The latest polls on how Jewish Americans regard Barack Obama do not bode well for the Democratic Party or the Obama administration. A new survey by the American Jewish Committee shows that “forty-nine percent of U.S. Jews approve [of Obama], while 45 percent disapprove of the Obama Administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the new survey. AJC’s earlier survey, conducted in March, found that 55 percent approved and 37 percent disapproved. In AJC’s 2009 survey, 54 percent approved, and 32 percent disapproved.”
The majority still stays loyal to the Democratic Party, but clearly, recent events have led to the disillusionment of many. The drift of Jews away from the Obama administration was surveyed in the now famous article by Ed Klein and Richard Chesnoff that was spiked by Vanity Fair, whose only explanation for their action was that they found no room for it. The authors posted it instead on the Huffington Post, somewhat of an alternative, but hardly one that gave it the same impact had it appeared in the magazine as originally scheduled.
As the authors explain, “today, a sizable number of American Jews are having a serious case of buyer’s remorse when it comes to Barack Obama. Recent polls of the Jewish community reflect a significant decline in support from 2008, when 78 percent of Jewish voters pulled the lever for Obama. According to a recent McLaughlin & Associates poll, a plurality of Jewish voters would now consider voting for someone else for president.” Given the historic loyalty of Jews to the Democratic Party, this is no small thing.
And the writers add that these polls “do not begin to measure the depth of displeasure felt by many of Jews over President Obama’s performance.” The main objection is Obama’s inept handling of American-Israeli relations, particularly its institution of the concept of “linkage.” As the Anti-Defamation League’s chairman Abe Foxman explained, “I came away from the meeting convinced that Obama has introduced a new and dangerous strategy and that it’s revealing itself in steps. Unlike other administrations, this one is applying linkage in the Middle East. It’s saying that if you resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the messiah will come and the lions will lie down with the lambs. All the president’s advisers on the Middle East, starting with George Mitchell, believe in linkage, and they’re telling the president you have to prove to the Arab Muslim world that you are different than previous presidents and you can separate yourself from Israel, distance yourself from the settlements issue. After all, settlements are something that American Jews don’t like anyway, so it’s a win-win proposition.”
Klein and Chesnoff continue at length to point out in great detail the extent of the Jewish leaders’ disillusionment with Obama and his team, and they offer particularly tough quotes to substantiate their argument. One in particular struck me. They quote suspense novelist Jonathan Kellerman, who is also a professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California. Kellerman told them: “My personal opinion … is that the bifurcation of Israel and Judaism is structurally fallacious. The Land of Israel is an essential ingredient of Judaism practiced fully. Thus, it is impossible to be anti-Israel and not be anti-Jewish. And in fact, the war being waged against Israel by the Muslim world is, at the core, a religious dispute. Radical Islamists no longer talk about Zionists; they come right out and broadcast their goal of eradicating worldwide Jewry.”
Their new found disapproval of Obama goes beyond thinking that he is adopting a wrong policy. They also now believe that he holds both an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias, something they think he may have picked up from the black population among which he lived in his years in Southside Chicago. Much of the black population there was pursuing an anti-Semitic black nationalism we are too familiar with from Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Wright. Thus Joseph Aaron, a liberal who edits Chicago’s Jewish weekly newspaper, told them “What you do come up with is someone who doesn’t really understand our attachment to Israel or Israel’s importance to Jews as a people, a president who doesn’t have a gut love for Israel like some of his predecessors, but someone who understands the Palestinian position better than any president we’ve had, someone with no natural affinity for Jews or Israel, and someone who approaches the Middle East, as he does most everything else, dispassionately and with a burning desire to fix the problem.” What else would you expect from a good friend of Rashid Khalidi?
The problem with Obama’s strategy was nailed by my friend Robert J. Lieber, an expert on the Middle East and a professor of government at Georgetown University. As Lieber said, “The problem is naïveté in the Obama administration. The president came into office with the assumption that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is by far the most central urgent problem in the region — which it is not — and that it is the key that unlocks everything else in the region. And they believe the [Israeli-Palestinian] situation was ripe for progress, which it absolutely isn’t.”
Klein and Chesnoff make another major point. Rather than follow the overwhelming pro-Israel sentiment held by the American public, Obama instead had allowed himself to be influenced by the growing volume of anti-Israel anger coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party, especially from radical students on campuses, where calls for the “delegitimization” of the Jewish state have become strictly kosher. In part, too, the president probably placed too much weight on recent sociological studies that indicate a shift in American Jewish attitudes on Israel.”
The president’s gut instincts, therefore, push him to the left rather than to the center, on almost every issue that comes by his desk. Ed Koch, New York’s former mayor who campaigned among Florida’s Jewish population for Obama, now regrets his so doing. He believes, as the authors conclude their article by quoting him, that the trust and ties between American Jews and the administration cannot be restored. As Koch put it, “Like Humpty Dumpty, once you break it, you can’t put it together again.”
It is too soon, of course, to think that many of these same Jewish voters will not return to Democratic ranks after Obama is gone, or if Hillary Clinton becomes the Vice-Presidential candidate in 2012, when they again might vote for a new Obama team, hoping that Hillary will produce a new policy. But for the present, many of these voters will be pulling the lever for a Republican the first times in their lives, even in Florida.