Israel is an issue for Jews, but less so than the issues that affect the lives of all Americans. In the northern suburbs, there is no one position on Israel. There are progressive Jews who never saw a security risk for a faux peace that their Israeli brethren should not take, as they themselves live in an environment where the biggest security issue is how late they can catch the L in downtown Chicago and still feel safe. There are strong Zionists who are viscerally opposed to the progressives. And there are Jews that few put into the equation: the ultra-orthodox, with their strange dress, large families, and strong predisposition to vote Republican.
Jews are beginning to untie their Democratic moorings, because this is now not the party of JFK, but of Jimmy Carter. That is Barack Obama’s unique contribution to the transformation of the Jewish vote.
A month ago in the suburb of Morton Grove, the Republican candidates were prominently represented at the Greater Chicago Jewish Arts Festival. This year, things were different: although there was still hostility from some, the audience was not remotely as hostile as it had been four years ago. Overall, there was a warmer and larger reception for the Republican candidates and their message than at any time anyone can remember.
Most Jews will vote for Obama, but American elections generally have been about the margins. And the difference between 88% and 60% of the Jewish vote certainly can make a difference, especially if that translates to other contests down the ballot.