Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Opinion: The Wedge Issue

September 30, 2012 4:06 am 2 comments

Obama vs. Romney. Photo: wiki commons.

Given the small size of the Jewish population, the attention given to the Jewish vote is, almost by definition, disproportionate. But though the absolute numbers at stake in the battle for this small slice of the electorate is small, if Republicans can persuade a substantial percentage of Jews to abandon their traditional support for the Democrats, especially in key swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, it could have a real impact on the outcome of a close presidential race in November.

But Jewish Republicans and Democrats don’t merely disagree about the issues. They differ over whether it is even permissible to debate what is arguably one of the most important issues for Jewish voters: Israel.

For the last generation, but especially over the course of the last decade, Republicans have highlighted their party’s fervent backing for Israel to convince a traditionally solid Democratic constituency to back the GOP. Democrats don’t merely take umbrage at the implication that their party is any less dependably pro-Israel than the Republicans but argue that that since support for Israel is the function of a bipartisan coalition, for their opponents to try and use it as a wedge issue turns something that should be above politics into a partisan football.

This debate has heated up this year and for good reason. Most polls indicate that the Democratic share of the Jewish vote may be the lowest since 1988. The reason for this is that President Obama’s attitude toward Israel has alarmed many Jews. Constant fights marked the first three years of his administration with the Israeli government over the peace process, settlements, Jerusalem and the 1967 lines. Despite an election-year Jewish charm offensive conducted by the administration, the disagreement between the two countries over setting red lines about Iran’s nuclear weapons program has become bitter and public.

All this has given the Republicans an opening and they haven’t been shy in trying to exploit it. Republicans have longed for a candidate to lead their party who could inspire confidence in the Jews like Ronald Reagan, whose 39 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980 set a modern record. But they were wrong. What they needed was another Jimmy Carter. And in Barack Obama they hope to have found one.

Democrats have replied to GOP criticisms of Obama on Israel by rightly pointing out that he has not destroyed the alliance. But their main counter-argument is to say that even raising Israel in this manner isn’t kosher because doing so undermines the consensus. But they are being more than a little hypocritical.

They wish to silence this debate because they stand to lose in any discussion on the issue since it is the only point on which conservatives can appeal to a generally liberal constituency like the Jews.

Yet no matter whether the GOP winds up getting a significantly higher percentage of Jewish votes this year or not, the debate about Israel has still been, contrary to Democratic arguments, good for the Jews.

Though some worry the tension between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Obama that has cropped up again this month on Iran will undermine the pro-Israel consensus, those fears are unfounded. The pro-Israel consensus exists because most Americans care deeply about Israel. Backing for Zionism is baked deep into the political DNA of the country and the overwhelming majority of Americans see the alliance as based on common values that transcend the issues of the day.

Accountability is the keystone of democracy. If the Jewish community is not prepared to hold politicians accountable for their stands, it will soon discover its concerns being ignored. Indeed, if the Obama administration were not afraid of losing more Jewish votes because of a credible Republican challenge, it is more than likely President Obama would feel he had a free hand to exert more pressure on Israel and to ignore its concerns about Iran.

While there are friends of Israel on both sides of the political aisle, the debate about Israel has helped keep both parties competing for Jewish votes. And that is something that is good for Israel, no matter whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.

JNS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger atwww.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: jtobin@commentarymagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter here.

2 Comments

  • Jimmy Carter is a Palestine supporter. Don’t forget that. Big mistake voting for Obama just to stay Democratic. Stupid logic.

  • Ron Lauder, Ed Koch, Alan Dershowitz , Jack Rosen, and Dennis Ross are all Obama apologists who would vote for Jimmy Carter again as the Democratic Candidate over Moses as the Republican Candidate. They must think that most Jews have a short-term memory not beyond election year politics. All of them will find out that the Jewish community remembers Obama’s own statements/actions about ”putting a distance between the US and Israel”, his Cairo speech, publicly snubbing Bibi , stating that the negotiations should begin at the 1967 borders with land swaps (Any one want to guess how much land the PA would want for Israel to retain the Old City and Western Wall?), not placing a timeframe on Iran to cease production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, open mic comment about having ” to work with Bibi ” to the French Prime Minister, and removal of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from the Democratic Platform and the chorus of boos/nays when there were three floor votes to reinstate pro-Israel language into the platform. Any American, pro-Israel Jew with Israel as a high priority must vote for Romney given Obama’s record for the past 3 1/2 years. Obama’s record, speeches, and actions have made voting for Romney easy this year.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    JNS.org – Nine months ago, Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, were schmoozing about the “vibrancy of Tel Aviv and soul of Jerusalem,” as Lane put it. They dreamed about how they could bring young and innovative millennials to the so-called “start-up nation.” From April 3-7, Forbes turned that dream into a reality. Israel played host to the first-ever Forbes Under 30 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) […]

    Read more →