There is good news and bad news in an analysis of why President Obama has lost support among American Jews. The good news is that American Jews are more concerned about domestic issues than they are about Israel. The bad news is that American Jews are more concerned about domestic issues than they are about Israel.
You read that correctly. The good news and bad news are the same.
On the plus side, an analysis of Gallup polls in recent months (see Page 18) should put to rest the canard that American Jews place Israel’s needs ahead of domestic U.S. concerns. This is a frequently-heard charge, often from racist elements, but sometimes from more mainstream sources.
A classic mainstream example is a 1991 complaint by then President George H.W. Bush against Jews who were lobbying Congress over his threat to withhold loan guarantees to Israel unless it imposed a settlement freeze on the west bank. Bush complained that there were “something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other sideâ€¦[against] one lonely little guy down here,” meaning himself.
As Joe Klein put it in a New York Magazine article on September 30, 1991, the rant invoked “the implicit image, promulgated for the first time by an American president, of a horde of Jews overrunning the Capitol, exerting powerful (no doubt financial and, who knows, perhaps even mystical) pressure on the legislators.” The “pressure,” of course, was for Congress to put Israel’s interests ahead of American ones.
The Gallup analysis is yet another proof that such notions are nonsense. American Jews care about American problems, just as all other Americans do (or should). When they vote, American Jews do so based on what is good for America, not what is good for Israel.
This also should serve as a caution to politicians at various local levels who play the “Israel card” when trolling for Jewish votes.
And yet, the good news is also the bad news. By and large, according to several American Jewish Committee surveys, concern for Israel’s welfare ranks only fifth on American Jewry’s list of issues that matter. That the economy and health care rank higher is understandable. That foreign policy issues other than Israel also take precedence is worrisome.
Israel is not just another nation. It is our ultimate land of origin. It is the heartbeat that kept our people going through two millennia’s worth of efforts to first break us and then destroy us. It is a place where our relatives live.
There are times when Israel needs to be our first concern. At least as long as it is faced with a serious and credible threat to its existence, it certainly should not be our fifth.