by Robert G. Samet
What do we as a people say about a president who tours Muslim nations early in his first term but conspicuously avoids Israel, who openly disrespects Israel’s visiting leader, who emboldens Palestinians to resist peace negotiations by telling Israel it must first freeze all West Bank construction — not just construction in support of expansion but construction for internal improvements? That precondition from a naive U.S. president has now been retracted, but it set back peace negotiations for years. What do we say about a president who promises Israel that the U.S. has its back on Iran, but then quickly appoints a secretary of defense who, despite denials, is on record opposing sanctions on Iran?
If you are an American Jew, you say he’s our man. At least 70 percent of us did by voting for Barack Obama. Why did we do that? What were we thinking? We certainly weren’t worrying much about Israel.
If you are Israeli, you say this man is not a friend of Israel. Polls in Israel reflect an exact opposite view to that expressed by the American Jewish vote. Israelis preferred Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 margin.
Four out of five Jewish Americans in Israel voted by absentee ballot for Mitt Romney. What makes those Jews different from us? They’re also Americans.
It is astounding that American Muslims and American Jews both voted for President Obama in numbers approximating 70 percent. Think about that, and you can’t help but shake your head in puzzlement. One of these groups obviously has it wrong. Unfortunately, it is our own people. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The sad fact is, 70 percent of the Muslim American community voted for President Obama, because they saw clearly that he is sympathetic to the Palestinian position. Yet American Jews chose to wear blinders.
J Street, the notoriously anti-Israel (even giving it the benefit of the doubt, it is “anti-whatever Israeli government is in power”) group of Jewish leftists, says that just 10 percent of American Jews identify Israel as an important issue to them, and just 2 percent identify Iran as an important issue to them. They say most Jewish voters consider the economy, health care, abortion, Social Security and Medicare as more important. J Street shamefully celebrates that, because they see such American Jews as low-hanging fruit that is easy to convince to vote against Israel’s interests. They may not be far from correct, and that’s very sad. It means that we as a people, in our prosperity and safety here in the U.S., don’t identify with and take seriously issues of security and survival that Israelis deal with daily.
The Democratic Party has become an ill-fitting friend to Jews who care about Israel. The booing at the Democratic Convention over the platform amendment to reinsert language recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital should serve as yet another among many warnings. How uncomfortable must it have made Jewish convention delegates to hear the huge chorus of boos?
A recent Gallup Poll revealed that 78 percent of Republicans to only 55 percent of Democrats are supportive of Israel. This author is a registered Democrat, but this is not the Democratic Party of my parents and their parents.
Yet AIPAC remains enormously supportive of Israel and still attracts widespread support among American Jews, although of late it has studiously avoided public pronouncements on issues that might conflict with a liberal president and liberal Democratic Party. AIPAC’s influence is under attack. Left-wing groups like J Street have as one of their main goals the delegitimizing of AIPAC. Note the current Metro poster campaign by Jewish Voices for Peace announcing: “Jewish and Proud — AIPAC doesn’t speak for me.” It’s a shanda. Imagine the threat to Israel itself if these groups had their way and AIPAC’s influence waned.
Why do 70 percent of Jewish Americans vote for Barack Obama when his positions and philosophy are largely in conflict with any government Israelis would elect to govern themselves? Yet many of these same American Jews continue to support AIPAC. The vote reflects that we are uninformed on the issues about Israel and don’t much care. We are apathetic. Come to any public rally on any issue important to Israel, and you will witness an abysmal turnout. During the Palestinian Intifada, we stayed away from Israel out of fear, while Evangelical Christians supported the Israeli tourism industry by visiting in droves. As voters, abortion, health care, gay rights and the economy trump Israel. Still, we want to think of ourselves as supporters of Israel, so we write a check to AIPAC. It is our pro-Israel proxy. Well, thank God for guilt and AIPAC.
The disconnect between Israeli public opinion and American Jewish voters on issues of importance to Israel is unhealthy. It shows that many of us do not sufficiently understand or take Israeli security concerns seriously.
While unswerving support for either side is not in our interests, voting for a Democratic president who so openly opposes Israeli government policies sends a terrible message to future political candidates. It tells them that no matter what position they take on issues important to Israel, they won’t lose much Jewish support. And worse, it emboldens enemies of AIPAC, such as J Street, to falsely assert that American Jewish voters support their agenda.
Robert Samet is a practicing lawyer in Rockville and a pro-Israel activist. He serves in leadership positions for a number of organizations supporting Israel.