states like Florida or Pennsylvania in jeopardy for the incumbent. A Democratic campaign targeting Jews may stem some of the bleeding, but their problem is not Adelson, his money or the RJC, let alone Mitt Romney. The Democrats’ only liability as far as Jewish voters are concerned is the man on the top of their ticket.

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Dem Pollster: Jews Could Sink Obama in FL

Could the Jewish vote go Republican this year? The answer, as always, is no, of course not. But President Obama has lost enough ground with Jewish voters to create some problems for himself in Florida, as Democratic pollster Doug Schoen explained on Newsmax TV:

One of Obama’s biggest hurdles: capturing Florida’s Jewish voters. The president, polls show, has about 60-65 percent of the Jewish vote, but, says Schoen, if Obama does not win “a full 75 percent…it could, in fact, be decisive.”

The state is “effectively deadlocked,” said Schoen, the author of Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond.

“Jews are necessarily torn, because they see the president as somebody who, aspirationally, has committed himself to Israel,” he said. “At the same time, there have been concerns about the settlement policy and also about the nature of his commitment to do whatever it takes in Iran.”

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Could the Jewish vote go Republican this year? The answer, as always, is no, of course not. But President Obama has lost enough ground with Jewish voters to create some problems for himself in Florida, as Democratic pollster Doug Schoen explained on Newsmax TV:

One of Obama’s biggest hurdles: capturing Florida’s Jewish voters. The president, polls show, has about 60-65 percent of the Jewish vote, but, says Schoen, if Obama does not win “a full 75 percent…it could, in fact, be decisive.”

The state is “effectively deadlocked,” said Schoen, the author of Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond.

“Jews are necessarily torn, because they see the president as somebody who, aspirationally, has committed himself to Israel,” he said. “At the same time, there have been concerns about the settlement policy and also about the nature of his commitment to do whatever it takes in Iran.”

The familiar debate about the Jewish vote is reigniting now that Romney is visiting Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition is kicking off its swing state campaign. As Jonathan wrote earlier today, the New York Times reports the RJC is reaching out to Jewish voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, in an effort to chip away at Obama’s support base. The majority of Jewish voters still back Obama, but his poll numbers have dipped significantly since 2008:

The group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, plans to begin a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in the coming weeks called “My Buyer’s Remorse,” targeting voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, aides said. The campaign uses testimonials from people who say they regret supporting Mr. Obama because of his economic policies and his posture toward Israel, in hopes of cutting into the wide advantage Democrats have held over Republicans among Jewish voters.

Obama will have a difficult time countering the RJC campaign, as he seems to be lacking in the pro-Israel surrogates department at the moment. Even Obama’s own supporters don’t seem to be denying he’s bad for Israel anymore. J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told the Times that  “The people who vote only on Israel didn’t vote for Obama last time and know who they are voting for already.” So there you have it, directly from J Street. If you judge the president on his Israel policy, you probably won’t support him.

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Obama Buyer’s Remorse Not About Adelson

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.

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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.

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Religious Venues as Partisan Outposts?

Back in May, I wrote about the controversy that ensued when a Miami synagogue invited Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to speak at a Friday evening Sabbath service. When members protested about the hijacking of a religious observance for partisan purposes, Miami’s Temple Israel disinvited her, leading to some spurious charges that local Republicans had “bullied” the shul. As Bryan Schwartzman of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reports, DWS is back in the news this week for another synagogue appearance, this time at Reform Congregation Knesseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and again, Republicans are complaining.

While this event is far more defensible than the Miami appearance, it still raises some important questions about the way religious institutions get dragged into partisan politics. With polls showing President Obama losing popularity among Jewish voters, Democrats are going all out to try to prevent a precipitous drop in support in this otherwise solidly liberal community. Which means synagogues are on the front lines of a nasty partisan argument that they would do well to avoid.

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Back in May, I wrote about the controversy that ensued when a Miami synagogue invited Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to speak at a Friday evening Sabbath service. When members protested about the hijacking of a religious observance for partisan purposes, Miami’s Temple Israel disinvited her, leading to some spurious charges that local Republicans had “bullied” the shul. As Bryan Schwartzman of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reports, DWS is back in the news this week for another synagogue appearance, this time at Reform Congregation Knesseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and again, Republicans are complaining.

While this event is far more defensible than the Miami appearance, it still raises some important questions about the way religious institutions get dragged into partisan politics. With polls showing President Obama losing popularity among Jewish voters, Democrats are going all out to try to prevent a precipitous drop in support in this otherwise solidly liberal community. Which means synagogues are on the front lines of a nasty partisan argument that they would do well to avoid.

We should specify first that there is a big difference between the Miami dustup and the one that is stirring in Pennsylvania. The Elkins Park event is scheduled for a Monday evening and is not part of a synagogue religious observance, meaning that Wasserman Schultz won’t be speaking from the pulpit. The synagogue’s religious leader, Rabbi Lance Sussman, is doing his best to represent the event, which will also feature local Jewish Democratic politicians, as informational. (Full disclosure: I am a member of a Conservative synagogue that shares space at the Knesseth Israel building but is not a co-host of this event.) Sussman, a respected historian, also says he thinks it’s better to hold two separate events in which the major parties will conduct outreach to the community rather than hosting a debate at which the two sides can have at each other.

There is something to be said for that point of view, but the problem is that very little if any effort seems to have been made to schedule a Republican event at the synagogue and, as of this writing, there is nothing in the works. So while the synagogue’s intention may not have been to create the impression of a partisan endorsement, at least for the moment, that is exactly what has happened.

Appearances aside, some question whether the synagogue providing a venue for what is, for all intents and purposes, a partisan political rally, is appropriate or a violation of their tax exempt status. While witch hunts aimed at punishing non-profits for perceived partisanship should be avoided, part of the specific problem here is that, as Adam Kredo reports in the Washington Free Beacon (who obtained an invitation to the event), rather than the Wasserman Schultz appearance being part of a program organized by the synagogue, it appears to be directly staffed by President Obama’s campaign. Theoretically, a Republican event, should one ever occur, could be similarly run by the Romney campaign or its Jewish surrogates. But even if that is true, the spectacle of a political party taking over a religious institution — as opposed to renting its catering hall or public area—is unsettling.

In its defense, Knesseth Israel, which is the largest synagogue in the region, believes it has an obligation to provide programming for its members about important issues where they can hear directly from newsmakers rather than hearing it through the filter of the media. They are right about that. But this is not just one event in a lecture series in which a number of different points of view or issues will be heard. It is a one-off political rally.

It has become all too commonplace for religious venues to become partisan outposts during election years. Sunday services at inner city African-American churches are regular campaign stops for Democrats. Republicans have used evangelical churches in other areas for similar purposes. That is wrong no matter who is the offender. While religious institutions should not be aloof from politics and issues, they should be careful about crossing the line into partisanship. Unlike the Miami dustup, this event falls into a gray area rather than an expression of open partisanship. But given the close identification of Reform Judaism with liberal stands on most of the political issues of the day, all Reform synagogues need to be doubly careful not to reinforce the movement’s proverbial image as a group whose definition of Judaism is the Democratic Party platform with holidays thrown in. That is not a fair characterization of Reform Judaism, but when synagogues blunder into partisan thickets, they can’t be surprised when they wind up in the middle of disputes in which they have no proper place.

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Obama, Koch and the Brooklyn Bridge

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes nothing better than being the center of attention, and he certainly achieved that last year when his highly publicized role in a special congressional election led to a Republican victory in New York’s 9th congressional district. Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner, helping him to win the seat that was vacated after Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. The former mayor sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel. This was a factor in Turner’s defeat of David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who professed to be as unhappy about the president’s hostility to the Jewish state as the GOP. Though Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have hurt him as much as being associated with President Obama, there’s no denying Koch played a key role in deciding the outcome in what may have been the most heavily Jewish district in the country (gerrymandering has caused the 9th to be divided up this year).

But ever since that triumph, the administration has been paying court to Koch, and he has characteristically responded to their flattery by switching sides on the issue. Since September, he has been one of the loudest advocates of the president’s re-election and recently claimed that it was he, Ed Koch, who caused the administration to change its policies toward Israel. But Koch is giving himself a bit too much credit. The charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters the president is Israel’s best friend to ever sit in the White House actually preceded the NY-9 special election. If it has intensified since last September, more credit must be given to the calendar than to Koch. But ego aside, if the former mayor really thinks the president has “changed” for good when it comes to picking fights for Israel, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.

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Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes nothing better than being the center of attention, and he certainly achieved that last year when his highly publicized role in a special congressional election led to a Republican victory in New York’s 9th congressional district. Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner, helping him to win the seat that was vacated after Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. The former mayor sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel. This was a factor in Turner’s defeat of David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who professed to be as unhappy about the president’s hostility to the Jewish state as the GOP. Though Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have hurt him as much as being associated with President Obama, there’s no denying Koch played a key role in deciding the outcome in what may have been the most heavily Jewish district in the country (gerrymandering has caused the 9th to be divided up this year).

But ever since that triumph, the administration has been paying court to Koch, and he has characteristically responded to their flattery by switching sides on the issue. Since September, he has been one of the loudest advocates of the president’s re-election and recently claimed that it was he, Ed Koch, who caused the administration to change its policies toward Israel. But Koch is giving himself a bit too much credit. The charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters the president is Israel’s best friend to ever sit in the White House actually preceded the NY-9 special election. If it has intensified since last September, more credit must be given to the calendar than to Koch. But ego aside, if the former mayor really thinks the president has “changed” for good when it comes to picking fights for Israel, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.

The transparent nature of the president’s election year conversion on Israel is such that it hasn’t convinced many wavering voters. Polls show Obama losing nearly a quarter of the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he won in 2008. Though he retains the backing of a majority of Jews, it is because they are loyal Democrats who like his liberal policies and don’t prioritize Israel.

Though the administration is, no doubt, happy to get Koch’s applause, his claim that the president has altered his policies due to some degree to his advocacy actually contradicts the Democrats’ campaign appeal to pro-Israel Jews. The party line is to ignore the president’s stands on Jerusalem, the 1967 lines and settlements that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and to act as if the administration created the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance rather than merely not destroying it. Though buying into that requires a voter to ignore much of what happened between Israel and the United States from January 2009 to the summer of 2011, it’s probably a more convincing appeal than Koch’s claims, as even the most hard-core partisans understand that election-year conversions are not to be trusted.

Koch is a sincere and stalwart friend of Israel who has stood up on the issue to powerful Democrats such as Jimmy Carter. But most voters understand that once re-elected the president will have the “flexibility” he needs to go back to a policy of pressure on Israel and may also back off on the tough talk about the Iranian nuclear threat. Though the U.S.-Israel alliance is strong enough to survive even four more years of a re-elected Barack Obama, anyone who thinks the administration’s policies in the next four years toward Israel will resemble the rhetoric the president and his surrogates have been using while he is in a desperate fight for his political life may also interested in buying that bridge.

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Jewish Democrats Face a Curious Dilemma

Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward brings to our attention a Siena College poll of New York voters that adds a little more fuel to the fire about whether President Obama is losing ground among Jewish voters. The poll, which provides a breakdown by religion, shows the president is only leading Republican Mitt Romney by a 51-43 percent margin among New York Jews. Considering that Obama has a lopsided 59-35 percent edge among all voters, the poll seems to confirm the much discussed results of the new demographic survey of Jewish life in Greater New York which shows the traditional stereotype of Jews as secular liberals is heading for the dustbin of history.

This does illustrate how solidly blue New York is, as the decline in support for Obama in a group that has traditionally been among the most loyal to the Democrats is having no effect on the president’s chances of winning the state. But it does tell us that, despite the Democrats’ claim the GOP is blowing smoke about making gains in the Jewish vote this year, Obama is in serious trouble among Jews. The question the president’s supporters have to be asking themselves after reading this poll is how different New York Jews are from those in the rest of the country, especially swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the Jewish vote could be crucial in a tight election.

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Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward brings to our attention a Siena College poll of New York voters that adds a little more fuel to the fire about whether President Obama is losing ground among Jewish voters. The poll, which provides a breakdown by religion, shows the president is only leading Republican Mitt Romney by a 51-43 percent margin among New York Jews. Considering that Obama has a lopsided 59-35 percent edge among all voters, the poll seems to confirm the much discussed results of the new demographic survey of Jewish life in Greater New York which shows the traditional stereotype of Jews as secular liberals is heading for the dustbin of history.

This does illustrate how solidly blue New York is, as the decline in support for Obama in a group that has traditionally been among the most loyal to the Democrats is having no effect on the president’s chances of winning the state. But it does tell us that, despite the Democrats’ claim the GOP is blowing smoke about making gains in the Jewish vote this year, Obama is in serious trouble among Jews. The question the president’s supporters have to be asking themselves after reading this poll is how different New York Jews are from those in the rest of the country, especially swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the Jewish vote could be crucial in a tight election.

Democrats can comfort themselves by pointing out that if, as the population study showed, 40 percent of all Jews in New York City are Orthodox, then that is bound to produce a result that will not be replicated elsewhere. Orthodox Jews, a group far more conservative and more likely to vote Republican than the non-Orthodox, make up a much smaller percentage of the community in most other places in the country. Therefore, it can be argued that the New York results don’t indicate a general shift among Jews away from Obama or to the right.

Even if we were to assume these numbers are isolated to New York, it confirms the conclusions we drew last week that the demographic changes wrought both by assimilation and intermarriage among the non-Orthodox and the Orthodox population growth represents the beginning of the end for liberal Jewry as a dominant political force both in New York and nationally.

Nevertheless, even though the Orthodox are not as numerous in Florida or Pennsylvania, they are growing there too, which means the assumption that Obama will romp among Jews with margins anywhere close to the 78 percent he won nationally in 2008 is probably mistaken.

Even if we discount for the Orthodox effect (who even in New York City, let alone the rest of the state, make up less than half of the Jewish population), this shows Obama is bleeding Jewish support. Nathan-Kazis believes it shows Jews are just following the same trend among the general population, because the uptick for Romney is mirrored there. Maybe. But if Jews are no longer liberal outliers, that in of itself is news. And that is something that could lead to Obama having a historically poor showing among Jewish voters that could rival that of Jimmy Carter in 1980.

What all this means is the Jewish Democrats will have a choice after November. They can blame the president’s poor showing among Jews on demography and thereby concede it is only a matter of time before the GOP will compete on even terms for Jewish votes. Or they can blame it on the president’s attitude toward Israel — a factor about which they have been in denial for the past four years — and claim Democrats with better records on the issue will not have the same problem in the future. It’s an interesting dilemma, and I look forward to learning how they will answer it.

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