Tag Archives: obama

The (True) Myth of the Jewish Democrat

By Daniela Enriquez

Elections are around the corner and once again the question presents itself—are Jews by nature Democrats? That American Jews tend to lean left is not news. After all, 74 percent of Jews voted for President Obama in 2008; the only group that voted more heavily for him was African Americans. However, the November elections are going to be quite interesting from this point of view. On one hand, Republicans keep saying that Jewish support for President Obama will decrease over the coming months. On the other hand, the GOP candidate, if elected, would become the first Mormon president and it’s hard to know whether this would impact “new world” Jewry and its relationship with Israel.

In the latest issue of Moment Magazine, we analyzed the most famous—and infamous—Jewish myths of all times; that got me thinking, so I decided to look around the latest political commentary to find out if there is any news regarding Jewish voters that could support or debunk the myth of the Jewish Democrat.

What I found is not exactly a scoop; it was, however, quite interesting.  In fact, a newly released report by the North American Jewish Data Bank, “Jewish American Voting Behaviour 1972-2008,” upends the claim that Jewish voters are starting to swing to the right, showing that Jews are still voting overwhelmingly for Democrats, and that their support for liberal candidates is actually increasing, not decreasing.

The study shows that between 1972 and 1988, Republican candidates won 31 to 37 percent of the Jewish vote, and that in later decades, between 1988 and 2008, Jewish support for Republicans dropped to 15 to 23 percent. The report also shows that Jewish support for Democratic congressional candidates is even higher than for presidential candidates. According to these researchers, these numbers not only demonstrate that the majority of Jews have been, and will continue to be, liberal, but also that they tend to be more Democratic than all other Americans.

Despite this trend, some polls show that Jewish support for President Obama may be slipping. Right now, the president would receive 64 percent of Jewish votes, compared to 29 percent of Mitt Romney’s.

After reading through the report, two questions occupied my mind—if true, why is the number of Democratic Jews is declining? And how much does “Israel” matter in terms of political voting decisions?

For one, as Dr. Rafael Medoff writes, the relationship between the GOP and American Jewry has changed over the past few decades. When Jewish immigrants arrived, they where scared by what they considered a “WASP-only country clubs” Party, and found common values with the Democratic Party. But the situation has changed. The Republican Party has abandoned much of its old anti-Semitism, and is moving toward many Jewish values and needs. Now, not only do many Jews vote Republican, but several prominent American Jews are giving considerable amounts of money to Republican campaigns. One important example is the donations given by Sheldon Adelson to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s campaign.

According to Dr. Gilbert N. Kahn, writing in New Jersey Jewish News, every year many American Jews decide not to register for any party. They prefer to define themselves as liberals or independents rather than Democrats, and don’t want to be affiliated with any political institution. This means that in the states where it is necessary to register with a party in order to vote for its primary, many are not allowed to vote. Thus, statistics on Jews voting in Democratic primaries show that Jewish participation is decreasing. And that is the reason why the number of American Jews who vote for Democrats seems to decline!

Continuing to read Mr. Kahn’s article, I found the answer to my second question. According to an April 2012 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, Israel and its relations with the United States are not the most important issues that American Jews think about when choosing a candidate to vote for. Just four percent of the Jewish population put Israel at the top of their political priority list. The majority prefers to give more importance to the issues of health care and the economy.

To summarize, American Jews are still overwhelmingly Democrats—although many prefer to be called liberals, and don’t always register officially as members of the Democratic Party. However, many Jews are still Republicans and willing to help the GOP to win the elections. Thus, the race for the November presidential elections is still quite open, and Jews are an important part of the equation!

Election News Roundup

By Monika Wysocki

Here’s a look at a few religion and politics highlights from this week…

The newest front-runner in the wildly unpredictable GOP primary, former Senator Rick Santorum, has dominated the media cycle with his provocative remarks about President Obama—accusing the President of governing based on “a phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” and accusing him of orchestrating an “assault on all religion in America.” On Monday, Santorum’s spokeswoman mentioned President Obama’s “radical Islamic policies” in an interview on MSNBC—only to call the show after the interview to say she misspoke.

In the midst of the religious attacks, Santorum is surging in national polls and attracting larger crowds at public events, putting him on the stage as a serious contender for the nomination. Despite widespread disapproval and calls from 15 religious organizations for presidential candidates to refrain from using religion as a “political wedge issue,” Santorum’s remarks are likely to raise his profile and appeal to the surprising number of Americans who are unsure about President Obama’s faith. Which is no small matter—the latest research by the Pew Forum found that “beliefs about Obama’s religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance…” If Santorum succeeds in re-invigorating false claims that President Obama is a Muslim, the president’s approval ratings will likely suffer—despite his candid remarks on his personal religious beliefs.

Santorum is not the only candidate that has doubts about the sincerity of President Obama’s faith. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has also accused the President of “an assault on religion,” while Gingrich today called the president “the most dangerous president in modern American history,” arguing that the Obama administration has failed to address the problem of radical Islamists. Franklin Graham expressed similar notions on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” saying that “Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

Santorum’s controversial remarks might win him support from evangelical Christians that are alarmed over the recent contraceptives debate, but in the long run the religion-based rhetoric could also alienate women and independent voters. Dick Polman points out that the largest Catholic college in America routinely offers birth-control coverage in its employee benefits and that the majority of Catholics support a federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control. In the end, Santorum’s attempts to brand himself as the most conservative of the GOP candidates and President Obama as an anti-Catholic may do the GOP more harm than good in November.

Journalists Lynn Sweet and Ron Kampeas on the Jewish Vote

By Alexis McNamee

For more on the Jewish vote in the 2012 presidential election, yesterday we listened in to “The Jewish Federations of North America Teleconference Series on the 2012 Presidential Election,” featuring Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief at the Chicago-Sun Times, and Ron Kampeas, Washington Bureau Chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). In light of Mitt Romney’s win in Florida, the two experts focused on the important issues for Jewish voters today: the economy and foreign policy. Kampeas recalled Romney stating he would stand “shoulder to shoulder with our allies [in Israel],” whereas Obama has openly criticized Israel on its settlement policy. Yet Kampeas believes that as long Obama is “pro-Israel enough,” Jewish voters will not be deterred from re-electing him. Relations with Iran are also an increasingly important topic—Kampeas predicted voter focus will only shift to this matter if oil prices spike, but also noted that Republican candidates have been taking a more negative stance than Obama. Kampeas and Sweet later discussed Mitt Romney’s proposal to privatize Medicare, and said Jewish support would require Republicans to present a strategy that would protects seniors despite Medicare cuts. Both agreed that the economy is the most important issue to Jewish voters. Sweet suggested that the only way to guarantee an Obama loss in the fall would be if the unemployment rate rises above nine percent before the election. Still, both Sweet and Kampeas predicted that Obama would win more than three-quarters of the Jewish vote—roughly the same rate as in 2008.

A Moment With…Omar Sacirbey

By Sarah Breger

A June 2011 Pew poll found that 76 percent of Muslim Americans approved of President Obama’s performance in the White House—a figure far above the national average. The Muslim American community also voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in 2004 and in 2008, a major shift from 2000, when more than three-quarters voted for Republican George W. Bush. Despite these numbers, many Muslims are disillusioned with the president and the changes they believe he promised but hasn’t delivered. While the Muslim electorate is far from monolithic, and its numbers make up just a small fraction of the country’s population, Muslim voting power may prove significant in a close election.

Moment’s managing editor Sarah Breger speaks with Omar Sacirbey, a Boston-based correspondent for the Religion News Service and other publications, on this often-overlooked portion of the electorate.

MM: You recently wrote an article on presidential hopeful Ron Paul’s support in the Muslim community. Is there a “Muslim vote” in America? What are some factors that contribute to the Muslim vote?

OB: There’s more diversity in the Muslim vote this time around than in past elections. There’s a number of reasons for that. The community is becoming more diverse in terms of immigrants and American-born Muslims, and Muslims who came here when they were very young. Regarding Ron Paul, there is a mix of factors as to why this is happening. One is disappointment in Obama. When Obama won the 2008 election Muslims were hopeful, but those hopes have been somewhat tempered. Now, three years into his administration, many Muslims are disappointed that he hasn’t gotten the United States out of Afghanistan; they’re disappointed that he hasn’t done more, in their view, for the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and they’re disappointed in regards to civil rights issues, such as the Patriot Act and policies on indefinite detention, and so on. When they hear Ron Paul, they’re turned on by his statements on getting the United States out of Afghanistan and out of foreign engagements altogether; his desire to cut aid to Israel, indeed, to cut all foreign aid in general but again that he is including Israel; as well as his strong opposition to the Patriot Act and what a lot of Muslims—and others—see as draconian civil rights policies.

MM: Do Muslim Americans align with his social policies?

OB: There’s a mix. A lot of people are willing to overlook disagreements on these social issues in favor of these broader issues. Just like maybe some “values voters” might be willing to overlook Newt Gingrich’s divorces in favor of his conservative agenda.

MM: And are there areas where winning the Muslim vote is vital? 

OB: It’s hard to imagine the Muslim vote being a “make or break” kind of a vote, but it could make the difference in some states where there is a fairly large Muslim population, such as Michigan or Ohio, which are swing states. Possibly even Pennsylvania, where the Muslim population is probably smaller than in Michigan or in Ohio, but perhaps still big enough that in a state that’s going to be closely contested it could make a difference. There’s also a fairly significant Muslim population in smaller states, like Iowa. Again, it’s hard to see them making a huge difference, but if it’s going to be a closely contested election, every vote really will count.

MM: Are there candidates who are actively courting the Muslim vote?

OB: In this field—no. Romney, Gingrich, Santorum are viewed by Muslims as pretty much anti-Muslim candidates. I think you’d be hard pressed to find Muslims who support these guys. We will likely see similar behavior from Obama as in the past election, where a lot of Muslims were disappointed that when opponents would say, “Oh, he’s a Muslim,” or has Muslim sympathies, he wouldn’t say, “Well, I’m not a Muslim, but what’s wrong with being a Muslim?” like Colin Powell did. A lot of Muslims were disappointed in that, but others understood it and are willing this time around to forgive him for that

MM: Will the recently proposed anti-sharia legislation and surrounding discussions factor into voting decisions or serve to galvanize the Muslim vote in any way?

OB: It wouldn’t surprise me, because it has become such a prevalent issue since the whole process was initiated in Oklahoma—a lot of Muslims really are upset by this. They consider sharia to be personal and private and don’t want any kind of mixing between religion and government. They’re really offended by these types of actions, and scared by what they consider to be ignorance and hatred of their faith by these people who are in government. The anti-sharia movement has been a catalyst for many Muslims to become more active, even just getting out more in their communities. If you have a kid in your local elementary school, you’re maybe that much more likely to go to a PTA meeting, to go to a school board meeting, just getting out there and being visible. I think if that’s been the case, then it stands to reason that there could be a backlash against this anti-sharia movement, and a desire by Muslims to stand up and vote against people that are advocating these kinds of laws could be a factor that gets them out to the polls in November.

Israel Still Has the Power to Change

By Scott Fox

The beginning of 2012 means the nearing of elections in Israel and the United States. In both, incumbents have surprisingly maintained a strong likelihood of being re-elected in spite of failures and widespread criticism. While most polling shows Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are trailing President Obama slightly, what is more surprising is that polls show that Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud party would gain seats if an election were held today.

This affirmation is probably the reason Likud has moved up their primary for the next election to January 31 even though a general election does not need to be held until October 2013. Many suspect that a new election will be called during 2012 while Netanyahu still maintains this high level of support. An outside observer may find it strange that an incumbent prime minister is so popular when 6 percent of the population was in the street protesting just three months ago. Republican strategist Frank Luntz is scared of the influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement when not even one percent of Americans has taken part in the protests.

How is this possible? Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record and “dissent,” has been publishing opinion pieces calling the current times the worst of a growing anti-democratic trend of repression of dissent in which Israel is having trouble seeing an alternative to Bibi. Haaretz specifically focuses on two developments that have hurt the continuation of an independent press: the likely forced bankruptcy of Israel’s Channel 10 and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s proposal to not allow any media coverage of criminal investigations in Israel, including those of public officials.

The Knesset is forcing the commercial television station to pay debts that the channel cannot afford or close at the same time that Israel’s state broadcasting network, the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), is allowed to continue operations without paying a debt six times that of Channel 10. Haaretz and the station’s owners are crying foul over the unfair treatment that may be politically motivated. Channel 10 has aired many news reports critical of Netanyahu and the current Knesset. Knesset members apparently cheered when the vote to force the station to pay its debt immediately was successful. Weinstein’s proposed law will also critically reduce the press’s power to report on malfeasance in government and elsewhere.

What does not help is that Kadima supporters have lost faith in Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Party activists have recently protested in front of her home for a demand to “wake up the party and return to its former self.”

With all of the recent distressing news from Israel including the continuation of gender segregation on buses and the horrific death of Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi, it seems that Jews should be thankful that President Obama affirmed his commitment at the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism to a strong relationship with this troubled nation.

Israel is troubled. It is likely too afraid to stray from the hard-liner policies of Netanyahu in spite of his government’s disgraces when fears of unstable Arab neighbors abound. Although last summer’s social justice protests may have appeared to represent a return of the Israeli left, Netanyahu’s government has likely calmed that fire by being at least partially responsive to this summer’s protests, approving measures that will attempt to reduce the cost of living.

Still, the ruach that motivated the summer protests is not lost. Israelis clearly remain upset with the status quo. The voice of non-violent dissent needs to continue to be heard for Israel to demonstrate to the world that there is not a consensus that allows the weakening of its democracy. The next election may be Israel’s last chance to change before Israel’s fast-growing anti-egalitarian, ultra-Orthodox population fully dominates the electorate.

Back to the Future: Obama’s Peace Plan

by Amanda Walgrove

In 1967, the 25th amendment to the constitution was ratified, the U.S. was in the thick of the Vietnam War, Benjamin Netanyahu first joined the Israeli army and the Six-Day war ended with a U.N.-mediate ceasefire established between Syria and Israel. The year 1967 brought the release of The Doors’ self-titled debut album, Elvis Presley’s marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu, the inaugural Superbowl game on network television, and the birth of Julia Roberts. What a different world it was. Tweeting was still something that only birds could do and revolutions were not started on Facebook, because back then a facebook was a company photo album.

In late May, President Obama delivered a speech that sparked a wealth of controversy and a barrage of criticism after he insisted that Israel and Palestine return to their 1967 borders. Netanyahu urgently responded that the 1967 borders would be impossible to return to because they are indefensible. There are geographical and demographical changes that have occurred in the past 44 years and these cannot be overlooked.

Defending his initial remarks at an address to AIPAC a few days later, Obama reiterated his statements in hopes of clarifying them. Obama insisted he hadn’t said anything new in his speech when he mentioned the 1967 borders, remarking that he was only highlighting a continuation of policy from previous administrations. He felt that he was publicly saying what had always been privately believed. He continued to defend his statement and modify it at the same time. According to Obama, redefining the borders would be based on “mutual swaps,” meaning Israel and Palestine would decide on a border that is different from 1967 but allows them to account for the geopolitical changes that have taken place since then. So they won’t be the 1967 borders, but they will be similar. He even quoted the Talmud, adding, “So long as a person has life, they should never abandon faith.”

Somewhat assuaged, AIPAC issued a statement commending Obama on his speech, citing his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and his “his recognition that Israel cannot be expected negotiate with a group that denies its fundamental right to exist.” Even Netanyahu backed down a bit from the severity of his previous remarks and said that he was “determined to work together” with the president to advance peace.

After trudging through this week’s speeches, rebuttals, and the commentaries, it seems that Netanyahu and Obama wholeheartedly agree on the necessity to preserve a strong and secure Israel, supported by an alliance with America. They can even tout the same key phrases such as “advancement of peace” and “defense of democracy.” It is only how to go about accomplishing these things for which they seem to have trouble coming up with a compromise. Obama said that he and Netanyahu disagree, as friends do, but have always had an open and honest relationship. Both even agree that there is no time to debate and fumble with foreign policy objectives as Israel sits in a hotbed of political turmoil and terrorist threats. But how speedily can peace negotiations be finalized with Palestine when Israel and its ally can’t even determine how to approach such a peace deal?

Along with abortion and gay rights, Israel support is increasingly becoming a hot button political issue, leaving the Jewish vote for the upcoming election in flux. NPR recently ran an article questioning if American Jews were much more concerned with domestic issues, such as health care, than they are with Israel. Still, Obama and GOP hopefuls seem to be scrambling for those votes in any way possible. In a conference call earlier this week, Obama begged Jewish reporters not to perpetuate the hype that is in any way anti-Israel. Meanwhile, it was just announced that Haim Saban, a billionaire Israeli-American donor to the Democrats has announced he won’t be donating to President Obama’s re-election effort. He feels that Obama needs to show more support of Israel and make a visit to the Jewish homeland.

Although the U.S. remains a powerful and crucial ally for Israel, in the end, it’s not our call on how Israel sets its borders. And with Palestinian aggression, it may not be Israel’s call either. Chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council Marc R. Stanley responded to Obama’s AIPAC speech, saying, “Support for Israel isn’t a Republican issue, it isn’t a Democratic issue, it is an American issue. The future safety and security of a democratic, Jewish State of Israel is safeguarded when we all work together, not when we resort to petty political games and finger pointing.” In the near future, there are decisions to be made, votes to be cast, and ultimately, lives to be protected. Going backwards to account for the future may not be possible.

Cairo is Burning; Is Egyptian-Israeli Peace Next?

By Niv Elis

As the world watches the unprecedented protests in Cairo unfold live on Al Jazeera, America and Israel face an intractable dilemma over who to support.  To  lovers of democracy and human rights, the Egyptian people’s uprising is a phenomenon to be encouraged; the Egyptian regime is a police state (though milder than, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia), which for nearly 60 years has held an iron grip on the country’s political institutions, limiting the media and sweeping aside opposition rights.  Like all people, Egyptians deserve better, and it seems incomprehensible that Western governments would fail to support them.

Yet for decades, Egypt’s autocracy has contributed a modicum of geopolitical stability to the region. Having established itself as the leader of the Arab world during the Cold War, Egypt made waves when it broke from its Soviet patronage and the Arab League to ally with the United States and make peace with Israel.  Thus was born a conundrum: the government carried out important strategic choices, receiving huge sums of American aid and opening economic pathways in exchange for international policies often resented by its population. Complicating matters, Egypt was an incubator of radical Islamist thought: the philosophical grandfather of Al Qaida and Salafi jihadism was Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, and the more mildly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, formed in 1928, spawned Hamas.  Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak cleverly lumped these groups with anti-regime elements seeking democracy and human rights. Ultimately, Mubarak fought off the most extreme of the groups, while allowing the Brotherhood to transform into a defanged opposition party.  Notably, the Brotherhood denounces political violence, except where Israel is concerned.

Nobody can know what the aftermath of the Egyptian protests will be.  When Iranians deposed the pro-Western Shah in 1979, it took several years for the broad coalition of revolutionaries to fight out their differences, leaving the Ayatollahs in firm control and shattering any semblance of democracy or human rights (See Moment’s feature “How Jew-Friendly Persia Became Anti-Semitic Iran”). The average Egyptian still views Israel very unfavorably, which could prove a rallying call for future politicians. The linkage of Israel and the United States to the current hated regime only exacerbates the problem.

Israel fears the prospect of a populist or Islamist government coming to power in Egypt, which could lead to a break in the 32-year peace that, though cold, has proved remarkably durable. Israel and the United States could lose the support of an ally that has served as an interlocutor between them and the Palestinians, not to mention between the Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.  Should Egypt revert to a confrontational relationship with Israel, it could destabilize the whole region and undermine any future peace talks between Israel and its neighbors.

The Obama administration is seeking a stable transition, but unmistakably hedging its bets as it grapples with the complexities, trying to curry favor with the population by acknowledging their legitimate grievances without explicitly disavowing the Mubarak regime.  In a statement today, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, “the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away.” The West could throw its weight behind Mohamed ElBaradai, the opposition figure who won a Nobel Peace Prize as head of the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, but that would be tricky should the Mubarak regime survive.  When the future of peace is at stake, it turns out that supporting democracy is no easy task.