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McCain tops Obama for Israeli vote

- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2008

TEL AVIV | Sen. Barack Obama's recent efforts to woo American Jewish voters by staking out pro-Israeli positions seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the Jewish state, according to a poll published Friday.

Asked to name their preference to become the next president, a sample of 500 Israeli Jews favored presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, over the Illinois Democrat by a 36 percent to 27 percent advantage.

The poll, the first presidential such survey in Israel since the end of the Democratic primary race, was conducted June 18-19 by Israel's Mutagim survey institute for the right-wing weekly paper Mekor Rishon. The 500-person sample has a 4.5 percentage margin of error.

As in the U.S., the balance of support for the candidates moves rightward as voters get older. Mr. Obama's sole advantage among Israelis comes among voters aged 18 to 24, who support him by a seven percentage-point margin. But among Israeli senior citizens, Mr. McCain holds a 30-point lead.

"Israelis are very disturbed about the Iranian threat. If they know anything about John McCain, it's that he's supposed to be tough on Iran," said Dahlia Scheindlin, a Tel Aviv-based pollster and political analyst.

Mr. Obama is "both unknown and has a Muslim middle name. They're influenced by the most superficial level of American discourse."

After capturing enough U.S. Democratic delegates to claim victory, Mr. Obama appeared at a convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and declared his support for an "undivided" Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as part of peace deal with the Palestinians - a position more in line with Israeli conservatives than the left.

The statement was seen in the U.S. and in Israel as an attempt to shore up support among American Jews, who have been the target of a campaign portraying Mr. Obama as a practicing Muslim who is anti-Israel.

The speech came at a time when many Israelis were switching loyalties to Mr. McCain after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's withdrawal from the race, said Tel Aviv University political science professor Gideon Doron.

"People liked [the speech] a lot. But it was almost too good to be true. It was too perfect. This is campaign rhetoric. He wants to win." After the speech, Mr. Doron said, Israeli attitudes toward Mr. Obama warmed somewhat, leveling the playing field and providing for a flood of positive news coverage.

"Obama embraces Israel," read the front-page headline on the Ma'ariv newspaper.

And yet, Israeli analysts say the Zionist declaration seemed slightly inconsistent with the candidate's dovish reputation - not to mention the Israeli public.

The speech "displayed a sense of immaturity," said Ben Dror Yemini, the opinion page editor of Ma'ariv. "No one talks about unified Jerusalem anymore, so it's unclear what he means. He's putting himself on the right-wing side of the Israeli public opinion. It's strange for a left-wing candidate to say that."

The preference for Mr. McCain and Israel's adulation for President Bush, however, doesn't make Israel a so-called red state in U.S. presidential politics. In polls before she dropped out, Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat, was preferred over Mr. McCain.