by Jonathan S. Tobin
Ever since the last of a series of full-scale blowups between the Obama administration and Israel, Democrats have been desperately trying to convince Jewish voters that the president really is the Jewish state’s best friend. In order to do so, voters would have to ignore most of what had happened in the first three years of his presidency but they were able to argue that his decision not to blow up the U.S.-Israel alliance completely ought to serve as proof of his good intentions. That’s enough for many Jews whose partisan preferences leave them ready to believe the Democrats’ talking points. But while American voters, Jewish and non-Jewish who consider the question an important one, ponder the question of which presidential candidate is a better friend to Israel, the people with the most on the line in the Middle East also have an opinion.
The latest poll of Israeli views of the U.S. election is similar to previous surveys on the question of American leadership: they don’t trust President Obama. As the Jerusalem Post reports, a new Peace Index/Dahaf Institute poll shows that 2-1 majority of Israeli Jews think Mitt Romney cares more about them than the president. Forty percent of respondents said Romney “assigns more importance to defending Israeli national interests” while 19 percent said Obama did. Ten percent saw neither as being more supportive than the other while 25 percent said they didn’t know and six percent said “neither” backed their country. Back in April a Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis saw Obama as either pro-Palestinian or neutral in the Middle East conflict. All of which leads one to wonder why so many American Jews think they understand Obama’s views of the question better than Israelis.
The answer to that question is fairly obvious. It’s not that most Jewish Democrats really believe that Obama is sympathetic to the Jewish state. They have eyes and ears like the rest of us and can easily pick up the fact that, as veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller put it, “unlike [Bill] Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel.” It’s not just that most Jews aren’t single-issue Israel voters, it’s that for many of them, it doesn’t much matter. Others, including many liberals who do care about Israel, find reasons to grade him on a steep curve that allows him to pass muster because of his liberal positions on domestic issues.
But for that 10-25 percent of the Jewish electorate whose votes are in play this fall, the question of the president’s record on Israel will be important. Polls showing Israeli distrust of the president — which is getting deeper because of his lack of resolve on the Iranian nuclear threat — will make it even harder for Democrats to convince voters that he can be trusted to do the right thing for the Jewish state.Jonathan S. Tobin
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