Paul Gross

So most American Jews will vote Obama? Deal with it

American Jews need to put US interests first

Many of us here in Israel have strong views about the upcoming US presidential election. It’s not so surprising. To a degree not true of any other country’s elections, what happens on November 6th will have consequences across the world – perhaps in the Middle East more than in most regions.

The recent poll showing that Israeli Jews favor Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, forty-five percent to twenty-nine percent, will not surprise anyone who’s been following the debate in this country.

Should diaspora Jews disregard a candidate’s views on Israel? (photo credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Should diaspora Jews disregard a candidate’s views on Israel? (photo credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

However, it’s one thing for us to have our own opinion about which candidate will be best for Israel, it’s quite another to imply that American Jews’ pro-Israel credentials will be judged on whether or not they share this preference for the Republican candidate. In addition to a number of published English-language opinion pieces, primarily by American-Israelis, essentially saying: “if you’re pro-Israel you can’t vote for Obama,” I’ve repeatedly heard this sentiment expressed in general conversations as we get closer to Election Day. Leaving aside for now (and I will get to it) the question of whether Obama is bad for Israel or not, why are Jews living in America obliged to make Israel their number one issue? What about jobs? The economy? Healthcare?

If I were I an American citizen (living in the US), I would be voting for Obama. My primary concern would be the day-to-day issues facing my country, and, like the President and unlike his opponent, I believe that government can play a hugely significant role in helping to create a just society. I believe that capitalism works best when harnessed as both a wealth creator and a force for social good, through the interaction of society, entrepreneurs and a government willing to regulate where necessary and to invest funds in education, infrastructure, programs providing assistance to those on the margins of society, and – yes! – healthcare. I applaud the President’s efforts to reverse the longstanding and scandalous anomaly that the world’s richest country is also the only western democracy that does not ensure the basic right of healthcare coverage for all of its citizens.

Mitt Romney and his friends still believe, against all the evidence to the contrary, that the market, left completely to its own devices, will create a fair and just society. The Republican Party is in denial – and not just about economics. It was a Republican candidate for their nomination, Jon Huntsman, who warned against the GOP becoming the “anti-science party.” The Republican positions on both the environment and evolution are simply bizarre in a 21st century western democracy. It says something about the state of the party when Romney is deemed unacceptably liberal by grassroots Republicans for believing that a woman impregnated by her rapist should be allowed to have an abortion. (And it’s worth noting that this position puts him at odds with both his party’s platform and his running mate Paul Ryan.)

As Alan Dershowitz has pointed out (and try painting him as a closet anti-Zionist), during the next four years, whoever is president could well have the chance to nominate up to three new Supreme Court justices, determining the ideological balance of the judiciary for a generation. Dershowitz doesn’t mince words in warning of the consequences if Romney is in the White House when the time comes to fill those empty seats:

A court with such a right-wing majority will change America for the worse. It will dismantle the wall of separation between church and state and embolden those who seek to Christianize America. It will eliminate a woman’s right to choose abortion and will set back the trend toward equality for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation. It will continue to strike down progressive legislation, such as gun control, campaign reform and laws protecting the rights of minorities…

Warnings that today’s Tea Party-beholden GOP has drifted too far to the right have even been voiced by former Republican office-holders like 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole (“There’s this undercurrent of rigid conservatism where you don’t dare not toe the line”), or one-time Governor of Florida Charlie Crist (“an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people”).

To my mind, voters in any country have every right to prioritize the issues that matter most to their everyday lives and the society in which they themselves live. Does that mean diaspora Jews should disregard a candidate’s views on Israel? Of course not, there have to be red lines – that is, a position that is so outrageous that you can’t countenance voting for that candidate regardless of his views on anything else.

Now, I should state at this point that I myself have some serious concerns about the Obama Administration’s decisions and judgments regarding the Middle East and I have written about them elsewhere. But here’s the thing, in that article I explain why I, as an Israeli, have reservations about Obama’s re-election. I also reiterate there that were I an American, with all the domestic factors in play, I would be voting for him.

To label him “anti-Israel” is nonsense and robs the term of all its meaning. No, he does not have the emotional, in-the-kishkes attachment to Israel that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush clearly possessed, but this is a president who has provided unprecedented levels of military support for Israel, both in terms of record financial assistance for our defensive requirements, and intelligence sharing. Numerous Israeli officials, from President Peres and Defense Minister Barak to leading IDF officers, have testified to this.

These facts cannot be ignored, however many times some foaming-at-the-mouth bigot makes a point of referring to the President as “Barack Hussein Obama.” (It’s usually the same kind of moron whose definition of “anti-Israel” will also cover the sixty-plus percent of Israelis who support a two-state solution.)

I am of the school of thought that says you should only get to vote for leaders in the country in which you reside. That’s a whole other debate, but American ex-pats voting here in Israel will not have to live in the society shaped by the election winner. They may well feel that Romney would be better for our country than Obama, but the 6 million Jews who still live in the US will have to live with the consequences of the election in a much more direct way, and 70% of them reject the Bible-thumping, every-man-for-himself individualism of the Republican Party. Deal with it.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.