Politics

Democrats fighting not to lose Jewish voters

The White House is pushing back against predictions that President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy will prompt many voters in the Jewish community to switch their vote to the GOP nominee in 2012.

“The president will do very well with Jewish Americans,” said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic representative from Florida.

“I don’t know if it will be 72 percent or 75 percent … [but] it will be a vast majority,” said Wexler, who now is the president of the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

The Democrats’ push-back features Wexler, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alan Solow, a Chicago lawyer and Obama’s earliest and most prominent supporter in the Jewish community. The White House has joined the effort by posting a new page at the White House’s site titled, “President Obama: Advancing Israel’s Security and Supporting Peace.”

The push-back “is multifaceted through discussions on TV, speaking to Jewish organizations, though op-eds,” Wexler told TheDC. “All of these people are close friends and close associates and work with each other in a regular way,” he said.

The push-back follows the controversy over the president’s May 19 proposal to solve the 63-year-long struggle by Israel to win recognition and peace from the surrounding Arab states. In his speech, he said the United States wanted the parties to accept a border based on the 1967 truce lines, with some mutually-agreed swaps of territory.

The speech generated much opposition from Israel’s supporters, because it largely accepted a Palestinian negotiating position, and because it ignored the underlying disputes, such as the control of important sites in and around Israel’s capital of Jerusalem.

“1967 lines with agreed swaps means you’re saying to Israel that ‘You think you have the Western Wall [of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem] as part of Israel, but we don’t … [and] you need to come up with some swaps that that Palestinians believe acceptable to keep the Western Wall in Israel,’” said Elliott Abrams, at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The deeper disputes include many Arabs’ reluctance to recognize a Jewish state on territory once ruled by Muslims, and many Arabs’ demand that Israel accept the return of the Arab community that fled during the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948. Fewer than one million Arabs fled in 1948, but they and their descendants now number between 4.5 million and 7.2 million.

The population of Israel comprises 5.8 million Jews and 1.6 million Arabs. The political dispute is especially sharp-edged because Palestinian-Arab groups celebrate the killing of many Israelis civilians, including a family of two adults and two children that were stabbed in the town of Itamar.

Obama’s speech showed his hostility to Israel, and prompted many American Jews to back away from Obama, or even to shift their support to the GOP, according to several board members at the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“I’ve been surprised by the negative reaction,” said Brad Wine, an RJC board member and a lawyer at Dickstein Shapiro in Washington D.C. “We see Jewish opinion leaders openly critical of the president.”

GOP activists don’t claim Obama’s policies will shift a majority of that Jewish vote, which went lopsidedly for Obama in 2008, by 78 percent to 21 percent. But a slice of that vote — mostly male or Orthodox — is more willing to walk away from their community’s traditional support for Democrats, said Jews who affiliate with the GOP.