Learn Again: American Jews are Not Israelis (Le Monde, France)
Once again, the November 6 election in the
United States exposed that great canard about the American Jewish vote. It was
a blow to the widely peddled myth that this is an electoral group with
simplistic political behavior: that American Jews would give their support to
the candidate most swayed by Israeli politics. Nothing could be further from
Throughout his campaign, Mitt Romney seemed to be saying, "there
is no candidate more pro-Israel than me." The Republican sought to
overtake Barack Obama on the theme of open support for the government in
Jerusalem. He aligned his Middle East policies with those of Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu. In negotiations with the Palestinians, Romney said Israel
would have no partner; there was no point wasting time on people who, in any
case, don't want peace. That is exactly the line of the head Likud, the old party of the Israeli
right, and its extreme right-wing ally, Avigdor
Lieberman, foreign minister and leader of the YisraelBeiteinu Party.
As if standing at attention, Mitt Romney also stuck to "Bibi" Netanyahu's line on Iran. He warned that he
would be at the prime minister's side whatever he might decide to do to prevent
the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons, including bombing Iranian
sites, an action that Obama would have opposed over the course of the past year.
The slogan hammered home by candidate Mitt Romney was "With
me, Iran will never have the bomb," implying that his approach would be
different than Obama's … The Republicans' television ad campaign in Florida, a
key state, and one of the few where the Jewish vote may have made a difference,
stated, "Friends Don't Let Friends Get Nuked. Stop Obama." To avoid
any misunderstanding, the bottom of the image showed a map of Israel.
Mitt Romney was relying on this argument to pocket most of
the Jewish vote in an election that promised to be one of the tightest. He had
the support of American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson,
the casino king and main contributor to Netanyahu's campaigns.
He had the backing of the Jewish Republican Coalition, a
militant group which, in 2008, portrayed Barack Obama as a secret Muslim financed
by Palestinian the Islamist group Hamas. Netanyahu, distancing himself from the
absolute neutrality observed by his predecessors on such occasions, expressed
his preference for the Republican candidate - and if the polls are to be
believed, this was the choice of more than 60 percent of Israelis.
It didn't change a thing. More than 70 percent of American
Jews voted for Barack Hussein Obama - massive support for the outgoing president.
It is a respected tradition: the majority of American Jews, 70 percent or more,
have supported the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since
the early 1960s, when they joined in the struggle to emancipate Black
The only time they were guilty of infidelity toward their
preferred party was when they succumbed to the charm of Ronald Reagan
(1980-1988), the only Republican who ever won a majority of the Jewish vote.
And this vote doesn't matter much. It represents a little
less than 3 percent of voters. But it can sometimes tip the balance in some key
states - those that aren't a foregone conclusion for one of two major parties,
like Florida or Ohio.
In caricaturing Obama's Middle East policy and aligning
himself with the Israeli "hawks" to capture the Jewish vote in the United
States, Romney got it wrong. Wholehearted support for colonizing the West Bank is
a policy of American Christian fundamentalists, a stronghold of the Republican
Party - not from the Jewish electorate. In The New York Times, Jeremy Ben-Ami,
the head of the American Jewish pressure group J Street who is strongly opposed
to Netanyahu's policies, commented after the election, " When it comes to
Israel, Jewish Americans are notably moderate in their views. Eighty-two
percent of American Jews support a two-state solution (a Palestinian state
alongside the State of Israel); 76 percent want the president to put forward a
Every study on electoral motivations show that the situation
in the Middle East, including the case of Iran, is not a priority for American
Jews, who are typically more concerned with the state of the economy, health care
costs and pensions. However, the commitment felt by the Jewish electorate toward
Israel is unwavering. It is part of the natural sympathy felt by an
overwhelming majority of Americans for the Israeli adventure. This explains why
the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC), finances the campaigns of so
many members of Congress, Jewish or not, Republican or Democrat.
So, a question: can Romney's defeat affect U.S. policy in
the Middle East? In Jerusalem, it isn't so much Obama's victory in itself as it
is Netanyahu's "choice" of Romney that has been commented on by the
press. " Netanyahu Gambled,
We'll Pay, was a headline in one of the major daily newspapers, YediothAhronot, in
the aftermath of the election. It summed up the fears of one section of the
public: "Bibi" has taken the risk of
compromising the relationship between Israel and the United States by showing
his support for Romney's candidacy.
This is unlikely to happen. But this is the argument being
put forward by the Israeli centrist coalition - former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, TzipiLivni,
Kadima and Shelly Yachimovich,
the new Labour leader - which is meant to defeat
Netanyahu in the January 22, 2013 elections. Again, the likelihood is that
"Bibi" will be elected for a third term. But
Obama II could be more insistent than Obama I on the Palestinian issue, and in return
for his intransigence on Iran's nuclear program, require concessions from "Bibi" III. Maybe.