A Republican might blame the Democrats for “wavering in their support for Israel.” The Democrats might pin it on the Republicans for attempting to “politicize what has traditionally been a non-partisan issue.” Either way, the Jewish vote remains in play this election cycle, with potential benefits for the Jewish state and the Jewish body politic.
Although President Obama won 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, tracking polls suggest that number is down to 68 percent. As the Forward explained, “If Obama loses 10 percent of Jewish votes he won in 2008, that would translate to 85,000 votes in Florida, 41,500 in Pennsylvania, and 19,000 in Ohio.” Those are alluring numbers to both parties, which in their national conventions have found ways to put Jewish voters and their concerns front and center.
During the Republican convention in Tampa last week, delegates were treated to a minute-and-a-half-long video touting candidate Mitt Romney’s record on Israel. In his acceptance speech, Romney charged that Obama “has thrown allies like Israel under the bus” and “failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.” The Democrats have countered with an eight-minute video called “America & Israel: Standing Strong Together” and, as a prelude to the convention, ran a training session in Charlotte on Jewish outreach. Activists were urged to press the Democrats’ advantage on domestic policy as well as what they see as Obama’s strong support for Israel.
Turning Israel into a partisan issue would have been anathema to the pro-Israel activists of a generation ago. But that was a different world, when the parties themselves were more likely to reach across the aisle on a host of issues. Rather than curse the politicization of Israel, we might appreciate that neither party is taking the Jewish vote for granted. That forces politicians to take our concerns seriously, and demands that they formulate clear positions on Israel and the Middle East beyond the campaign slogans.
No doubt the claims and counter-claims can and do get nasty. But if both sides can remain honest and civil, the campaign for the Jewish vote has the potential to make our community stronger and the U.S.-Israel alliance even closer.