Our occasional correspondent Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) reports:
Of all the people to whom President Obama has given hope in the past year and a half, perhaps the most surprising is the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Even though American Jews have been stalwart Democrats since the days of FDR, candidate Barack Obama was expected to win a lower majority of the Jewish vote than past Democratic nominees. He defied expectations, however,winning a commanding 78 percent of the Jewish vote, despite a lack of a strong history with the Jewish community and his own Muslim father and stepfather.
It looks as if those earlier expectations might have been right after all — just a little later than predicted.
At the annual RJC Summer Bash in LA this weekend, attendance was more than double than last year’s, from 300 to an at-capacity of almost 700. Not only was the room packed, but it was buzzing. A number of people this journalist met proudly stated that this was their first time at an RJC event — and each person, unprovoked, said Obama was the main reason.
As one participant joked, “Thanks to Obama, being a Republican Jew is no longer like wearing a scarlet letter.”
Expanding the GOP’s reach in the Jewish community has never been an easy feat, yet the RJC has done an admirable job given all the hurdles it has faced over the years. But many longtime RJC members observed that this may be the first time that the terrain has been this fertile.
“The more Obama does, from his dangerous Middle East policy to his wildly unpopular health care bill, the more people in the Jewish community are looking at breaking a lifetime tradition and becoming Republican,” explained RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks, who has been with the group since its inception.
Several polls in recent months have indicated trouble for Obama among Jews, including the annual American Jewish Committee survey conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, in which the President received only a 57 percent approval mark, a significant drop from his 78 percent share of the Jewish vote.
In the end result, of course, the GOP would be tickled to win 30 percent of the Jewish vote — and downright thrilled to hit 35%. But with Jews accounting for just over 2 percent of the population, the real victory would be winning the support of hyper-energetic Jewish donors and activists.
In the simplest terms, Jews are disproportionately engaged in political activism and political contributions. It’s a cultural phenomenon familiar to most Jews. Political discussion starts in the home — and continues with friends and in community settings.
And it’s a safe bet that the most enthusiastic Jewish donors and activists care strongly about the U.S. support for Israel, meaning that the GOP has a great issue on which to base much of its Jewish outreach.
Not that this new reality is lost on Democrats. Genuinely pro-Israel Democrats in Congress are squirming, as they are walking a tightrope between supporting Israel’s self-defense in the flotilla raid last week and not criticizing too loudly the White House’s seeming inability to do so.
But in a moment where passionate supporters of Israel are deeply concerned about the safety and security of the Jewish state, carefully crafted milquetoast statements aren’t exactly going to do the trick.
In other words, many pro-Israel Jews who still consider themselves Democrats might not for much longer — and they’ll surely point to Obama as the reason for their change.
Little wonder, then, that Obama has given the RJC so much hope.
As an active member of the Minnesota chapter of the RJC, led by the indomitable Mark Miller, I would like to believe that American Jewish concern for the security of Israel is about to trump American Jewish liberalism. I certainly hope so, but I remain skeptical and have therefore taken the liberty of adding the question mark to Joel’s heading. Readers interested in considering the questions raised by Joel’s report from a variety of perspectives will want to check out Commentary’s June symposium — “Obama, Israel & American Jews: The challenge” — just posted online.