Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

After Obama Wins Second Term, Debate Shifts to Future of U.S.-Israel Relationship

November 7, 2012 9:16 am 9 comments

President Obama's victory speech. Photo: Screenshot/ABC News.

Capping a race that on a national level was largely defined by the economy but in the Jewish community turned into an extended debate over which candidate would steer the best course for the U.S.-Israel relationship, President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney to earn a second term.

Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, representing a nine-point drop from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008 exit polls.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris, speaking exclusively with JNS.org after major television networks called the race for Obama on Tuesday night, said he “and the clear majority of American Jews” are “reassured by having President Obama in office for another four years.”

“The president has a stellar pro-Israel record,” Harris said. “The facts speak for themselves. Whether it’s missile defense or some of the closest [U.S.-Israel] security cooperation ever, or heralding an era of isolating Iran like never before, I see that continuing—the close cooperation between the United States and Israel continuing into and through the next four years during what’s a crucial period for Israel’s security.”

The recent course of the U.S.-Israel relationship, however, has also included disagreements between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, with Obama refusing to set the “red lines” for U.S. military action that Netanyahu has requested; in one interview, with the “60 Minutes” program on CBS, Obama called those demands “noise.” His administration has repeatedly stressed that there remains time for diplomacy and sanctions to work in Iran.

Just a day before the election, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett has been leading secret talks with Iran for several months. That story followed a New York Times report last month that said the U.S. had agreed to direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for the time—a report denied first by the White House, then by Obama himself in the third presidential debate.

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of the conservative Commentary magazine, told JNS.org on election night that Obama’s win will mean “probably four years of ongoing tension with the government of Israel, which is likely to be led by the same person (Netanyahu) with whom Obama is engaged in a long-term feud”—including tension on Iran, especially if Obama approves an Iranian deal brokered by Jarrett.

However, Tobin acknowledged that the “infrastructure of the [U.S.-Israel] alliance isn’t going anywhere.”

“At its worst, there will be problems as there have been over the last four years, but there are limits as to how far even a reelected President Obama can take his disputes with Israel,” Tobin said.

Netanyahu congratulated Obama on his victory by saying in a statement, “The strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever. I will continue to work with President Obama in order to assure the interests that are vital to the security of the citizens of Israel.”

While Israel was a widely debated election issue in the Jewish community, “American Jews and first and foremost Americans, and like other Americans they are concerned very much about the economy and jobs,” Harris said, calling that “the president’s number one priority today and immediately.” Harris added that he is “confident that the president will have a couple of Supreme Court appointments in his next term in office,” something he said will have implications for issues of concern to Jews including civil rights, reproductive rights, and following through on “Obamacare” health insurance reform.

The Jewish vote

Richard Baehr, chief political correspondent for the conservative American Thinker, told JNS.org “As best I can tell, the shift in the Jewish vote didn’t shift any states.”

“If the Jewish vote was 9 percent more Republican than it was in 2008, when the estimates were 78 percent… maybe it kept the race a little bit closer there than it would have otherwise been, but it didn’t put Romney over the top,” he said. Exit polls showed 66 percent of Florida Jews voting for Obama.

Perhaps further deemphasizing the significance of the Jewish vote is the country’s increasing number of Hispanic voters, an area where some polls had Romney losing by as many as 50 percentage points, Baehr said. But ultimately, he said it is “the result that mattered, not how one group votes.”

“Even though there was a decline in the number [of Jewish votes for Obama], that it didn’t come into play into shifting any states is not a good sign for those who try to create an image that it were a very important part of the overall electorate,” Baehr said.

Swing states

The battle for the Jewish vote was hotly contested in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania, with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) running a $5 million “Buyer’s Remorse” television advertising campaign in those states that featured Jews who supported Obama in 2008 but regretted that decision. RJC’s advertising in swing states—which also included “Obama…Oy Vey!!” billboards in South Florida—totaled $6.5 million.

Rabbi David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla., told JNS.org election season was “a very, very challenging period of time and a very difficult campaign.” In his congregation, however, Steinhardt said “people were really respectful of each other in the conversation, surprisingly so, looking at how things began.” Steinhardt said much of the pro-Obama sentiment in his community was “quiet support,” as opposed to the more aggressive approach of Romney supporters during the race.

As far as the U.S.-Israel relationship is concerned, Steinhardt believes “the policies will remain pretty consistent as to what they have been.” He said Israel “can depend on the United States as an ally in what takes place moving forward.”

Rabbi Misha Zinkow of Temple Israel in Columbus, Ohio, recalled the intense campaign in his state.

“From our vantage point here in Ohio, the campaign was caustic, exploited people’s worst fears, and was even insulting to the intelligence of voters,” Zinkow told JNS.org. “As a result, here and across the country, [Obama] will have much healing to do.”

Zinkow is also “concerned that our country’s most vulnerable will become the victims of political extremism and ideological intransigence.”

“We will need courageous leadership in the White House and in Congress,” he said.

Regarding what Obama’s victory means for Israel, Zinkow said the U.S. and Israel “are friends and allies, regardless of who is president.”

Rabbi Mitchell Levine of Congregation Agudas Achim, also in Columbus, described “a season of robust political debate” that was “healthy for democracy.” While the election will not likely solve what Levine called an “underlying problem of political gridlock,” Jews still used the process to “remain a unified people,” he told JNS.org.

“We know it is possible to disagree passionately and still find a way to achieve common cause,” Levine said.

In New Hampshire, Rabbi Joshua Segal of Congregation Betenu in Amherst told JNS.org it was his sense that “on social issues the Jewish community would never even consider Romney,” and that the greater Jewish community “was very pleased with Obama.” Obama has “constantly supported Israel with Iron Dome and other military things,” Segal said.

In South Carolina, a state Romney won, Rabbi Jonathan Case of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Columbia told JNS.org that both candidates spoke “the same language when it came to Israel.”

“In their televised debates and at rallies they were both forcefully arguing for Israel’s security and the need to fend off the potential danger from Iran,” he said. “Long gone are the presidential contenders who are anti-Israel.”

According to Case, in Columbia there was “a real divide” between the supporters of the candidates when it came to the issue of Israel, in which two camps were “staunchly entrenched in their respective beliefs that the other side is not only wrong; it is dangerous.”

“I cannot say I have met anyone who is borderline in this divisive issue [of Israel],” Case said.

Future of the U.S.-Israel relationship

Stanley Dubinsky, the director of Jewish Studies at the University of South Carolina, told JNS.org that he thinks Obama’s “goals for the Middle East should be to learn about the complex nature of politics there, so [he will] have ideas that are less simplistic and thereby dangerous.”

“Maybe he’s learned his lesson from Syria and Libya, maybe he’ll be less naïve,” Dubinsky said. “That will be welcome.”

Although he said Obama is tacitly supporting, or at least not opposing, Islamic radicalism in the Middle East, Dubinsky is not worried.

“That would worry me if there was a clear march of Islamic groups to consolidate power, but in the last 12 months the Islamic world has turned into complete chaos,” he said.

The coordination between the U.S. and Israel is “going to be become very important for Israel now,” and the question is “whether Obama decides to shift,” American Thinker‘s Baehr told JNS.org.

“Now that he has won his last election, and doesn’t, to an extent, need Jewish votes or Jewish money anymore, does he try to stick it to Israel, which some on our side thought was clear intention?” Baehr said. “The fact that it’s even discussed as an option is suggestive that some Israelis have to have concerns.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren—at least publicly—is not concerned: he said the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu “is completely fine” and that he doesn’t “expect any change regarding Israel in Obama’s second term.” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Obama will not “take revenge on Israel” in his second term and that the president “will focus on his legacy; mostly on internal issues, on foreign policy and especially on the Arab world.”

Commentary magazine’s Tobin told JNS.org that moving forward, the U.S.-Israel relationship “will partly be defined by the attitudes of the White House, which are not tremendously sympathetic to Israel’s security and to its position,” but will also be dictated by Israel’s “antagonists”—the Palestinians and the Iranians.

“It could be that even Barack Obama has learned his lessons about the Palestinians and won’t be wasting any political capital—as he did consistently, especially over his first two years in office, when trying to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction only to find out that they weren’t interested in talking, anyway,” Tobin said. “It could be that even with his best intentions to engage with Iran or craft a sort of secret deal or not-so-secret deal with Iran, that Iran won’t do a deal, and that he will have then painted himself into a corner since he has pledged never to allow them to go nuclear, and indeed in the third presidential debate pledged that he would not allow them to have a nuclear program anyway, even in a deal.”

“The nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship will… be defined by the decisions that Israel’s foes make, and that’s the variable,” he said.

—With reporting by Alina Dain Sharon

9 Comments

  • What I find sad is the inability of conspiracy theorists and apocalyptic thinkers on the right to come to terms with the possibility that 69% of American Jews may just happen to have a valid and more grounded perspective that recognized President Obama is going to lead the United States far better than Romney would have – on all core issues of importance, including on Israel and the Middle East. The comments above are of sore losers who do not write with respect towards democracy or our fellow human beings, so I guess it should not be as surprising that they interpret everything xenopjobically and with racist overstatements.

  • worried housewife

    Taqiyya, scares me the most too. I feel like we don’t know all the players in this game.

  • Dr. S A Visotsky

    Because David Harris says so?!! Pinch yourself.

    He (Harris) carries NO weight, and clearly does not represent, no is he authorized to speak for the “majority of American Jews”.

    He (Harris) is ALWAYS the weakest person in the room.

    Sickening the crap that is being lately, take responsibility here please.

  • I find it shocking that 69 percent of American Jews voted for a President who helped the anti-Semitic and anti-American Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Egypt and is appeasing Iran. This would be similar to FDR helping Franco come to power and appeasing Hitler.
    Is this out of sheer ignorance or indifference is not clear, but to me this puts a blemish on American Jews that no spin will clear. What a disgrace!

    The Muslim Brotherhood. Is this what Americans stand for?
    http://www.madisdead.blogspot.co.il/2012/11/the-muslim-brotherhood-is-this-what.html

  • Why is it necessary for certain commentators on the right to manufacture a “long-term feud” between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu? And if you are looking for naivete toward the Middle East, look no further than Mitt Romney, who just weeks ago declared that Iran needed Syria as its “gateway to the sea.”

  • I find it incomprehensible that 69% of the Jewish vote went to BHO. You reap what you sow. As much as I admire the Jewish people, I find their naiveté close to stupidity (Taqiyya تقیه ). Having made their bed they will be responsible for that decision. Hope I am wrong but the odds do not look that promising at this point in time.

  • And you know all this HOW?

  • E Pluribus Beagle

    It seems apparent that Obama reached a quiet detente with Iran. In exchange for them not becoming a nuclear power before 1Q2013, he agreed to move heaven and earth to ensure they wouldn’t be interfered with and that ‘crushing’ sanctions remain more rhetorical than real. After Obama and Iran agree that they have an opportunity to announce that Iran is now a regional nuclear power, Obama will simultaneously complete the withdrawal from the Mideast and West Asia, cut Israel lose and announce a new massive strategic partnership with Turkey.

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 As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli actress Moran Atias said that playing a Muslim woman in the hit FX series Tyrant has changed her outlook. “Educating myself about a different culture has made me more hopeful and humble, that we’re all the same,” the Jewish actress, 35, said during an interview with AOL Build. Atias plays Leila Al-Fayeed, the strong and politically minded wife of the president of Abbudin, a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a dictatorial family. The Israeli-born former model, who earned the title of Miss Globe International […]

    Read more →