Monday, September 29th, 2008
James Besser in Washington
The American Jewish Committee’s annual survey of Jewish Opinion is, as usual a rich mine of information about where the community’s head is at (check it out here). This week the Jewish Week will include a major story on some of its more intriguing – and potentially controversial – findings.
But one fact underlies the entire survey: worries about the economy have swept just about every other issue off the table in a nation suddenly beset with the kind of economic uncertainty we haven’t seen in decades.
Asked what issue they wanted to hear the presidential candidates talk about, the economy came in at 54 percent – and a slew of other issues barely registered.
Health care was second, at only 11 percent.
What about the Iraq war – which analysts once predicted would be the defining issue of 2008? Only 6 percent wanted to hear more about it from the candidates, even though their views are starkly different.
And Israel came in at a scanty 3 percent.
Remember: this is a survey of Jewish public opinion. And only 3 percent want to hear more about what the candidates would do about the Mideast conflict.
Some analysts say that may be a function of the fact most Jews have already concluded both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama will be okay on the issue.
But it’s even likelier it means that even Jewish voters – aside from the pro-Israel activist core – aren’t paying that much attention to anything beyond an economic crisis that suddenly seems personally threatening, not just an abstract change only economists could care about.
You also see the shift in terms of news coverage. Israel is in the throes of a momentous political change, with huge implications for what’s left of the peace process – but the issue has dropped off the front pages, and in many cases out of major newspapers entirely.
Nobody has suggested the U.S.-Israel relationship is in danger because of the shift. But there’s little question the political and social climate for pro-Israel activism has changed dramatically in recent weeks. If the tide of bad news continues to wash over the nation, that’s a change that could have profound longterm implications.