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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.