Obama Gains Ground with Israeli, American Jews

The more the issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians fades into the background, the more popular President Obama gets among both Israeli and American Jews.

That’s what recent polls say, and it’s welcome news for the president’s re-election team.

A recent survey by the American Jewish Committee showed 61% of American Jews support the president, whereas only 28% back his likely opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

And a poll by the Brookings Institution in December showed 54% of Israeli Jews viewed the president favorably, while 39% did not, a big improvement from the previous year, when a majority had unfavorable opinions of him.

Early in his administration, he aggressively pushed for a unilateral freeze on Jewish settlements and peace talks between the two perennial antagonists while making a landmark speech in Cairo in which he called for “a new beginning” between the US and the Muslim world. He has yet to visit Israel.

That, and the president’s inexcusable snubbing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2010, raised fears he was tilting towards the Palestinians in an effort to ingratiate the US with Muslims.

But then talks predictably went nowhere, and the dispute moved to the back burner. Meanwhile, the US and Israeli have moved closer together on policy toward Iran’s nuclear program, and the president declared it US policy that Iran not get nuclear weapons.

But there’s no denying the antagonism a large minority of American Jews feel towards the president.  I haven’t seen polls on this, but I’d suspect he does worse among observant Jews and those to whom Israel is the most important issue.

Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz told a conference last week that President Obama was a friend of Israel. Photo: Howard R. Gold/The Independent Agenda.

Yet the vast majority of American Jews are not affiliated with synagogues, are Reform, or do not have strong ties to Israel. They’re also overwhelmingly liberal, maybe the most reliably Democratic of any group except for African-Americans. And guess what their main concern is? The economy, of course.

Jewish Americans are concentrated in solidly blue states, like New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois, all of which should comfortably go to President Obama this year.

But they’re also a big factor in a key swing state, Florida, and retirees—a big chunk of the Jewish population there—vote heavily. I’d suspect Israel is a bigger factor for them than it is for younger voters.

And of course, a good number of big donors are wealthy Jews, and here the president will surely suffer, as those on Wall Street, in hedge funds, and private equity are tilting heavily towards Romney this year.

For decades, American Jews have voted for Democratic candidates in huge numbers—nearly 80% for Obama, Kerry, Gore, and Clinton. Only Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower got around  40% of their  vote, and barring a severe break with Israel, I don’t expect Romney to win anywhere near that this time around.

“About three out of four American Jews voted Democratic in 2008. Something relatively similar is likely to occur in 2012,” Professor Kenneth Wald of the University of Florida told The Washington Post.

Like it or not, American Jews already have “come home” to their Democratic president.

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