This opinion was published in The Washington Post on 23/05/2011
Reuters made a big splash over the weekend with a story predicting that Obama’s call for an Israeli-Palestinian deal based on the 1967 lines with land swaps will cost him crucial Jewish support for reelection. The story predicted he would lose not just Jewish voters, but crucial financial support as well, and it seems likely that this could become one of the media narratives of the 2012 campaign.
I’m not buying it.
For one thing, the Reuters story’s lead quote supporting this thesis comes from ... former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who backed Obama for president in 2008. Koch told Reuters that he thinks Obama’s stance will weaken Israel, and threatened to back a pro-Israel GOP challenger to Obama in 2012.
But as anyone who knows anything about New York politics well knows, Koch has been a go-to guy for whacking Dems on Israel for many years. It would be news if Koch supported Obama’s stance on Israel. It's not news that he’s criticizing it. What’s more, Koch has a history of making such comments about Obama. In 2008, he spent weeks refusing to say whether he would support Obama over John McCain — leading to much speculation that he would go with the Republican — before going on to support Obama.
The claim that Obama is on the verge of losing crucial Jewish support is at this point a Golden Oldie of sorts. Back in 2008 — after Obama said that “nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people,” and after Obama suggested he’d be open to unconditional talks with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel — there were reams of stories about how McCain would be able to make successful inroads with this core Democratic constituency. In the end, according to exit polls, Obama won around 78 percent of the Jewish vote.
There is one crucial difference between 2008 and 2012, of course: This time around, the eventual GOP nominee won’t be dumb enough to pick someone like Sarah Palin as Veep. The pick of Palin, observers concluded, drove older, swing-voting Jewish voters into the Obama camp and limited any damage he risked among that constituency.
But even lacking a Palin factor, it’s hard to believe that Obama’s Israel stance will really cost him a meaningful level of Jewish support. I don’t doubt that in the wake of Obama’s speech, Democratic operatives are “scrambling to mollify the Jewish community,” as Reuters reports. It would be folly for Dems to take Jewish support for granted. But my bet is is that the vast majority of Jews will reject the line that Obama’s position is somehow an existential threat to Israel and will side with people like Abraham Foxman and Jeffrey Goldberg, who see Obama’s stance as an articulation of longtime U.S. policy and even see his overall approach as pro-Israel. Stay tuned for the next polling and the next financial disclosure reports. Should be very interesting.