GOP wooing Jewish voters, donors in wake of Obama’s Israel border comments

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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GOP activists are confident that they’ll gain additional votes and donations from the Jewish community following President Barack Obama’s call for Israel to retreat to territory along its pre-1967 border, with “mutually agreed swaps” in any final peace settlement with Palestinian Arabs.

“My friends in the Republican Jewish Coalition are ecstatic at the crossover they’re having from independent-minded Jews,” GOP consultant Karl Rove told The Daily Caller.

“Most Jews are Democrats because they vote on the basis of domestic policies,” said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for George W. Bush. But, he added, “those who are more inclined to vote on international affairs are more likely to be independent and they tend to vote Republican,” he said. They’re also the people who are more likely to be alarmed by Obama’s new stance, he said. “That’s where the damage was done,” he said.

The GOP’s share of the Jewish community’s vote in presidential elections rose steadily from the 1990s until 2008, when Obama pushed the GOP’s share back down to 21 percent. The GOP pulled only 9 percent of the community’s vote in 1992, 16 percent in 1996, and 25 percent in 2004.

These shares of the national vote are important in swing-state Florida, which has an unusually large Jewish community, Fleischer said. In 2012, “if Republicans get only 20 percent [of the vote], it is harder to win Florida, but if Republicans get 25 percent of the Jewish vote, it is likely they’ll win Florida,” he said.

In 2000, Republicans got 19 percent of the vote cast by Florida’s Jewish community in the agonizingly close contest between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, he said. That year, the result “was on the razor’s edge, but when Bush got 25 percent [in 2004], Florida was firmly in his camp,” he explained.

Republican activists are also hopeful that the Jewish community will also increase its donations to GOP candidates, because many entrepreneurs in the Jewish community also dislike the president’s pro-regulatory policies. Those policies included the now-derailed “card-check” bill in 2008 that would have allowed government-appointed arbitrators to decide wage disputes between unions and employers.

Over the last few decades, many Democratic-leaning entrepreneurs — Jewish or not — have been reluctant to aid the GOP, even when Democratic politicians adopt policies that choke business, said Rove. But “that’s changing” under Obama, Rove said. There’s a notable decline in “the willingness of a lot of financial-sector types and manufacturing-sector types to just accept more of the same,” he said.

“I’ve been on a fundraising trip last week for American Crossroads, and I’ve been shocked by the former Democrats who said ‘I voted for Obama, but I’m finished,’” Rove said. The executives, he said, also “are asking others to join them” in donating to the GOP.

American Crossroads is a fundraising operation that intends to raise $120 million in cooperation with its sister organization, Crossroads GPS. The money will be used to promote free-market policies and a strong national security stance in the 2012 election. It is not legally part of the GOP, but it is expected to support the eventual GOP nominee.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “American Free Enterprise” campaign has also harnessed some of this national business push-back against the Obama administration. The D.C.-based Republican Jewish Committee has likewise gained from the push-back, and the number of its board members has grown sharply since last year. The group’s ability to raise political donations is uncertain, and RJC director Matt Brooks declined to comment.

But even if GOP groups don’t gain extra donations from the Jewish community, the community’s donations to the Obama campaign are expected to shrink, especially from Wall Street’s financial centers. To head off losses, the White House has appointed Penny Pritzker, his 2008 campaign finance chief, to rally the wavering donors in New York.

The emerging business opposition to Obama is bolstered by Obama’s May 19 call for Israel to shrink back to the somewhat modified 1967 borders, Fleischer said. “The president created a wound in the Jewish community,” he said. “It was so unnecessary and so unwise that he partially retreated from it at the [May 22] AIPAC speech, but you get a the sense this will take a toll politically,” he said. “It is impossible to say how much of a toll,” he said, “or how long-lasting it will be.”

“I’ve been surprised by the negative reaction” against Obama, said Bradley Wine, a partner in the D.C. firm of Dickstein Shapiro, and a board member of the RJC. Yet many Jews are also reluctant to agree with or support social-conservatives, he said. Those people may sit out the election unless they’re comfortable with more liberal-minded Republicans such as Governors Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty.

That attitude is exemplified by former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who wrote in a May 23 message that “if President Obama does not change his position, I cannot vote for his reelection… [but] I won’t vote for some crazy who urges we jettison Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as federal programs.”

Instead, he wrote, “I can stay home.”

A decision by many members of the Jewish community to sit out the election could really damage Obama’s prospects in Florida or Ohio, said Wine.

The opposition by an increasing number of Jews to Obama may also trickle into the wider community, especially in districts that contain many upper-income professionals unsettled by Obama’s anti-business rhetoric and his health-care regulations, said Wine.

Obama’s statement also opened a gap within the Democratic ranks, between such Israel-stalwarts as Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of Democratic National Committee, and other Democrats who call for greater pressure on Israel, such as Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin. That gap was highlighted in a Monday event at the annual meeting of the American Israel Political Action Committee, when Wasserman Schultz demanded the RJC stop citing partisan disagreements over Israel.

RJC director Matt Brooks immediately used her criticism to publicize anti-Israel candidates in the Democratic Party. In a Tuesday letter faxed to Wasserman Schultz, he wrote that “you are in a position where you must support candidates whose positions on Israel are different from yours… [so] I understand why you would like to shield and provide political amnesty to those Democrats whose positions undermine Israel’s security.”

However, the growing intra-party and partisan disputes about Israel, and the Jewish community’s increased distrust of Obama, also pose a strategic problem for Israel’s supporters. That’s because they would lose clout if many Democratic activists begin to view pro-Israel policies as pro-GOP policies. To avoid that partisan divide, many of Israel’s supporters are working to smooth the cracks created by Obama’s policy toward Israel, and to downplay the partisan differences over Israel.