Can Jewish voters be sure of Obama's commitment to Israel?

Iranian nuclear threat could undermine support for president

September 02, 2012|Robert L. Ehrlich Jr

One of the more intriguing aspects of Campaign 2012 is the impact of Obama administration rhetoric and policies on the Jewish vote.

Obama supporters dismiss any thought of discord among this vital Democratic constituency. They point to sustained Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates in every presidential election cycle. Indeed, it is a rare occasion when the Democratic nominee fails to garner 65 percent of the Jewish vote. And this year's Republican ticket fits their preferred narrative to a T.

In Mitt Romney, they see a conservative Mormon businessman with a tea party favorite as his running mate. Democratic operatives are further enthused by the outrageous rape and contraception comments of Rep. Todd Akin. Such incidents play into the now-familiar indictment of an "extreme" party controlled by that most dangerous of constituencies, the Christian right.

This narrative is easily made and eagerly bought by a majority of progressive Jewish Democrats. It is sustained by a distrust of conservative Republicans on a wide variety of social issues, including abortion, school prayer, social welfare and gun control. (Even the GOP's unshakable support for the state of Israel dissuades few from this popular caricature).

I know from whence I speak: A conservative Republican in deep-blue Maryland has a monumental task in changing Jewish hearts and minds outside of the predominantly right-leaning Orthodox community. The easily demonized likes of Akin, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and other prominent tea party leaders make the task considerably more difficult.

But Campaign 2012 may complicate the usual formulas. And I'm not referring to leftover political scars from then-Senator Obama's spotty voting record on Israel, or the president's past association with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

More recently, and more importantly, the administration's (quickly retracted) position that Middle East peace negotiations must begin with pre-1967 borders gave further pause to those who question the president's real commitment to Israeli security. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aggressive condemnation of the position to a visibly agitated president during a highly publicized Oval Office press conference reenergized concerns in Jewish circles. (Such incidents perhaps explain Mr. Romney's 2-1 polling advantage over the president in Israel.)

Despite these hiccups, recent polls show the president with a 35-point advantage over Governor Romney among Jewish voters. Old habits are indeed hard to break. And this old habit will likely bring about similar numbers on Election Day. That is, unless the nuclear ambitions of Tehran's ayatollahs force Mr. Netanyahu's hand.

It's a scenario few wish to discuss. It has not been a major topic during the presidential campaign. But a nuclear Iran, with the saber-rattling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the helm, has profound repercussions for the world community — and the U.S. presidential election.

The Obama administration's stated policy is clear: A nuclear Iran is unacceptable; "all" diplomatic and military options are on the table.

This presents an interesting question for those Jewish voters who can't quite shake their concerns about this president. To wit: How would the Obama administration respond if confronted with unilateral Israeli airstrikes against Iran's nuclear facilities?

In 1973, a similar situation was presented to President Richard Nixon. History records that his advisers recommended a wait-and-see posture at the very beginning of the Yom Kippur War. But the president disagreed. Israel needed assistance immediately, and American logistical support was soon on the way.

Forty years later, a reflexively dovish president in the midst of a difficult re-election campaign may be presented with a similar decision. Prime Minister Netanyahu has no doubt how Mr. Romney would respond. But can the same be said for America's 44th president?

An Israeli military action against Iran would set off alarm bells around the world. At least publicly, most of America's allies would condemn the actions. And a newly empowered Muslim Brotherhood would spark widespread protests throughout a tense Middle East.

The man who regularly voted "present" while a member of the Illinois legislature would not have a similar option here — a disquieting notion for Jewish Democrats concerned about the latest threat to Israel's survival.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics, and Maryland chairman for the Romney presidential campaign. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.