Obama’s Continuing Jewish Problem

When Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz proclaimed Obama’s support for Israel in a Pennsylvania synagogue, she was visibly shocked by the loud and vocal dissent from the audience. Unlike the sanitized pro-Obama Jewish events in Florida, where Jews who opposed him were prevented from entering, the Pennsylvania event was open to all.

Wasserman Schultz apparently so believes her own rhetoric and has been so insulated from the political change sweeping the Jewish community that for a few moments she seemed sufficiently shaken to be unable to continue her speech.

One group that has had its pulse on the political leanings of the Jewish community is the Republican Jewish Coalition. Playing on the theme of buyer’s remorse — Jews who voted for Obama but will not again — the RJC has been running ads and videos with Jews who supported Obama in 2008 and are vocal about their intent not to do so now.

The Jewish Democrats will quickly point out that no one expects the majority of the Jewish community to vote for Mitt Romney. But they fail to see that this election will, by all current indications, be close. A predicted near twenty-percent shift in the Jewish vote in critical states like Florida and Ohio can devastate Obama’s electoral vote count.

It is no accident that while Mitt Romney was on his way to Israel, Obama signed a security agreement giving Israel preferential access to American arms and munitions. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quick to note how supportive the Obama administration was of Israel, and liberal Jews immediately seized on that as if it were something other than the expected response of a small country dependent for its military hardware on a large country.

More important to discerning observers of the Middle East has been Obama’s flawed foreign policy in the region. It is no accident that Dennis Ross, veteran Middle East negotiator and 2008 Obama campaigner, will not be on the campaign trail this time. And Ross’ assistant, Aaron David Miller, just published an illuminating article in Foreign Policy noting that Obama’s view of the world does not include the scenario of an Israel surrounded by Arab states bent on its destruction. Rather, Obama’s sympathies are derived from his leftist political socialization, and he does not see a concession that Israel should not be forced to make to the Arabs.

The exclusion of Israel from the anti-terrorism conference the Obama administration sponsored in Turkey, and the conference’s refusal to acknowledge that Israeli civilians murdered in Israel at the hands of Islamic terrorists are terrorist victims, further underscores the leftist, pro-Muslim ideology of this administration. This is why its Department of State and press secretary are incapable of enunciating the words “Jerusalem” and “Israel’s capital” in the same sentence. Mitt Romney had absolutely no difficulty announcing what every Israeli knows: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

Jerusalem historically was never a divided city until the Arabs captured it in 1948 and prevented Jews from having access to their holy sites and burial places. East Jerusalem is as much an historical fiction as was East Berlin.

Obama’s thinking on Israel was best articulated by Thomas Friedman in a recent column that is as fatuous as it is banal. The object of Friedman’s outrage is Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel. Friedman characterizes Romney’s trip as one of pandering to Jews for money — and then quips that Romney should have taken it to Vegas, where there is more than sufficient Jewish money and equally compelling photo opportunities. Friedman increasingly has fallen into the leftist routine of wrapping Jews in stereotypes, mostly about money.

Friedman goes on to argue for more American pressure on Israel, noting that the major obstacle to peace is neither Palestinian intransigence nor Palestinian terrorism but Israeli settlements. Someone needs to remind Friedman that terrorism existed long before the first settlement, and Israel’s total removal of settlements from Gaza brought rockets and missiles, not peace. A similar outcome would await Israel’s departure from the West Bank.

By experience and socialization, the Jews Obama surrounded himself with in his Hyde Park bastion of rarified, elite liberalism are Jews who think like Friedman. But these Jews are hardly representative of the views on Israel of the majority of Jews for whom Israel is an issue. These incestuous political contacts are what have and continue to shape Obama’s thinking on the Middle East.

Israel itself, however, is only the most observable aspect of Obama’s Jewish problem, for as Noah Pollak has so aptly noted, Jews, like other voters, are first and foremost Americans and have the same needs and problems as other Americans. They are beset by a declining economy, fewer opportunities for their children, and an administration that never saw a new government bureaucracy that didn’t need to be funded.

Political preference itself is a function of the interaction of a number of factors. Among these, as I have argued in the scholarly literature, is ethnicity acting as a catalyst that heightens and reinforces those factors. But political socialization is not political destiny, and as some Jews change their partisan preference, so too will both their Jewish friends and neighbors. Once the social stigma of voting Republican is removed, there will be more Jews willing to come out of the political closet, and others unable to admit it publicly but who will vote Republican nonetheless.