Obama's Israel policies could sway Jewish support

Farley Weiss - July 11, 2011 (Posted to web) - The Arizona Republic

[Originally published June 6, 2011]

The recent encounter between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama has led political analysts to question whether American Jews, contrary to historical trends, will significantly change their voting patterns in the next presidential election.

With rare exceptions, Jews have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since their resounding rejection of Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928.

It is safe to say that, whomever the GOP nominates in the next presidential election, he or she will be strongly pro-Israel. This has to be of concern to the Obama camp.

The closest example to the present situation might be when Jimmy Carter ran for a second term. He had received 71 percent of the Jewish vote in 1976, but after being perceived by that community as not being a friend of Israel, his support dropped from 45 percent to 39 percent in the 1980 election against Ronald Reagan.

When President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Jim Baker publicly rebuked Israel, their Jewish support dropped to 11 percent. By contrast, George W. Bush, considered a friend of Israel, more than doubled his father's take of the Jewish vote.

In the last national election in 2008, U.S. Sen. John McCain, a friend to Israel, got only 22 percent of the Jewish vote, in part because Obama campaigned as being every bit as friendly to Israel. Today, many American Jews feel they were misled by Obama.

Now Obama has but three options that might help him to turn Jewish voting patterns in his favor. The first and most obvious is to alter his stated positions vis-a-vis Israel. This is unlikely but for some possible semantic changes.

Second, he could play a much stronger hand against Iran to prevent that country from acquiring nuclear weapons. His calls for sanctions against Iran, already proved ineffective, might be strengthened rhetorically. However, it seems clear a military response is unlikely.

After all, the administration has publicly and privately admonished Israel against considering any such action.

The third possible option, one that would correct an injustice, would be to release Jonathan Pollard from prison. Pollard has been incarcerated for more than 25 years for having passed classified information to an ally - Israel. He committed an offense for which the average sentence is two to four years.

He has expressed remorse for his actions and cooperated with the government. More than a dozen prominent former American governmental powerbrokers, including former secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and Sen. McCain, have publicly stated they favor his release. Other prominent Americans who have seen the classified information, such as former Sen. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and former CIA Director James Woolsey, also support Pollard's release.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb wrote that Pollard's life sentence was due to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's visceral hatred of Israel and his affidavits to the judge in the Pollard case. Today, Pollard's freedom has become a cause celebre among American Jewish voters.

According to recent polling of the Jewish community, Obama's support has dropped to under 60 percent and is sure to drop further. Unless something extraordinary happens, the American Jewish vote in 2012 will possibly return the Republicans to Reagan-esque levels of Jewish support.

If President Obama indeed loses a significant amount of the Jewish vote, strongly concentrated as it is in key states, it could very well prove to be politically fatal.

The author, Farley Weiss, is second-vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, president of Young Israel of Phoenix and president of the Scottsdale-based intellectual property law firm Weiss & Moy.

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