Israel and Campaign 2012

Israel and Campaign 2012

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


Israel has been in the center of more international travel activity over the past few weeks than it has been in a long time. It would have seemed as if the entire Obama Administration and as well as Romney and members of his team have been traipsing through Jerusalem as if some immediate critical policy move was about to occur. Yet, underlying all this activity related to very serious, existential issues for Israel, was a very heavy dose of plain old America politics.  Sadly, for Israel, it is hardly clear what is genuine concern and what is just blunt, brass knuckle politics.

Israel’s situation in the Middle East has grown more and more complicated since the Arab Spring began in January 2011. The Iranian nuclear threat has only grown more real and continues to present itself as a genuine threat to Israel’s survival as well as to the stability of the region and of the world. Now with Syria on the verge of imploding, the fate of the chemical and biological weapons depots throughout the country present a regional threat that was not even contemplated a few months ago.

For most of the world the problems are real but do not represent an immediate threat. There are genuine global military and economic concerns and consequences which are weighing in the balance. Few countries would begrudge Israel from launching a pre-emptive strike against Iran and—in certain growing scenarios—perhaps against Syria. All of this direct and implicit political posturing by leaders of both the Administration as well as the Romney team is not only tasteless but politically very curious.

At the end of the day Romney will receive approximately 30% of the Jewish vote +/- five percent. The various events and visits to Israel during the past several weeks are not likely to move the needle enough for Romney in the key swing states. While the numbers for the Republicans in last week’s Gallup poll will undoubtedly go up, they will also go back down once the bounce from the Romney visit wears off. Someone has convinced the Romney team that the Jewish vote in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania hold the key to Romney’s victory.  Within the Jewish community, the only voters likely to be swayed by this trip more significantly to Romney than they might already have been are Jewish seniors (most significantly along the Florida East Coast) and Orthodox Jews (most significantly in Miami, Philadelphia and Cleveland).  The aggregate numbers of these specific groups of voters who might shift to Romney at this point are likely to be very small.

Netanyahu understands full well that Israel, from a security point of view, will need to have a firm relationship with whoever wins the U.S. election. There will not likely be much difference from a policy perspective, although there might be at the personal level. Mitt Romney said all the right things in Israel, but at the end seemed to be backtracking more than were some of his key foreign policy aides. For Obama, he does not want to lose much of the Jewish vote, but his advisers know that in actual vote counts, they can more than make it up– especially in these swing states– if they succeed in their efforts to register and turn out the Latino vote. A 1% increase in Hispanic voters (with over 70% likely to support the President) represents a much larger number of actual votes in these states than even a several percentage shift away from Obama among Jewish voters.

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