The 2012 Election is still sixteen months away, but the discussions about whether President Obama will be able to retain the same large portion of the Jewish vote as he did in 2008 remains a hot topic for the third straight week. Today the article comes from the Washington Post, whose fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote a piece about Jews and the presidential vote which contained major factual mistakes. These mistakes are designed to call into question the motivation of Republican candidates who support Israel as well as the American Jews who oppose the President’s Middle East policy.
The article, “Obama and Israel: stalled diplomacy or ‘suspicion and distrust’?” begins with quotations from GOP presidential candidates Romney, Pawlenty and Bachmann, all criticizing Obama’s policy toward Israel.
The latest Gallup poll shows that President Obama has 60 percent approval rating among Jewish Americans. Jews generally are a reliable vote for Democrats, and in the 2008 election, exit polls show Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote. That gap has sent GOP hearts aflutter, though the polling should be viewed with caution; 60 percent approval is still 14 percent higher than the president’s overall approval rating.
Still, GOP candidates for president sense an opening. A line attacking Obama and his policies on Israel is now a standard part of their stump speeches. The question is whether these attacks are fair or accurate?
Kessler has a logic flaw here. He is correct in saying that Jews are generally a reliable vote democrats (according to Gallup 66% of Jews are Democrats), since that is the case, why would he compare it to the total population of which only 45% of which are Democrats. Obama’s support from Democrats is much more stable than that of independent and GOP voters. If the Jewish support of Obama is compared to a re-weighted general population approval (66% Democrat) we find that Obama is losing Jewish support much faster than the general population (the full explanation and analysis can be found here).
Should Obama receive only 60% of the Jewish vote in 2012 (which is unlikely), it would be the lowest Democratic total since Jimmy Carter in 1980).
I would also take issue with Kessler’s contention that these candidates are attacking Obama on Israel because they see an opening. While my knowledge of Governor Pawlenty’s Israel history is weak, the other two candidate’s history of supporting Israel is very strong. Michele Bachmann spent time living in Israel on a kibbutz, and Romney made similar strong statements regarding Israel during the 2008 campaign, before Obama was even nominated. Maybe he can’t comprehend the fact that Israel is not just a “Jewish issue.” Some politicians even support Israel because it is the right thing to do for America. Granted it is a foreign concept for a progressive newspaper such as the Washington Post, but it does happen.
For example, regarding the scheduled peace conference at Annapolis between Israelis and Palestinians, Romney’s statement was
“How could you possibly have a peace conference at this stage?” he asked. “Who would you talk to?” (Republican Jewish Coalition forum of GOP presidential candidates, JTA, October 16, 2007)
Kessler goes on the make the GOP criticism of Obama a bigger deal than the candidates have made it:
We would be foolish to venture an opinion on each side’s collection of historical facts because, seriously, it is a no-win situation. But Obama’s treatment of Israel has become such a key part of the GOP arsenal that it is worth exploring the president’s performance.
While it is always relevant to evaluate a president’s performance during a reelection campaign, his characterization of Obama’s treatment of Israel becoming a key part of the GOP arsenal belies the truth. If he were following the same campaign as the non-beltway people, Mr. Kessler would understand that the “key part of the GOP arsenal” is the economy, number two, three, and for are the economy, the economy and the economy. Kessler might even understand that most Jews, even the most ardent Israel supporters do not base their votes only on a President’s position on Israel.
Obama, perhaps because of his name and his background, found his views on Israel under scrutiny even during the last election. He didn’t help matters then by making observations that antagonized some of Israel’s more loyal supporters: “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”(Ironically, once he became president, Obama ended up with a Likud prime minister with whom he has had a testy relationship.)
Kessler is claiming that the people who questioned Obama on Israel during the 2008 campaign, did so out of racism. A few days before the 2008 election, I posted An Election Plea To Those Who Love Israel which summarized the reason Israel supporters might not want to support the future President. Neither his name (which translates to blessed in Hebrew) nor his upbringing was given as examples. The evidence provided included a look at his foreign policy advisers who were extremely anti-Israel and his stated positions on Israel-related issues from appeasing terrorists, to Iran, to Jerusalem, settlements etc.. The piece concluded with:
A Barack Obama Presidency would return US/Israel relations back to the days of James Baker’s “They have my number they can call me.” A US trying to impose a dangerous one-sided solution on the Jewish State.
A look at the last two years has proved my prognostication correct.
The Israeli-Palestinian issue is often considered a central test of a president’s diplomatic skills. Former president George W. Bush was criticized for appearing to ignore the issue until the last months of his administration; he was reacting in part to the unsuccessful, last-gasp efforts of Bill Clinton to strike a deal. Obama decided to take on the challenge from day one, appointing a special envoy to prod the parties toward peace.
Actually this criticism of Bush is unfair. There were many issues with the way George W. Bush ran Middle East policy. But George W. Bush was the first president who considered a terrorist attack in Israel just as bad as one elswhere it the world. He constantly supported Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, and praised her as America’s number one ally in the Middle East. Bush’s desire to avoid appeasing terrorists is often seen as inaction by left wing WAPO writers, but fighting Palestinian terror is an action just as President Obama’s appeasement of those same terrorists is also an action.
The administration further upped the ante by immediately pressing Israel to suspend settlement construction, believing such a gesture would help bolster Arab support for the peace process. Few people appear to remember this now, but the administration’s pressure tactics initially had the support of congressional Democrats, who ambushed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with “harsh and unequivocal statements” about settlements when he visited Washington.
But the pressure backfired. Israel eventually agreed to a partial, temporary freeze, but that was not good enough for emboldened Palestinians. Arab leaders balked at offering incentives to Israel. The administration ended up looking weak.
Obama’s policy on settlements was not only broke an agreement between the United States and Israel, but it was another example of his naivete regarding foreign policy. What the President and his advisers perceived as a minor concession, a settlement freeze, was not perceived by Israel as a minor one, a major error by the Obama team. When he added Jerusalem to his demands it just compounded the situation. His insistence for a freeze and the constant public berating of the Jewish State turned the Israeli population against Obama, and increased the support of Prime Minister Netanyahu even with the Israeli left, no fans of Bibi.
At the same time the President’s demands have gave the Palestinians an excuse to avoid negotiations and the other Arab nations an excuse to avoid making the “gestures” Obama wanted.
An important fact that Kessler omits is that Israel declared a ten month building freeze which the Palestinians ignored for the first nine months. Even as the freeze was about to expire, the Palestinians rejected a deal where Israel would extend the freeze indefinable if they would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Interestingly while President Obama has demanded Israel use the 1949 armistice lines as a starting point for negotiations, he has never demanded that the Palestinian side recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Obama and Netanyahu had a major breakdown in relations in early 2010 over a perceived snub of Vice President Biden while he was touring Israel. Despite a lack of agreement on the parameters of talks, late in 2010 Obama then pressed the Israelis and Palestinians into talks that lasted barely two weeks. The administration again looked ineffectual.
The timing of Israel’s building announcement could not have been worse, and the administration was right to be angry. But they overreacted. Not only did the Secretary of State (on Obama’s orders) spend almost an hour on the phone reaming out the Prime Minster, but during the next Netanyahu trip to DC, he kept the Israel delegation in a conference room for three hours while he went to a non-existent dinner with his family (Michelle and the girls were in NYC at the time).
In May, Obama again tried to jump start the peace process by saying that peace talks should begin with Israel’s 1967 borders, with swaps of land agreed by both sides. His remark created a firestorm and within days he sought to clarify his statement. In the annals of diplomacy, compared to how other presidents had discussed the issue, we thought his statement was a significant shift. One key reason is that he did not pair it with similar demands on the Palestinians or reiterate language about Israel being able to keep some settlements. But the statement has also been misinterpreted, particularly in light of Obama’s clarification.
It wasn’t misinterpreted, what was originally an end point of negotiations, Obama is trying to make the starting point, thus undercutting a key Israel negotiation point. Since his may speech the President has unsuccessfully pressured Israel to rid herself of her negotiation chips. That is a key point. Obama is expecting Israel to start by giving up Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, and then try to get some of it back through negotiation. Think of it as the US ceding Texas back to Mexico, then trying to come up with an idea that will make them give it back.
Kessler ends his piece with:
So, we will leave this to readers. Having read the history above, what is your conclusion? Is this a matter of good intentions and poor follow-through? Or do Republicans (and some Democrats) have a point?
Sadly because they haven’t been given the real facts, WAPO readers cannot develop a sound conclusion because the world of vote-hungry GOP candidates appealing to racist pro-Israel supporters only exist in the minds of progressives. Kessler’s inaccurate detailing of Barack Obama’s Israel policy only exists in the minds of the President’s supports and is not corroborated by the facts.
Mr. Kessler’s “fact-check” of the GOP positions on Israel was actually just another defense of President Obama by a progressive media vehicle and should be treated more like a campaign piece than a “fact check.”