Why Do the Jews Vote Obama?

The litmus test of American Jewish support for a presidential candidate may not be Israel, but there should be limits to how anti-Israel he can be and still get Jewish support.

David Rubin,

David Rubin
David Rubin
David Rubin

In a recent interview, former deputy Secretary of State Elliot Abrams said that President Barack Obama “sees Israel as a problem”, reminding us of the question that won’t go away. It’s a question that is being asked by many a political pundit, and not just on the island of Manhattan or in Israel.

As an American-Israeli who is often interviewed by perplexed conservative talk show hosts and having written extensively about this President’s relationship with Israel, the recurring question of American Jewish support for Israel has become the question that I can no longer avoid.

It goes something like this – Is President Obama really hostile to Israel, and if he is, why does he still have massive Jewish support? Furthermore, will there be a lateral shift in 2012?

Concerning the first question, I believe that the answer is clear to almost all Israelis. There have been three major opinion surveys taken in Israel in the past two years that have posed the question, “Is President Obama pro-Israel?” The results have ranged from only 4% answering affirmatively in the first poll to 15% in the most recent one, taken at the onset of the 2012 presidential campaign.

With few exceptions, Israelis have been appalled ever since that very first confrontational White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when, after receiving a stern lecture from the president about the illegality of Israeli settlements, the Prime Minister was ungraciously left alone fending for his dinner. Furthermore, most Jewish Israelis, whatever their views, were offended by President Obama’s unprecedented political ambush this past May, when he publicly demanded that Israel return to its precarious pre-1967 borders as Netanyahu was boarding his plane for a visit to Israel’s best friend and ally in Washington. 

But most Jewish Israelis are not Jewish Americans and that is where the difference lies. Having lived in the United States for 35 years before immigrating to Israel almost 20 years ago, I know as well as anyone that Jews are not monolithic supporters of Israel. I wish it were otherwise, but as with any American voters, there is a process of prioritization that occurs when selecting Presidential candidates and for most American Jews, Israel is not at the top of the list.

In short, the litmus test of American Jewish support is not Israel. Liberal positions on issues such as Abortion, Gay Marriage, School Prayer, and Health Care are what determine the vote in the core of the American Jewish community.

Obama’s confrontational positions on Israel may be a problematic gut issue for many American Jews, but it is easily rationalized away by Democratic talking heads who insist that most Israelis actually support the pre-1967 borders, even though Israel’s undoubtedly left-leaning former Foreign Secretary Abba Eban once referred to those borders as “the borders of Auschwitz”, cynically referring to the notorious Nazi concentration camp, where over a million Jews were slaughtered. The implications of his statement to such a potential Israeli withdrawal from its historic heartland are obvious. 

The sad fact is that most American Jews, while not necessarily economic liberals, are definitely social liberals who would find it socially and culturally difficult to support a staunchly pro-Israel conservative candidate like Michelle Bachmann for president. The term knee-jerk liberal or knee-jerk Democrat certainly applies here and while most American Jews would decry such a characterization of them as close-minded ideologues, the facts validate the veracity of such a categorization.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran against the incumbent Jimmy Carter, whose anti-Israel credentials certainly rival those of Obama. When Reagan succeeded in capturing 35% of the Jewish vote, it was considered a major accomplishment, as many independent-minded Jews for whom Israel was a high-priority issue shifted to the other side of the aisle, but the majority of Jews remained faithful to the overall Democratic agenda and rationalized away the anti-Israel feeling and lack of genuine warmth for Israel that Carter conveyed. 

Obama is a similar case in point. This president, whose sympathies clearly lie with the Islamic world that he claims to be so inspired by, is no friend of Israel. His lack of appreciation for the Israeli narrative has been obvious since long before his victory in 2008. It’s no coincidence of nature that his first major foreign policy speech was given in Cairo, Egypt, during which he repeatedly proclaimed his deep respect for the religion of Jihad, or Holy War.

It’s also no coincidence of nature that he bowed down to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Last but not least, it’s certainly no accident that he has chosen not to visit Israel even once during his term of office. Ideological litmus tests aside, the time has come for American Jews who truly care about Israel to remove their rose-colored Democratic glasses and to consider an alternative.

(sent to Arutz Sheva by the writer)

 





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