One of those memes that pops up regularly in American political journalism is the suggestion that Jewish voters, who have been extraordinarily loyal to the Democratic Party over the years, are about to defect to the GOP in significant numbers. Here it is again, in a Politico piece by Ben Smith, mostly based on interviews of unnamed Jewish donors and opinion-leaders who are reportedly upset by the president’s tense relationship with Bibi Netanyahu.
I don’t doubt the integrity of Smith’s reporting, and the nervousness of some Jews about U.S. relations with Israel is unsurprising, since it’s been a regular feature of political life for decades, no matter who happened to be president. But that’s sort of the point: the case that this particular president’s Middle East policies are going to override the heavy preference of American Jews for the more progressive of the two major parties is noticeably short on non-anecdotal evidence. Here’s how Paul Waldman assesses the claim at TAPPED:
We’ve been hearing this ever since Obama became the Democratic nominee in 2008. Jews don’t trust him! He had Palestinian friends! There’s that Reverend Wright! Here’s an article from May 2008: “As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of Its Jews Have Doubts.” And guess what: Obama won 78 percent of Jewish votes anyway. John Kerry got 74 percent in 2004, and Al Gore got 79 percent in 2000. In other words, Obama did pretty much exactly as well as other Democrats.
It’s never hard to write this article. Just ask around, and you can find Jews to grumble about this or that. You don’t exactly have to be Nellie Bly to get Jews to complain. It’s kind of what we do.
Moreover, the long history of erroneous predictions that a sizeable percentage of Jewish voters are about to defect to the GOP does not inspire confidence in those making similar predictions today. The National Jewish Democratic Council has released an amusing and enlightening summary of such false prophecies, made metronomically every election cycle since the early 1990s. And that only scratches the surface: for all his anti-antisemitic impulses, Richard Nixon was very interested in “wedging” Jewish votes for his 1972 re-election campaign, alongside his other coalition-building projects.
Perhaps one reason for the renewal of this meme is that Republican candidates for president seem to be spending a lot of time attacking Obama for failing to become Bibi’s best friend (most recently T-Paw, who made it a major theme of his Great Big Foreign Policy Speech last week). But these candidates obviously have much bigger fish to fry than any appeal to Jewish voters. Does anyone fail to understand that maximum solidarity with hard-line Israeli policies is of great interest to conservative evangelical activists, who have a somewhat more important presence than Jews in the Republican presidential nominating contest?
Ultimately, there are a host of factors that inhibit Jews from entertaining the idea of a vote for today’s GOP. As Waldman tartly concludes:
[I]n the end, Obama will have no trouble raising money, and getting votes, from Jews. It’s mostly ideological (most Jews are very progressive), but perhaps just as important, it’s cultural. All the time Republicans spend talking about who’s “one of us” resonates strongly with Jews. When they talk about how small towns are superior to cities, and the “heartland” is the “real” America while the coasts are fake, and how book learnin’ is for elitists, and how important it is that politicians be religious (read: Christian), Jews hear it loud and clear. That message of cultural affinity with a certain kind of person sends a simultaneous message to Jews: This party is not for you and your kind. Sarah Palin can put on a Star of David necklace, but that’s never going to convince Jews that they’re part of the Republican family. GOP candidates can talk about their love of Israel all they want, but it won’t be enough.
Until real evidence to the contrary emerges, that strikes me as the final word on the subject.