Jewish support for Obama not mystifying

Somewhere between 68 and 70% of American Jewish voters went for Obama, depending on whose exit poll you believe. Israelis that I talk to are mystified. “Are they crazy? What were they thinking?” they ask.

It’s not really mystifying. Here are some general facts about non-Orthodox and secular (the large majority) American Jews:

Although they will say that they support Israel, they do not know the history of the Middle East and the 100-year old conflict over Jewish sovereignty. They are well-educated, which means that they went to universities where, if they studied the conflict, they are likely to have been assigned books and articles by the revisionist (read: anti-Zionist) historians. They will certainly have been exposed to numerous lectures and films presented by Palestinian advocates and student groups. If they are left-of-center and engaged in antiwar or other ‘progressive’ causes, they will certainly be bombarded with extreme anti-Israel propaganda as well.

They tend to be liberal, which means that they get their news of current events from sources like the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, etc. What they will see and hear will generally confirm their mildly left-wing beliefs, but in one area — Israel — will be consistently and deliberately biased to an extreme degree.

They are very concerned about what they perceive as the danger of a Christian takeover of American society, in which Christian symbols and prayer will be officially sanctioned in public places, abortion and contraception will be prohibited on religious grounds, their children will be required to sing Christmas carols, etc. They associate Christianity with antisemitism — but do not seem to be alarmed by growing antisemitism on the Left, or in the black community.

They are less threatened by Muslims, whom they see as another minority in the US who suffer from discrimination, like blacks and Jews. They seek interfaith cooperation, and are not alarmed by the treatment of Islamist organizations as mainstream by the administration.

Although today many are financially successful, they are suspicious of “big business” and — not entirely incorrectly — feel that the population is being ripped off by corporations like banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc. They are pro-union. But they are not as worried by the fact that the tax burden on them is rapidly rising while government services that actually benefit people are falling. As liberals, they tend to be less concerned about the increasing power and intrusiveness of government than the loss of privacy to corporations.

Finally, as well-educated liberals, they find it hard to criticize Barack Obama, who presents himself as ‘black’, lest they be guilty of racism, a secular blasphemy punishable by total social ostracism.

Not everything I’ve said applies to all American Jews — there are conservatives among them, and some who take both conservative and liberal positions on various issues. There are Orthodox Jews who are more conservative, and even haredi anti-Zionists (who knows how, or even if, they vote). But I think my generalizations are, er, generally, correct.

So along comes Mitt Romney, a guy who represents corporate power if anyone does, who draws support from the Christian Right — at least, at the beginning of the campaign when he plays to the conservative base — and who complains about ‘big government’ and threatens to undo the only liberal success of the Obama Administration, Obamacare.

He is at a huge disadvantage from the start. And the issue of Israel has little or no power to sway American Jews, because, as I’ve argued, deep in their hearts they are not sure that Israel is not really a colonialist oppressor of third-world Palestinians. In an emotional sense, many of them are not with Israel.

We know that politics is mostly emotional, so when Republicans or pro-Israel Jews presented arguments that Obama was not a friend or Israel, they bounced off. Accepting and acting on them would mean going against their deeply felt liberalism and voting Republican, something many could not bring themselves to do. And their pro-Israel feeling is not strong enough to push them over the edge. So they looked for reasons to justify their emotional position.

The Obama campaign presented simplistic talking points to ‘prove’ that he is pro-Israel. They did not have to stand up to analysis. Liberal Jews were looking for a rational excuse to justify their emotional stance, and the talking points provided one.

It’s remarkable that Jewish support for Obama — 78% in 2008 — dropped as much as it did!

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4 Responses to “Jewish support for Obama not mystifying”

  1. Lorenzo says:

    Zionists want Obama or if Romney was elected, Romney to say to israel that you can keep all the land you won in 1967 and you can build anything you want on it. No American president will ever say that and we can go into the reasons in another forum. The result is a very infantile attack on Obama for not bowing to the Zionists (I am a Zionist by the way). The attacks are so ridiculous and filled with bile and hate not to mention crazy disinformation that most Jews want to have nothing to do with them. If you spent time on assisting the president to understand Israel’s situation and influencing Congressmen and Senators to strenghten their bonds with Israel, you would be helping Israel. Attacking Obama is totally counterproductive.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    From my at this point very limited personal knowledge of American Jews the above article analyzes the situation correctly. Members of my own family even after visiting Israel hold very mistaken historical views about the conflict. The miseducation at elite universities is now a tradition. And unfortunately it is having its effect.

  3. juvanya says:

    There are two parts to this problem, or perhaps three.

    All my life I saw Jews as Democrats, occasionally some were Republicans. Most Jews I knew were Democrats, my parents included. It was not until I became engaged with the Orthodox community that I saw so many Republican Jews. I grew up in a conservative/conservadox synagogue. This was absolutely shocking. At the same time I was becoming more conservative than my former socialist self. The increased contact with the Orthodox made me more religious and Jewish-oriented. Most people who identify as Jews arent Orthodox and dont do anything Jewish really, to varying degrees. This may be one reason why.

    The other reason I will step into so-called political science. The way someone decides on a candidate can theoretically be boiled down to a model. This model takes every issue and trait and assigns them a value and then agree or disagree. Lets say agree is worth 1 and disagree is worth 0. The value is how important an issue is, between 0 and 1. All the values must total up to 1, no less, no more. The two numbers are multiplied and then all the products are summed together. The candidate with the higher number is the one that gets the vote.
    Example voter:
    Oppose Abortion (value=0.1)
    Support Israel (0.2)
    Support young candidates (0.7)

    Candidate A:
    Oppose abortion (1*0.1=0.1)
    Support Israel (1*0.2=0.2)
    old candidate (0*0.7=0)
    Total: 0.3

    Candidate B
    Support abortion (0*0.1=0)
    Oppose Israel (0*0.2=0)
    young candidate (1*0.7=0.7)
    Total: 0.7

    The voter will choose Candidate B. Voters have dozens of priorities and preferences. They may be steadfastly pro-Israel, but other issues are way more important, which realigns their vote from Romney to Obama. Some may see there is no difference between the two, on Israel. In all honesty, Obama hasnt been that antiIsrael. Hes been a jackass, but he hasnt cut aid or done anything truly mean to Israel. He faces too much pressure if he did that. Hes a politician and wont do what he cant do politically.

    I didnt vote for Obama or Romney. They are both roughly identical in platform. I wanted Romney to win, but Obama winning is only terrible when I have to put up with gloating cultists. I dont think this is a life or death issue for Israel and I think that strategy may have completely backfired, altho I am one of those 8% who switched from Obama.

  4. juvanya says:

    Lorenzo is absolutely correct.

    Shalom is partially correct. I meant to give the example of my mom. Quiet but supportive of Israel, she worked for outreach programs in the past and has been there a few times, and observes some Judaism. She voted for Obama. Ive yet to ask her why she voted for a murderous sociopath, but I suspect social issues are one, party adherence is another (shes a Democrat to the end). I dont think she could be convinced that Obama means the end of Israel and Romney is the savior, whether thats true or not. She doesnt have any mistaken historical views as far as I know. She just has other priorities.