Yesterday, Ben Smith at Politico.com came out with a piece concerning the anxiety some Jewish Democrats have with President Obama over his hostility towards Israel. Most recently the source of this uneasiness concerned Obama’s remarks last month concerning Israel’s 1967 borders. Smith writes that “it’s hard to resist the conclusion that some kind of tipping point has been reached.” He goes on to state, “Some of these traditional Democrats now say, to their own astonishment, that they’ll consider voting for a Republican in 2012.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time a Democratic President has run afoul of Jewish Democrats. When the Carter Administration decided to sell advanced weapons to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 1978, Newsweek noted, “If another presidential election were held today some experts report that disaffected Jews might turn the tide against Carter in crucial states such as New York, California, Illinois and Michigan.” Reagan would end up with 40% of the Jewish vote in 1980.
More recently, President George W. Bush’s staunch support for Israel during his first term in office earned him the support of prominent Jewish Democrats like former New York Mayor Ed Koch and late actor Ron Silver in 2004. Although Senator Joe Lieberman endorsed John Kerry, three weeks before the election he publicly praised Bush’s record on Israel and called upon Kerry to be more “explicit” in his support for the Jewish State.
There is no doubt that when President Obama mentions Israel bad things happen. Yet for all the talk of Jewish Democrats voting Republican depends on who the GOP nominates next year. Let us say, for argument’s sake, Michele Bachmann is the nominee. Her pro-Israel credentials are impeccable. But Jewish Democrats are very likely to perceive her as socially conservative and Jewish Democrats, by and large, are socially liberal. Her position on abortion and gay marriage would likely turn off most Jewish Democrats. Even if a Jewish Democrat doesn’t like Obama’s position on Israel that could easily be trumped by Bachmann’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage. The reality is that for some Jewish Democrats Israel takes a back seat to social issues like abortion and gay marriage. If that’s the case then Bachmann (or anyone else who wins the GOP nomination) is going to have trouble winning over Jewish Democrats.
Now the wild card in all of this is President Obama himself. If Obama manages to utter nothing but unqualified praise for the State of Israel over the next sixteen months, memories of the 1967 borders and the row over settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could recede. In which case, Jewish Democrats will forget, forgive and give him a second chance. However, what Obama says about Israel will be in part dictated by what happens over there and in the Middle East at large. The other question is just how determined is Obama to get a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. If Obama insists on forcing Israel into more concessions to the Palestinians despite the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas then things could get interesting.
Or Obama could just always put his foot in his mouth again or otherwise act disrespectuflly towards Israel in some way (i.e. walking out on Netanyahu at the White House.) In which case, it would give Bachmann an opening to bring Jewish Democrats to her side. But she would need to provide them with assurances. For instance, short of Bachmann saying that she wouldn’t bring forth a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, she could say a) it is a lower priority than supporting Israel or b) it is something that she is not likely going to pursue.
I realize it might be something Bachmann probably wouldn’t want to do nor would it be easy to do. After all, she must be careful not to alienate her base. But if Bachmann wants to sit in the Oval Office, she is going to have to make Jewish Democrats comfortable enough to vote for her. Unless she does, I don’t see Jewish Democrats abandoning Obama.
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