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...

  • Food Jewish Identity Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    JNS.org – Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews — in particular, Israeli Jews — are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita. Freudians may find a psychoanalytic motive for the local appeal of the Israeli eateries popping up in the Austrian capital. Walk […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    The two bullet casings are already beginning to rust. Sheikh Nasser Pasha plucks them from the ground. “Look, one is from an AK-47, one from an American M-4.” The casings are strewn on the ground atop a long mound of dirt with a few bits of white sticks on it. It would appear unremarkable if one were walking by it. A closer look, however, reveals the white objects are pieces of human bone: arms, legs, and a single human skull. […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →