The editors of Commentary asked 31 American Jews to respond to the following statement:
The open conflict between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has created tensions between the United States and Israel of a kind not seen since the days of the administration of the first President Bush. And those tensions are placing unique pressure on American Jews, who voted for Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 4-to-1 in 2008 after being assured by Obama himself and by his supporters in the Jewish community that he was a friend and an ally of the State of Israel despite his long association with, among others, the unabashedly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
We argue that American Jews are facing an unprecedented political challenge, and at a crucial moment, with the need to address the existential threat to Israel—and by extension to the future of the Jewish people as a whole—from a potentially nuclear Iran. How will American Jews handle this challenge? Can Obama's Jewish supporters act in a way that will change the unmistakable direction of current American policy emanating from the White House? Will American Jews accept Barack Obama's view that the state of Israel bears some responsibility for the loss of American "blood and treasure" in the Middle East? Will they continue to extend their support to the Obama administration and to Barack Obama's political party?
My contribution follows. To read those of the other contributors, please visit Commentary.com.
LONG BEFORE his election as president, it was clear that Barack Obama felt little of the traditional American warmth for Israel or any particular repugnance for the enemies that Israel and America have in common. As Commentary's editors suggest, his exceptionally close ties to the man he described as his spiritual mentor, the Israel-bashing Reverend Jeremiah Wright, should have given pause to any pro-Israel voter. So should the persistence with which he vowed to undertake direct presidential diplomacy with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the virulently anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic president of Iran -- "without preconditions." Yet many American Jews chose to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, telling themselves that he could be numbered, as Alan Dershowitz wrote at the time, "among Israel's strongest supporters."
Only the willfully blind could believe that now. And many American Jews are willfully blind.
Time and again, Obama has made clear both his lack of sympathy for the Jewish state and his keen desire to ingratiate himself with Arab and Muslim autocrats. The disparities in the administration's tone and attitude have been striking. For the prime minister of Israel, there have been humiliating snubs and telephoned harangues; for the rulers of Iran, invitations to "engage" and sycophantic New Year greetings. When Damascus was reported to be arming Hezbollah with Scud missiles, Obama's secretary of state observed mildly that the US "would like to have a more balanced and positive relationship with Syria." When Israel announced plans to build more homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, by contrast, the secretary of state angrily condemned the announcement as "an insult to the United States."
Even more egregious is Obama's insinuation that American troops are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because Israel won't agree to peace on the Palestinians' terms. The Israeli-Arab conflict "is costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure," the president said in April -- a claim not just false, but recklessly close to a blood libel. No wonder the number of Israeli Jews who see Obama as pro-Israel is minuscule: just 9 percent, according to the Jerusalem Post.
When the first George Bush was in the White House, he evinced a similar anti-Israel animus, and some of his advisers worried that his Mideast policy would hurt the president with Jewish voters. "F--- the Jews," Secretary of State James Baker notoriously responded, "they don't vote for us anyway." They didn't: When Bush ran for re-election in 1992, he drew only 11 percent of the Jewish vote -- less than a third of those who had voted for him in 1988.
Is it likely that two-thirds of the overwhelming majority of Jews who backed Obama in 2008 would abandon him in 2012, assuming he runs for re-election and his animus toward Israel persists? To ask it another way: Would most American Jews vote against a Democratic nominee out of concern for Israel?
There is no reason to think so. American Jews have been stalwart Democrats for nearly a century, and their partisan affiliation shows no sign of weakening -- not even as the Democratic Party's support for Israel grows steadily weaker. When Gallup earlier this year surveyed Americans on their sympathies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 85 percent of Republicans expressed support for Israel -- but only 48 percent of Democrats did so. Reams of data confirm that solidarity with Israel is now far stronger among Republicans and conservatives than among Democrats and liberals.
That is why if they are forced to choose between standing with Israel and standing with the Democratic Party, many American Jews will simply deny that any choice must be made. As evidence, consider a recent Quinnipiac University poll, in which fully 50 percent of Jews described Obama as a "strong supporter of Israel" -- a far higher proportion than the 19 percent of evangelicals, 23 percent of Protestants, and 35 percent of Catholics who said the same. Denial is not an uncommon response to cognitive dissonance, and a goodly number of Jewish Democrats will find it easier to keep telling themselves that Obama is strongly pro-Israel than to re-think their party loyalty.
To be sure, in 2012 Obama is unlikely to duplicate the 78 percent of Jewish votes he drew in 2008. But will American Jews turn away from him en masse? Don't bet on it. "F--- the Jews," Obama's advisers can tell him. "They'll vote for us anyway."
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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