What American Jews See in Obama

The vote by many of the Jews in favor of Obama was a protest on their part against the ascendancy of the right in Israel and an expression of anxiety about the future of Israel under a right-wing government led by Likud-Beiteinu.

Shlomo Shamir
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Shlomo Shamir

Analysts and experts on American-Israeli relations tend to focus their forecasts and assessments on the White House's policy toward Israel in the coming four years. However, from Israel's point of view the real problem is not connected with the newly re-elected president of the United States. In fact the real problem is not being debated at all.

The results of the election have underscored a fact that not everyone in Israel likes to hear or internalize, namely that Israel was not relevant in the voting considerations of American Jews. On the other hand, the significant scope of the Jewish majority that voted for Barack Obama for a second term - according to surveys, it was close to 70 percent - could have unpleasant implications with regard to relations between Israel and the biggest Jewish community in the Diaspora. This is an inevitable conclusion, particularly among those who are aware of a process that is gaining in momentum - the erosion of Israel's ties with large sections of the community and the lack of satisfaction that many Jews feel about the policies of the right-wing government in Israel on the issues of peace and social affairs.

The Jewish majority that supported Obama constitutes a reservoir of criticism and potential anger that will be directed at the political arena in Israel. This will lead to further widening of the gap between Israel and the American Jewish community and the strengthening of the animosity between them.

It is possible that very few, if any, Jews thought about Israel when they cast their vote in America. Nevertheless, the vote by many of the Jews in favor of Obama was a protest on their part against the ascendancy of the right in Israel and an expression of anxiety about the future of Israel under a right-wing government led by Likud-Beiteinu - if that party wins the elections. Unlike the Hispanics who voted en masse for Obama because they see him as someone who does not threaten the future of illegal immigrants, and unlike the blacks who gave him their votes because he is "one of them," the support of the Jews for Obama sprang from an unqualified love. The reference is to a huge bloc of liberal Jews who genuinely and honestly believe in the values of democracy and who espouse human rights with sincerity. Protecting the rights of minorities is important to them. The way they see it, the role of the government is to care for the wellbeing of the simple citizen.

In parentheses, it is worthwhile refuting the common explanation that the sweeping support of the Orthodox Jews for Republican candidate Mitt Romney was motivated by their concern for Israel. Most of the Orthodox public in the religious suburbs of Brooklyn, for example, is ignorant about what happens in Israel and does not take an interest in it. Large sections of this public voted for Romney out of racist motives, out of pent-up hatred for Obama whom they call "the Black Muslim."

Following almost four years of right-wing government in Jerusalem, Israel has lost its status as a source of pride among the large liberal camp in the American Jewish community, and has turned into an object of criticism. "The Jews in America feel very uncomfortable and are very concerned in view of the negative events taking place in Israel that are reported very prominently in the American media," one senior community leader said. "I am sorry to say that the image of Israel in the eyes of many Jews in America is most unflattering."

Nor is there any reason to be heartened by the large Israeli presence expected this week at the annual conference of the Jewish federations in Baltimore. The organizers announced proudly that 37 percent of the discussions at the gathering this year will be dedicated to topics that touch upon Israel. This is a beautiful experience that has come too late, and it will be quickly forgotten after the joint appearances of Netanyahu and Lieberman in the upcoming election campaign.

Confetti obscures the stage as U.S. President Barack Obama celebrates after winning the U.S. presidential election in Chicago, Illinois, November 7, 2012.Credit: Reuters