The Republican upset victory in the special election for New York's heavily Jewish 9th Congressional District has set off alarm bells in Democratic political circles. The White House is launching an outreach effort to American Jews to convince them that Mr. Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had in Washington. If that were even remotely true, there would be no desperate need for outreach.
Several recent polls have shown Mr. Obama's support among the Jewish population is dropping. In general, Jews tend to be more liberal and more affiliated with the Democratic Party than most Americans, but approval for Mr. Obama is waning even faster than among the electorate at large. In response, the White House is touting Mr. Obama's purported strong support for Israel. This won't work because the notion that Jews primarily cast their votes based on that issue is wrong. American Jews suffer as much from Mr. Obama's disastrous economic policies as anyone else, and the faltering recovery is just as damaging in the Jewish community as elsewhere. If anything, it's a wonder his support from Jews is still above average.
It's also untrue that Jews are the only group concerned about Israel's fate. Americans in general recognize that Israel is America's steadiest and most loyal ally in the Middle East. It's one of the region's only democracies and certainly the most durable. For many American conservatives, Christians and Jews alike, the existence of the state of Israel is evidence of the unfolding of a divine plan. Like the United States, it is a nation of immigrants, a diverse, tolerant and multicultural society surrounded by countries that are anything but. For example, this week, Maen Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization ambassador to the United Nations, said, "it would be in the best interest of the two people*" that the proposed future Palestinian state be free of Jews.
Lately, the relationship between America and Israel has been punctuated by periodic dust-ups between Mr. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a stronger will and vastly more diplomatic experience. Many liberal American Jews are not fans of the conservative prime minister, but a July poll by Dick Morris found that 85 percent of Jewish Democrats believe, "Israel is a small country surrounded by countries and peoples that want to destroy it." There's no question Mr. Netanyahu agrees with that, but there is some doubt about Mr. Obama.
The major difference between the Obama administration and those before it is the general sense of moral equivalence with which it approaches the peace process. Mr. Obama's obsessive outreach to Muslim countries has led him to adopt a very even-handed tone when discussing Israel. Surrendering the moral argument for the Jewish state in pursuit of a deal has conveyed American weakness to both sides. It's no wonder the Palestinian Authority is pushing for United Nations recognition of statehood. With Mr. Obama in office, they think they can get away with it.
The White House is in a bind with Jewish voters. Those who believe Mr. Obama has been bad news for Israel will never be convinced otherwise. Those for whom the economy is the most important issue see the same bad news as everyone else. If this small but influential voting block is starting to turn decisively against Democrats, it could signal a sea change in American politics more important than the transfer of allegiance of black voters away from the GOP in the mid-20th century. It's about time.
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