November 8, 2012

The wannabe Jewish vote, à la Bibi

There continues to be an astounding fascination with the Jewish vote, mostly within the Jewish community. But it was never all about us, and this year that's especially so. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reduced himself politically to a mere appendage of Jewish Republicans and big-money campaign donors. Even Israelis are noticing now. As for the rest of us, perhaps we can start getting back to reality-based politics, here and in the Middle East, and not be quite so proud of our community's king-making powers.


Jewish Republican activists may console themselves in the delusion that the Jews voting for Obama aren't REAL Jews, since Israel ranks only fourth or lower in deciding their votes. But then, most of the 30 percent who voted for Romney were voting because they are REPUBLICANS. Even in 1992, the sharply antagonistic President George Bush still managed to scare up 11 percent of the Jewish vote in his defense against the Democrat Bill Clinton.

The Jewish vote is clearly not in play, despite a marginal drop in its overwhelming Democratic bias. The vocal bulk of community advocacy organizations claiming -- however tenuously -- to speak on behalf of American Jewry had previously indicated their genuine or contrived concern with various policies and actions of the Obama administration, often inspired by statements or murmurings emanating from Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Were it not evident before, it should now be understood that meeting with Jewish organizations is something a President does to advance his own agenda and to be polite to constituents -- and, OK, to fish for campaign contributions -- but not to win votes, or to advance Middle East policy. Simply put, as a community, we are not players.


One lesson from the historic Oslo process is that the Jewish community can only be marginally helpful with U.S. peacemaking in the Middle East. Our real influence is as spoilers, as in the mid-1990s when several right-wing "Zionist" groups successfully lobbied against Israel's request for funds to jump-start a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. When a President is ready to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace, he does not first go hat in hand to major American Jewish organizations. He travels to the Middle East.

The Jewish vote in Florida exceeded Romney's expectations, and yet -- eventually -- he still lost Florida. Beyond that, the President won the Electoral College even without Florida's votes being counted.

While having to worry less about losing Florida, future Democratic aspirants also need not be concerned with the Jews of New York, a state that easily goes Democratic no matter what. This leaves Jews as players in the money game, with a significant percentage of campaign cash raised on both sides coming from Jewish donors -- even without counting billionaire Sheldon Adelson.


Adelson, of course, heavily supported Newt Gingrich's smear campaign against Mitt Romney before falling in line with Romney. He also is a strong backer of a foreign politician, none other than Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even without such 'guilt by association', Netanyahu has much to overcome if he seeks a true partnership based on trust with President Obama. Many Israeli voters, and many in Netanyahu's own government, know this. Even as Americans were heading to the polls, Netanyahu took the opportunity to once again point out that Israel can always attack Iran on its own. This on-again-off-again wolf-crying is getting tiresome, even for Israelis. His summer-long drumbeat against Obama's 'appeasement' of Iran ended with Netanyahu's United Nations speech that essentially endorsed everything Obama has been doing, and even pushed off any consideration for military action until mid-2013. But the PM just couldn't help himself this week, and he clearly thought he'd be helping Mitt Romney.

Did Netanyahu help Romney? Probably somewhat. Did it matter? Ultimately, no. Romney even lost Florida, along with a dozen "battleground" states, including Ohio. As I blogged last month, the fact that Israel got the third most mentions of any foreign country in the final Obama-Romney debate was NOT a good thing -- Israel is now grouped with China and Iran, and has been reduced by my Jewish Republican friends to just another partisan attack ad. So much for honoring the AIPAC credo of bipartisanship...

By signaling Israeli and American voters that our election was somehow about him, and losing that reckless bet, Netanyahu has now reduced his own relevance and credibility in U.S. politics and in the American Jewish community. More importantly, by wasting four years of potential good will with a U.S. President, he has reduced his relevance and credibility at home, where he now faces his own election day on January 22, right after we inaugurate Barack Obama for a second term in Washington.

In the real world, Barack Obama doesn't seem to bear grudges. He stays focused, which is why he did win a convincing victory this week. While Netanyahu appears to crave warm-fuzzy, unconditional approval from a U.S. President, Obama has no such needs, either personally or politically. He didn't need it to get elected four years ago (when Netanyahu's team actively trash-talked him), he didn't need it to get re-elected this time, and there won't even be a next time.

One day AFTER his re-election, President Obama's Treasury Department issued new sanctions against Iran. The only reason to do this was to stop Iran. Not to please American Jews who either voted for him or against him anyway, and who did not decide the election, nor to please the Israeli politician who's spent the last four-plus years slinging mud at him. Obama wants a strong Israel, at peace with its neighbors, and he wants to counter Iran and other threats. He will continue to meet with Jewish organizations, but the smart ones will offer to help him rather than showing up with the same shopping list of grievances that he's already getting via fax from Jerusalem.

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