Why was Obama kvelling about Israel?

REUTERS President Obama speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla. … Continued

REUTERS

President Obama speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla. on Oct. 22, 2012.

In the 2008 presidential election Sen. Barack Obama received somewhere between 74 percent to 78 percent of the Jewish vote. His repeated invocations of, and praise for, Israel Monday leads me to believe that he will settle for nothing less than 7,478 percent of the Jewish vote come Nov. 6, 2012.

While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney labored to develop a relatively heady argument about the urgency of combatting the mindset of Islamic extremism, President Obama just couldn’t stop kvelling about the Jewish state. He gushed about forthcoming joint Israeli-American military maneuvers. He vowed to stand with Israel in case of an Iranian aggression. “Israel,” the president enthused, “is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.”

When Romney pressed his opponent about “skipping Israel” during his “apology tour” throughout the Islamic world, Obama went rhetorically nuclear. In an effort to blunt that potentially devastating line of attack he riposted: “I went to Yad Vashem [Judaism’s central memorial to the Holocuast in Israel]. . . to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.” This was clearly a rehearsed and calculated response. And a risky one at that: for Jews the memory of the Shoah is simply not fair game in the realm of politicking.

Why did the President devote so much energy to shoring up his pro-Israel credentials? The most obvious response — he really wants the Jewish vote! — doesn’t totally add up. Jews are a small minority, variously estimated to be a scant 1.6 to 2.2 percent of the American population.

Another thing to recall about Jews is that they already vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Even if they jump ship to the red side of ledger — a (unfulfilled) prediction that GOP-friendly Jews have been making for decades — members of the Tribe tend to be heavily concentrated in states that are already in the bag for Democrats (e.g., New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, California).

The theory that Obama talked up Israel Monday night because he wants every American of the mosaic persuasion to vote for him faces yet another challenge. Curiously, Jewish-Americans consistently tell pollsters that they rank questions of U.S.-Israeli relations rather low down on the list of issues that motivate their behavior in the voting booth. Had Obama emphasized abortion rights (which 93 percent of Jews favor) he would have swayed more Jewish hearts and minds.

We might profitably read Obama’s shout-outs to Israel as a symptom of his campaign’s concern about recent slippage in Florida. Jews in the Sunshine State (estimated to be about 3.4 to 4 percent of the overall population) turn out in droves. Maybe the president’s handlers are looking for something, anything, to stave off Romney’s recent gains there. The same strategy, I guess, might be in play for hotly contested Ohio as well.

Then again maybe Obama was trying to do precisely what Romney did tonight, but in reverse. The former governor of Massachusetts continued his pivot to the center, abandoning his primary pose as a “severe conservative.” Obama, for his part, may have been attempting his own pivot, albeit one initiated from a different direction. Americans, not only Jewish Americans, are overwhelmingly supportive of, and sympathetic to, Israel, a valued and trustworthy ally.

Perhaps Obama’s performance at the final debate was actually an appeal to the nation’s vast non-Jewish center that values the Middle East’s sole stable democracy.

Jacques Berlinerblau is an associate professor and director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and author of “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.” Follow him on Twitter at @berlinerblau

  • bethesda72

    What an unbelievably simplistic uninformed article of a person who is even a professor at Georgetown University! Poor students who have to suffer such a hypocrite and illiterate.

    Obama, our affirmative action President, who is half-Black and half-White, half-Christian and half-Muslim, Harvard graduate just like his predecessor George Bush, the most inexperienced President who spent only one year in the Senate before being elected, totally illiterate in foreign affairs, “Nobel Peace Prize laureate,” friend of the Prime Minister of Turkey Erdogan and the Saudi King Abdullah, who disappointed not only his enemies but all of his supporters as well.

    Obama, a miserable failure in all his domestic and foreign affairs initiatives, is using the same tactic he used against Hillary Clinton attacking his opponents instead of defending his non-existent achievements.

    Berlinerblau widely uses numbers that don’t have any meaning whatsoever.

    It is 2012 now and not 2008. In 2008 even many Republicans voted against John McCain because in our system many smart people can only vote against but not for because of the dire shortage of minimally experienced trustworthy people.

    How many Jews voted for Obama in 2008, 74-78%? Who knows? I am Jewish but I never participate in any polls for anyone for any reason, be it a food or person. I am 100% independent and there are millions of us. Many are literate Jews who detest Obama and both parties. And how about 2000 elections when thousands elderly Florida Jews voted for our neo-Nazi Patrick Buchanan because they couldn’t figure out the new election ballot.

    Many elderly Jews are terrorized by the Democratic agitators who claimed that Romney is going to abolish Social Security and Medicare.

    Obama is an enemy of the Jewish State because of his half-leftist, half-Sunni Islamic convictions. He tried to cause harm to Israel on many occasions. However, he is ready to do anything to get reelected to give us four more terrible years. The fact is tha

  • DavidLewis2

    The Middle East’s sole stable democracy? Apparently the author is not aware that Israel is Jewish and a democracy because it ethnically cleansed the indigenous Arab population, and contnues to engage in policies designed to force the Arab population to leave. Apparently the author is not aware of the pervasive state-sponsored discrimination against non-Jews in Israel. One can forgive the author for not being aware of the new poll that shows that most Israelis favor an apartheid state if the West Bank is annexed, which it will be.

    Israel is not stable and is not a true democracy. Democracies do not ethnically cleanse their populations and do not discriminate on the basis of race. Israel does both. The United States should cut ties with Israel. Supporting Israel is not in the United State’s interest.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    All these commenters ought to calm down and see the bigger picture. America will never “sever ties” with Israel, because our Christian majority needs Israel in order to fulfill its end-times prophesy. Don’t waste your time considering the geopolitical nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, don’t concern yourself with the question of whether Israel is a democracy or an offshore US military base, and certainly don’t ask yourself why the future of the Middle East and the world now rests solely upon a fist-fight between religious fanatics. The point is that the Jews want to bring all of their people within the holy land so that their version of the apocalypse can take place, and the Christians want to get all the Jews in there so that their version can be set in motion. All the other politics are an exercise in semantics, Israel must continue to exist as long as is necessary for mankind to be extinguished properly. If you happen to be a reasonable person who does not salivate when thinking of the apocalypse, then you probably don’t shout loud enough to be part of this conversation.

  • xexon

    Israel comes up way too often in our presidential elections.

    You should worry.

    x

  • SODDI

    Did he say anything about Israeli Jews violently oppressing women and little girls in their country, just like the Taliban is doing in Pakistan?

    If he didn’t, he should have.

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.