September 19, 2011
In normal times, US Jews, however pro-Democrat, are not single-issue voters; usually the issue of how the man in the Oval Office is dealing with Israel has not been a big factor. For an anxious Israel, however, these are not normal times.
The attack on its embassy in Cairo and the expulsion by Turkey of its ambassador, amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring and its aftermath have left the Jewish state feeling ever more isolated. That sense of isolation will only grow if, as seems likely, the UN General Assembly votes in favour of statehood for the Palestinians this month.
At such moments a country counts its true friends, and no friend has been truer to Israel than the US. It’s not that Obama is anti-Israel; he simply hasn’t heaped upon Israel the unconditional encomia to which the Jewish state is accustomed from its most important ally – a stance reflecting the need to improve the US’s standing in the Arab world.
While we might regard a readiness to criticise Israel as well as the Palestinians as refreshingly even-handed behaviour from an American president, it’s highly disconcerting for many American Jews right now. For Obama, facing a re-election battle next year that looks tougher by the week, the implications are alarming.
In purely mathematical terms, the Jewish vote here is not that important. Jews (some 5.5m) may number almost as many as in Israel, but they account for only 2 per cent of the total US population. In political terms, however, they punch well above their weight. Not only are American Jews are a major fundraising force; no other ethnic/religious group votes so regularly – and as a rule 70 or 80 per cent of them vote Democratic.
That predilection ensures that New York, which has more Jewish residents than anywhere on earth bar Israel, is a banker state for Democrats. In Pennsylvania and Florida, two perennial swing states, the Jewish turnout can decide which party wins the White House.
In Florida, Jewish voters, disproportionately elderly retirees, account for 8 per cent of the turnout; the failure of some of them to understand the “butterfly” ballots used in heavily Jewish Palm Beach may have cost Al Gore victory in 2000. In Pennsylvania, Jews account for 5 per cent of the vote; their disaffection could be disastrous for Obama in a state expected to be very close-fought in 2012.
Not surprisingly, Republicans sense an opening. For years, the changing nature of the party – above all, the rise of the Christian conservatives – has been strengthening the embrace of Israel. “God’s Foreign Policy” is how support of the Jewish state is described by some white evangelicals. Michele Bachmann, a White House candidate, even declared that “Nations receive blessings as they bless Israel”.
Not by coincidence, with the vote at the UN approaching, the The Wall Street Journal and The Jerusalem Post carried an op-ed article on Friday by Texas governor Rick Perry, a front- runner in the Republican race, lambasting the president’s policy on Israel and accusing the Palestinians of undermining hopes of peace by their reckless statehood gambit.
This article was posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:36 pm