Karl Grossman

Obama Impacts Jewish Political Loyalties in U.S.

“G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” was the front-page headline for an article this Sunday in the New York Times.

That is inevitable considering Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama’s actions and words regarding Israel and the deal he has pushed with Iran.

The piece began: “As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.”

The article also stated: “The deepening support for Israel among congressional Republicans reflects a significant shift for the party that has been playing out for several decades, said Gregory Kabaservice, a Republican Party historian.”  It quoted Kabaservice as saying: “Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional force for any element of the Republican Party. But the feeling here now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps them to appear strong on foreign policy.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the organization J Street, sought to downplay the situation.  The Times said Ben-Ami believed “this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supporters of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.”

Indeed, there are plenty of American Jews still content with Obama’s stance on Israel and accepting of the Iran deal, but to minimize the situation as just involving the position of a “relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans” doesn’t match what is happening.

Hana Levi Julian, in a story in The Jewish Press, also Sunday—headlined “American Jews Rethink Loyalty to Democratic Party”—wrote: “Jewish leaders in the United States are starting to rethink the instinctive ties the community has had with the Democratic Party from time immemorial. The change of heart comes in the wake of the deal signed last week with Tehran allowing it to pursue nuclear technology development and research.”

She noted that last week White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough “met with Jewish Democratic Congress members” and “according to a source who was present at the meeting” was “advised to suggest the president tone down his war with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu—or at least avoid ‘getting into a daily argument’ with him….Bottom line, however, was that the Democratic Party is losing its credibility with Jewish voters, and their leaders as well, because Jewish concerns do not seems to be as important as America’s nuclear deal with Iran.”

“Given the fact,” she continued, “that the deal constitutes an existential threat to the State of Israel—and that U.S. leaders are refusing to add a condition that Iran also ‘recognize Israel’s right to exist,’ the loss of Jewish support is no surprise to anyone with a brain.”

There is indeed outrage among many, but not all, American Jews, with Obama. Some can, indeed, be expected to switch and become Republican supporters although that is somewhat problematic. The GOP is now dominated by an arch-conservatives, a camp with which most American Jews haven’t historically been allied (although some have). If the Republican Party, however, returns to embrace moderates, the likes of the late U.S. Senator Jacob Javits of New York and Louis Lefkowitz, longtime New York attorney general, such political change wouldn’t be hard.

It would be comparable to what occurred in 1932 when Robert Vann, editor and publisher of The Pittsburgh Courier, the highest-circulation African-American newspaper in that decade, led a campaign to get blacks to turn from “the party of Lincoln,” the GOP, and vote for the Democratic candidate for president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“My friends,” wrote Vann, “go home and turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall.”

Lincoln had freed the slaves and for many decades there was thus large support among African-Americans for the Republican Party. But 67 years after Lincoln’s death, “the debt has been paid in full,” Vann said.

“This year,” he stated, “I see Negroes voting a Democratic ticket…I, for one, shall join the ranks of this new army of fearless, courageous patriotic Negroes who know the difference between blind partisanship and patriotism.”

And the 1932 election marked a change—the start of an exodus by African-Americans to the Democratic Party.

There was uneasiness among some Jews when vitriolic sermons by Obama’s minister of 20 years, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, surfaced on TV and the Internet when he first ran for president.

As Edward Klein, former editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine, said in an interview with the publication of his 2012 book, highly critical of Obama, The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House: “It’s one thing for Obama to sit in the church and listen to the Rev. Wright spew his hatred against whites, Jews and America. But in my view, having spoken to the Rev. Wright, that paled by comparison with the personal relationship that Obama had that went way behind his simply being a member of the church listening to all this stuff.”

Wright officiated at the wedding of Barack and Michelle Obama as well as at their children’s baptisms. But the Obamas in 2008 promptly withdrew their membership from Wright’s Trinity United Church stating: “Our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views.”

“Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me,” Wright complained after Obama’s election. Wright charged in the same interview: “Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing by the Zionists is a sin and a crime against humanity.” The next day, he added: “I’m not talking about all Jews, all people of the Jewish faith. I’m talking about Zionists.”

Still, Obama as president evinced support for Israel.

The U.S. will “always have Israel’s back” when it comes to security, Obama declared in 2012 in a joint press conference with Netanyahu at the White House.

Still, as the New York Daily News editorialized Friday: “A chasm of historic proportions has opened between the United States and Israel, thanks to President Obama’s determination to forge a fatefully dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. There is no way to reconcile Obama’s acceptance of Iran as, at best, a threshold nuclear state with the view overwhelmingly shared by Israelis that he is imperiling the Jewish state’s future. With supreme arrogance as he unveiled America’s betrothal to the mullahs, Obama said he would tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ‘There will be no daylight, there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel’s security, and our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing policies and threats towards Israel.’ His I-know-better-than-you-do didn’t sell. Netanyahu accurately summed up Obama’s handiwork as jeopardizing Israel’s very existence. ‘A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel,’ he declared. From time to time down through the decades, U.S. Presidents and Israeli leaders have differed—but never at this horrendous depth.”

That will have big consequences among American Jews as to who they vote for—and who they support.

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for 45 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up,” the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and the author of six books.