Is Israel not an election issue anymore for American Jewry, or has the Jewish vote lost its significance in wake of demographic changes?
While Mitt Romney became the first Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan to get 30 percent of the Jewish vote, he ended up losing the general election, even the battleground states such as Ohio and Florida where Jews make up a significant portion of the electorate on Election Day.
Every Republican candidate who garnered more than 25 percent of the Jewish vote in the past has won the White House, and the suggestion was that if President Obama’s decline of support among Jewish voters will result in shifting support towards Romney, the 30 percent mark would push him over the top. President Obama ended up suffering a decline of support among Jewish voters, the highest among religious groups, but went on to win the crucial swing states.
Experts suggest Tuesday’s election results reveal a new demographic reality and that the Jewish community will play a less significant role in future elections.
“If this election doesn’t prove once and for all that the Jewish vote doesn’t matter in national elections, I’m not sure what will,” one GOP strategist who tracks Jewish voting patterns told Adam Kredo in the Free Beacon.“Obama shed a significant margin of his Jewish support from 2008 … but even with George W. Bush-type Jewish support, Mitt Romney could not overcome the enormous black and Latino turnout in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. Obama lost the center of the electorate, he lost independent voters, and he hemorrhaged Jewish support.”
“Jews are less of a barometer, perhaps, than they once were,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “The old Republican game plan simply doesn’t work. This election will be remembered for the rise of other voters.”
Others remained optimistic, looking at the light at the end of the tunnel “The Jewish community is a liberal community,” Tevi Troy, a Romney campaign adviser who also served as former President George W. Bush’s liaison to the Jewish community told Free Beacon. “We’re not going to get 50 percent [of the Jewish vote], but there was a big shift suggesting that there were a significant number of Jews concerned about Israel” and other issues.
Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks, whose group spent six million dollars in ads and events courting the Jewish vote, pointed at the upside. “The fact we increased the Jewish vote 50 percent from 2008 is an important metric,” Brooks said. “In 2008, the Jewish vote went for Obama four-to-one and this time went down to two-to-one. Republicans have not enjoyed such a sizable bump in the Jewish vote since 1972,” Brooks added.
Pro-Israel language was removed from the Democratic Party’s platform during this year’s convention. The language was only reinserted following a media backlash and a bitter floor fight in which a majority of Democratic delegates audibly booed the pro-Israel amendment.
It’s one of the oldest canards in American politics — the claim that Jewish Americans are single-issue voters whose support goes to those candidates with the most hawkish views on Israel.
Jeremi Ben-Ami, president of J-Street, pointed out in a New York Times Op-Ed that Obama’s reelection is an indication that the myth of Israel as an election issue has been debunked and buried once and for all. “Political donors like Sheldon Adelson and groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel spent tens of millions of dollars in 2012 and before to sow fear and doubt over Israel, and to move Jewish votes away from President Obama and the Democratic Party. Yet the scare tactics didn’t work, and the millions spent were for naught,” Ben-Ami writes.
“The 4 percent decline in support for the president (in Florida and Ohio) since 2008 simply tracks the similar small decline among the broader population and among white, Catholic and Protestant voters. Campaigns to shift Jewish votes over Israel don’t work because the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters say the economy, not Israel, is their top electoral concern, followed by health care, Social Security and Medicare. Turns out that Jewish Americans have the same voting concerns as all other Americans,” Ben-Ami draws the conclusion.
“While Obama’s vote among Jews fell below 70 percent, it remains amazingly high considering the constant friction with Israel,” said Elliott Abrams, a former national security adviser for George W. Bush.
However, “Republicans may do better over time,” Abrams said, pointing to the growth in the Orthodox Jewish community. “It is clear that among Orthodox Jews the vote for Romney was high, suggesting that as the Orthodox become a larger percentage of all Jews, Republicans have a better chance,” Abrams said.
Whether the chatter about Israel strengthens or weakens the bipartisan support Israel has so long enjoyed over the past decades, American Jewry must overcome the bitter divisiveness of stemming Israel “as an issue, as a society either to be idealized, demonized, or ignored” rather than “a real country,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Baltimore on Tuesday.
In terms of how polarized American Jewry is politically, Oren recalled the time he once tried to arrange a meeting between American Jewish Republican activists and American Jewish Democratic activists. “Once, I tried,” he said. “Never again.”
Oren said that before criticizing each other, American and Israeli Jews “must pause to clarify.” He said, “To succeed we must reexamine some of our most basic assumptions.” Israelis should acknowledge the American-Jewish experience as a source of enrichment for Israeli Jewry, while American Jews should respect Israel as a polity of human beings who must make life-and-death decisions and bear the consequence of those decisions, according to the ambassador.