The Jewish Vote Paradox

Surveys suggest that a majority of Jews will retain their Democratic allegiance, but support for Bush is on the rise.

The world is watching the American presidential campaign with interest. But the world is also following and analyzing the twists and turns of the Jewish vote in these elections, and in this area facts are mingled with myths and also with prejudice. A brief look at the Internet reveals the degree to which this topic occupies commentators and reporters in various countries.

In view of what happened in the 2000 elections, when the Florida recount changed the final outcome, many analysts focus on what can be expected there. A long list of newspapers, in Europe and Asia and Latin America, provided extensive coverage on President George Bush's visit to Florida and his announcement there that he had signed, onboard Air Force 1, the Global Anti-Semitism Law. The world media that reported on this, for example, in France, Turkey and Japan, as well as the Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera and many others, chose to emphasize two points: that Florida has the world's third largest Jewish community, after Israel and New York, and that Florida may once again hold the key to winning the election because it carries 27 of the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory.

As in the rest of the country, a majority of Florida's Jews vote Democrat, but the Bush campaign believes that the administration's record of support for Israel and the battle against anti-Semitism in Europe and the Arab world could weigh more heavily with Jewish voters. In signing the Anti-Semitism Law, Bush acted despite a firm stance by the State Department, which was opposed to devoting an additional report (separate from the annual global report on human rights) to anti-Semitism. World media explained at length the monitoring work that will be conducted through a separate mechanism, which will survey attacks on Jews throughout the world, and underscored that the law was sponsored by Democratic representative Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress.

Reports frequently mention the extensive influence Jews wield, which is reflected in their financial power and media strength, and they of course mention the Jewish lobby in Washington, AIPAC - "a 700-pound gorilla" as one report put it. A headline in the Taiwanese newspaper Taipei Times reads: "Bush and Kerry at least agree on one thing: support for Israel." Since Israel's enemies and America's enemies are increasingly merging, the paper explains, neither candidate can afford to criticize Israel.

Past experience teaches, however, that Israel is not guaranteed automatic support after the elections. Reality is more intricate than the myth. It is becoming evident that American Jews, most of whom support Israel, today represent a bloc in which the number of those opposed to the war in Iraq is greater than their rate in the general public. The international media, which frequently reports on the impact of the Jewish neoconservatives who purportedly drove Bush to go to war in Iraq, is having trouble reconciling that with the fact that, according to a recent survey by the American Jewish Committee, 66 percent of American Jews are opposed to the war.

That explains John Kerry's strategy in Florida. Kerry highlights his support for Israel and attacks the Arab countries that bankroll terror, but feels free to criticize Bush for his management of the war in Iraq. The more serious and credible media are forced to present the complex reality, in which Jews are among the war's most prominent critics, whether it's filmmakers like Woody Allen or billionaires like George Soros, who are investing large sums to keep Bush from returning to the White House.

Surveys suggest that a majority of Jews will retain their Democratic allegiance, but support for Bush is on the rise. Bush backers tend to be the loudest in the community because support for Bush is greater among activists, especially in Orthodox circles (whose numbers are growing). Among Jews who emigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union (estimated to number about half a million), there is a clear majority in Bush's favor.

American Jewry is in constant demographic decline. Despite that, as the election wooing demonstrates, the Jewish vote has not lost its force. And it seems that more than ever before, the world is keeping an eye on the Jewish vote.