State of "Israel" Low Priority for American Jewish Voters

April 20, 2012

The following article originally appeared in a New York Times blog:

April 19, 2012
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

A poll of American Jewish voters shows that they overwhelmingly support Barack Obama for president, just as they did four years ago, and that Israel and Iran rank low on their list of priority issues in the presidential election.

The results cast doubt on the claim that Mr. Obama has alienated a significant swath of Jewish voters because of his rocky relationship with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We show no slippage in Jewish support for President Obama,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, an independent research group based in Washington D.C., which conducted the poll of 1,004 Jewish adults from Feb. 23 to March 5. The margin of error is plus or minus five percentage points.

Support for Mr. Obama is still higher among Jews than among the general electorate, with 62 percent of Jewish voters saying they would like to see him elected, and 30 percent saying they preferred the Republican candidate. (That is almost identical to a Gallup poll of American Jewish registered voters taken in June 2008.)

Of the 30 percent of those polled who said they preferred a Republican candidate, 58 percent said they supported Mitt Romney, 15 percent supported Rick Santorum, 13 percent supported Newt Gingrich and 12 percent supported Ron Paul.

Asked to rank which issues were most important to their vote for president, about half of American Jews cited the economy, and 15 percent cited the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Concern about Israel or Iran ranked very low, even when respondents were asked for the second most important issue that would determine their vote for president.

On relations between the United States and Israel, 54 percent of those polled said relations were about the same as in the past, while 37 percent said they were worse, and only 7 percent said they were better. Only 20 percent said they liked the way that Mr. Obama had handled the Arab-Israeli conflict and that they agreed with his policies, while 15 percent said they agreed with the president’s policies, but didn’t like the way he was carrying them out. Twenty-eight percent said they disagreed with his policies, and 36 percent said they were not sure

“We see some tensions here,” Mr. Jones said, “but ultimately when it comes down to who they’re going to choose as president, it’s not what’s driving the vote.”

Our comment:

The great Biblical prophet, Jeremiah, proclaimed G-d's message to all of Diaspora Jewry: "Seek out the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray for it to the Almighty, for through its welfare will you have welfare." (29:7). This message has been a cornerstone of Jewish conduct in exile throughout history. Wherever Jews have lived over the last two thousand years, they have been loyal citizens and supported the leaders of their country.

Under American democracy, this principle takes on additional meaning. We have the right to choose our leaders, but our choices should be based on what we feel is best for America - not for a foreign country.

True Torah Jews are very pleased with the results of this poll; they show that American Jews are upholding this Torah principle and voting on American issues.

Some Zionists have claimed that Jewish support for President Obama has fallen due to his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The basis for this claim is the fact that in the election of November 2008 Jewish support for Obama rose to 78%, and since then it has dropped to 62%. But as the above article notes, that Jewish support for Obama now is the same is it was at this point in the election of 2008 - about 62%. Thus, what we really must ask is why the pro-Obama sentiment in the Jewish community rose so dramatically around election time in 2008, and if the same thing will happen this year.

Douglas Bloomfield, writing in the Jerusalem Post, theorizes that the 2008 spike in Obama support was caused by a crucial error on the part of the Republican party. Thinking that the State of Israel was the determining issue for Jews, they launched a multi-million-dollar campaign to paint Obama as hostile to the Jewish state and its right-wing leadership. Actually, the economy and other domestic issues are far more important to the vast majority of Jews, and by focusing only on the State of Israel, the Republican party was essentially telling Jewish voters that they had nothing else to offer them - so they turned to Obama.

As a purely Torah-based organization, we do not endorse either party. But whether Bloomfield's theory is true or not, one thing is certain: Jewish voters are putting American issues first and foremost in the current election, and it gives us great pleasure to see this.

We hope that this poll will make all candidates in the coming election think twice before focusing too much on the State of Israel when addressing Jewish voters. It is our position that dragging the problems in "Israel" into American politics fuels anti-Semitism, furthers conflicts, and creates a potential danger to Jews worldwide, including those in the Holy Land.