Charles M. Blow writes in the NY Times: Is President Obama good for the Jews? For more and more Jewish-Americans, the answer is no. In a Pew Research Center report issued on Thursday and entitled “Growing Number of Americans Say Obama Is a Muslim,” there was another bit of bad news for Obama: the number of Jews who identify as Republican or as independents who lean Republican has increased by more than half since the year he was elected. At 33 percent it now stands at the highest level since the data have been kept. In 2008, the ratio of Democratic Jews to Republican Jews was far more than three to one. Now it’s less than two to one.This is no doubt a reaction, at least in part, to the Obama administration having taken a hard rhetorical stance with Israel, while taking “special time and care on our relationship with the Muslim world,” as Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, put it in June. If that sounds like courtship, it is.
(It should be noted that the Pew poll was taken before Obama’s bold support for the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque a few blocks north of ground zero.)
Some of the president’s most ardent critics and some of Israel’s staunchest American defenders – two groups that are by no means mutually exclusive – have seized on what they see as the administration’s unfair and unbalanced treatment of Israel and have taken their denunciations to the extremes.
In September 2009, Obama went before the United Nations and declared, “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” It was a line that the president had used a few months earlier in a speech in Cairo, but this time it threw critics into a tizzy. John Bolton, an ambassador to the United Nations during George W. Bush’s administration, responded: “This is the most radical anti-Israel speech I can recall any president making.”
In March, while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, Israel announced it would move ahead with plans to build housing in East Jerusalem. The administration was not amused. Biden condemned the decision as undermining “the trust that we need right now” in order to have profitable negotiations.
In other words, “You announce this now? You can’t be serious!”
In April, after President Obama urged Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Representative Eric Cantor, the House minority whip and the lone Jewish Republican in the chamber, lashed out: “The administration’s troubling policy of manufacturing fights with Israel to ingratiate itself with some in the Arab world is no way to advance the cause of Mideast peace.”
And, the Gaza flotilla incident in May that left nine people dead and drew international condemnation of Israeli tactics only added to the tensions.
The White House, feeling pressure over the developing rift, sought to mend fences in May through a series of meetings and statements, but as Helene Cooper reported in The Times, “It remains unclear whether Mr. Obama’s latest outreach will reassure American Jews and the general public in Israel, where Mr. Obama’s approval ratings have plummeted.” And, it’s still foggy.
When the president met in July at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he stressed the United States’ unwavering support for Israel and his commitment to the “special bond” between the two nations.
Still that was not enough to quell the cries of those like Representative Mike Pence, the Republican Conference chairman who earlier this month told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “I believe the Obama administration is the most anti-Israel administration in the modern history of the state of Israel and our relationship with her.” The more extreme the statement the better I guess.
Fair or not, these criticisms are crystallizing into a shared belief among many: Obama is burning bridges with the Jewish community in order to build bridges to the Muslim world.
There is very little independent polling, aside from Pew’s party identification polling, to help us understand how American Jews see the president, his stance toward Israel and the political implications. So in that vacuum, pollsters with partisan leanings have been spinning their findings like dreidels.
In April, the Republican polling firm McLaughlin & Associates released a survey that they said showed that only 42 percent of American Jews would vote to re-elect President Obama. He captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008.
Recently, the democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and the Israel Project, a nonprofit in Washington, conducted a poll that they said found American support of Israel was dropping like a rock.
Wherever the truth lies, it is fair to say that it doesn’t bode well for Obama. While Jews are only 2 percent of the United States population, their influence outweighs their proportion. Furthermore, in crucial battleground states like Florida, their vote is critical. Obama won Florida by 3 percentage points in 2008. Jews represented 4 percent of the overall vote in that state.
As Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, told Fox News in April, “I have been a supporter of President Obama and went to Florida for him, urged Jews all over the country to vote for him, saying that he would be just as good as John McCain on the security of Israel. I don’t think it’s true anymore.”
The president now has another, more visible chance to reverse this perception. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that Israel and the Palestinians would resume peace talks in Washington early next month. The administration has to decide how heavy its hand will be in guiding these discussions and what its tone will be with the two parties – who gets the tough love and who gets the free love.