NEW YORK - The Israeli flag prominently placed alongside the American Stars and Stripes at the Republican Party’s tumultuous victory celebrations in the New York borough of Queens on Wednesday night may one day come to be remembered as a symbol of a watershed moment in the political history of the Jewish community and American-Israeli relations.
Whether or not it was, in fact, the voters’ antipathy to President Barack Obama’s Israel policies that gave the hitherto unknown Republican candidate Bob Turner his stunning upset triumph in the special elections held in New York’s Ninth Congressional District yesterday is almost irrelevant now. In politics it is the perception that counts, and Wednesday’s unequivocal repudiation of Obama and the Democrats in one of the America’s most densely-populated Jewish areas will be portrayed, as the outspoken former Mayor Ed Koch put it, as a “message to President Obama that he cannot throw Israel under a bus with impunity “. And even though Turner’s Democratic opponent David Weprin is an observant Jew with a long record of strong support for Israel, in Brooklyn and Queens last night it may have seemed as if there was only one truly pro-Israel party in America, and it was not the one the Jews are used to voting for.
Emboldened by their astonishing achievement in a district held by the rival Democrats throughout the past 88 years, the Republicans are bound to try and exploit their newly-found “wedge issue” in order to pry the proverbial “Jewish vote” away from its historic Democratic tilt. In the process, many Jewish leaders fear, the Republicans may irreparably erode the bedrock of bipartisanship that has characterized U.S. support for Israel for many decades. And by appealing to the Jews to “vote Israel” at the expense of all other considerations, they maintain, the Republicans may also be lending credence, albeit inadvertently, to the age-old canard of “dual loyalty” leveled at American Jews by their detractors.
It is true that pinning the dramatic loss of District 9 solely on Obama’s strained relationship with Israel and its prime minister is a bit of a hard sell, to say the least, on a day that the U.S. Census Bureau released grim economic statistics showing that the median income of American families is shrinking at a rate no less alarming than the pace at which American poverty is growing. It is also true that the Jews of the ninth Congressional District are a much more conservative lot than the Jewish community as a whole, and that the many ultra-Orthodox and Russian immigrants in the district probably didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 in the first place. Like their fellow Catholics, who apparently swung towards the Republicans in even greater numbers, the frum Jews may also have also been punishing Weprin for his support for gay marriage as well as exacting retroactive revenge for the collective shame brought on the district by former Congressman Anthony Weiner who was caught “sexting” - using Twitter to send nude photos of himself to various young women - and whose resignation last June triggered Wednesday's vote.
Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that Obama and the Democrats suffered a demoralizing “thumping” on Wednesday, to borrow the term used by former President George Bush after the Republicans’ stinging defeat in the 2006 Congressional election, which will be widely interpreted as a grim harbinger of the upcoming presidential ballot. Democratic Party leaders will surely hit the panic buttons now, pressuring Obama to create new jobs at almost any price - and to make amends with the party’s Jewish constituency at almost any cost.
The attempt to “mend fences” with Israel, already apparent in the Administration’s all-out effort against the Palestinian drive to achieve statehood at the United Nations and in its unabashed touting of its assistance to Israel in last week’s crisis in Cairo, is likely to intensify and thus to exacerbate Washington’s already strained relations with the Arab world. There couldn’t be better news, of course, for Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s ongoing efforts to capture Arab hearts and minds and, in that regard, the shot across Obama’s bow from the heavily-Jewish boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn may be heard around the world, at least for the 15 months leading up to the 2012 elections.
Obviously, Obama’s continuing misfortunes and diminishing prospects are a source of disappointment and dismay for the president’s dwindling ranks of supporters, Jewish or otherwise. Last night they may have tried to console themselves with a description of the main protagonist in the other, much more famous "District 9", the highly successful 2010 South African science fiction movie: “He was an honest man,” it goes, “and he didn't deserve any of what happened to him.”
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