US President Barack Obama has succeeded in at least one area in his controversial presidency: He inadvertently has galvanized American public support for Israel, making Mideast policy a surprisingly potent issue in this congressional election. And, thanks to the Obama administration’s perceived hostility toward Israel, the reticence of even Jewish elected Democrats to criticize their president and the emergence of a new generation of vocally pro- Israel Republican candidates, the pro-Israel vote has shifted in a decidedly Republican direction.
The litany of Obama administration acts causing angst in the pro-Israel community includes: reneging on understandings reached with Israel by the previous administration to avoid a return to indefensible pre-1967 “Auschwitz” borders; orchestrating a diplomatic crisis and publicly dressing-down Israel following Vice President Joe Biden’s visit; suggesting that its policies were causing American troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan; forcing long-established Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods onto the negotiating table; suggesting that American cooperation on Iran be contingent on bending to Obama’s will regarding unilateral concessions; freezing-out mainstream Jewish organizations from the White House, while elevating the George Soros-financed J Street (which claims to be pro-Israel, though it is still searching for that elusive issue where it actually endorses Israel’s position); dithering while Iran methodically builds the bomb; and, last week, refusing to say plainly that America considers Israel to be a Jewish state.
Even prominent liberal Jewish Democrats – Obama supporters in 2008 – have been straightforward in their criticism of the president’s conduct. Mort Zuckerman, editor of US News and World Report, who even did speech-writing for Obama, has repudiated his endorsement, lamenting that “from the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s confidence in US support.”
Marty Peretz, editor of The New Republic, had said in 2008 that the Obama foreign policy team gave him “the shudders” regarding Israel. He overcame that feeling once Obama was the Democrats’ nominee, and bestowed his Jewish blessing on Obama’s candidacy. His verdict on Obama now: “The fact is that he does not particularly like Israel.”
Ed Koch, New York’s irrepressibly liberal former mayor, blasted Obama’s “blatantly hostile attitude toward Israel,” and expressed “grave doubt” that he “can be counted on to do what presidents before him did – protect our ally, Israel.”
Koch touched on an insufficiently discussed point: the silence of so many in Congress who should be protesting Obama’s shabby treatment of Israel. “Where are the voices,” asked Koch, “of the 31 members of the House and 14 senators who are Jewish?”
IT’S A question worth pondering. Of those 45 Jewish members of Congress, exactly one is a Republican. The Jewish Democrats, with the notable (if belated) exception of Sen. Charles Schumer, have not exactly been outspoken defenders of Israel against Obama’s onslaught. Too many have been fair-weather Zionists – tepidly supportive in general, but not willing to make waves or cross their party’s leader no matter how warranted.
Interestingly, some of those congressional Jews are facing tough challenges from more courageously Zionist non-Jews. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), for example, has been AWOL even during Obama’s heaviest pressure; her opponent, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, has been critical not only of Obama’s stance, but of Boxer’s silence. Rep. Ron Klein (D-Florida), who has participated in J Street events, is facing African-American Col. Allen West, a rising Republican star who is arguably the most fearless, unapologetically pro-Israel candidate in either party.
This is consistent with the developing partisan realignment of formerly bipartisan Israel-support. Encouragingly, in the wake of Obama’s actions, the American electorate – 98 percent non-Jewish – is now solidly behind Israel: According to a recent McLaughlin poll, 53% could not vote for an anti-Israel candidate even if they agreed with that candidate’s other positions. But look closer: Among Republicans, 69% are more likely to vote for a pro-Israel candidate, 15% less likely; among Democrats, however, 40% are more likely to vote for a pro-Israel candidate, 33% less likely. A mere 5% of self-described liberals currently consider themselves pro-Israel.
The realignment is especially evident in Congress. Following the calculated diplomatic crisis earlier this year, a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supporting Israel was drafted and signed by 334 members of Congress; 98 Congressmen refused to sign; 91 of them were Democrats.
In race after race, the Republican is by far the more rock-solid supporter of Israel, whether Senate candidates (e.g., Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey against J Street favorite Joe Sestak, Washington Republican Dino Rossi against incumbent Patty Murray), or outstanding, confidently Jewish Republican congressional candidates such as Randy Altshuler (NY) and Joel Pollak (Illinois ) against Obama-loyalist Democrats. J Street has endorsed 60 candidates; all are Democrats.
The anticipated election results favoring Republicans would result in one of the most pro-Israel Congresses ever. Ironically, that will be due in part to push back against the perceived anti-Israel orientation of this administration.
Keep that in mind when you vote.
The writer is an attorney and political commentator and counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.