Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama's Jews

Barack Obama is still leading among Jews 2 to 1, and pundits are still telling us that this is a sign of weakness: that historic levels of support among Jews, 3 (or even 4) to 1, are needed to win Florida and Pennsylvania; and that Obama's not going to get there unless he's willing to be as "Zionist" as McCain.

There are too many misconceptions in this analysis to be dealt with here. (I try to lay them out more fully in the current Harper's.)   But it is meanwhile worth having another look at this penetrating Gerstein-Agne poll, conducted for the rising J Street Lobby. It suggests that Jews are seriously divided: that the vast majority, around 70%, are more or less liberal, opposed the Iraq war, and want to see the US pressure Israelis and Palestinians into a peace deal; while our most prominent Jewish leaders, in AIPAC, the Council of Presidents, and the World Jewish Congress, tend to promote the agenda of the 20-25% who identify with conservative politics, and would never vote for Obama no matter what he does.

THE POLL SUGGESTS, in other words, that Jews will have less of an impact on the Obama campaign than it will have on them. For it raises the question of why, and how long, American Jews will continue to tolerate its own leadership.
  
And the question is the more intriguing since the most progressive Jews seem most generous to both Jewish community organizations and political campaigns. I asked Jim Gerstein, who conducted the J Street poll, to run the relevant numbers. He wrote me back, generously: "Among 'liberals,' 51% contribute to Jewish organizations and charities no different from the overall sample; 50% contribute to political campaigns, 8 pts. higher than the overall sample. Among 'progressives,' however, 56% contribute to Jewish organizations and charities (4 pts. higher than the overall sample); while 63 percent contribute to political campaigns, a remarkable 21 pts. higher than the overall sample."

Jews, I need not add, have means: over a third earn $100,000 or more.   So if you assume that the Obama campaign has the trappings of a liberal movement, you have to wonder if the Jewish majority is not on a collision course with the organizational leaders who purport to represent Jewish interests. This collision seems imminent if Obama wins, but seems the more inevitable if he loses--and loses in part because of the solidarity between McCain's forces and a deceptively prominent Jewish right.

6 comments:

Y. Ben-David said...

I looked at the poll. Many of the questions were worded in such a convoluted way that it was obvious that the intention was to give distorted results. The intention of "J-Street" is to attempt to redefine being "pro-Israel" to meaning that the US should pressure and threaten Israel to make dangerous concessions "for its own good", which really means "so that 'progressives' can feel good about themselves". You will get very different results in a poll if you ask (1) Are you in favor of dividing Jerusalem in return for an iron-clad peace agreement which would leave the city open for crossing in both directions? or (2) Are you in favor of dividing Jerusalem if there is a real possibility that armed Palestinian gunmen will take over the Arab parts of the city and fire into the Jewish areas and send terrorists into the Jewish areas, or (3) are you in favor of dividing Jerusalem recognizing that the Jewish holy places including the Western Wall will be under Palestinian administration? You would get very different answers to each question.

For example, the poll claims that "70% of American Jews want the US to 'pressure' the Jews and Arabs to get to an agreement". The "progressives" then extrapolate that to mean that US Jews want the US to pressure Israel to carry out THEIR idea of a "peace agreement".
Let's be more specific. Dr Avishai says that the US should "pressure" the "secular elites" of Israel so that they will be willing to use force against what he calls "the Judeans", i.e. the right-wing, religious elements of whom the Judea/Samaria Jewish communities are a significant component.
That is nice to talk about in general, but I have to ask, how is this pressure to be manifested?
Should the US say "if Israel doesn't freeze ALL building a development in Judea/Samaria we will (1) cut financial aid? (2) Restrict Israeli purchase of defense equipment they don't produce themselves? (3) have the US urge the UN Security Council pass a resolution demanding punitive sanctions of this settlement freeze is not implemented?.
Or suppose the US proposes a draft of a peace agreement and both sides have reservations about it. Should the US propose that NATO troops should be sent to Israel to impose the terms of the agreement?
Do you really believe the "70% of American Jews who want 'pressure' on Israel would support these options?

LeaNder said...

I looked at the poll. Many of the questions were worded in such a convoluted way that it was obvious that the intention was to give distorted results.

I read this comment over and over again. Mostly from an amused volunteer distributive network of Shmuel Rosner's article

What you experience as worded and convoluted may well be part of a larger control question design. At least that was my impression.

It's one of the most interesting surveys I have read. And as Bernard Avishai and others e.g. Ami Eden (listen to JStreet's tele-briefing for the media) realized, it must be quite interesting to ask it your own questions.

This I wrote myself before. It surely opens up strategic space: Good Luck, JStreet.

Shoded Yam said...

"..Should the US say "if Israel doesn't freeze ALL building a development in Judea/Samaria we will (1) cut financial aid? (2) Restrict Israeli purchase of defense equipment they don't produce themselves? (3) have the US urge the UN Security Council pass a resolution demanding punitive sanctions of this settlement freeze is not implemented?."

Lets take this by the numbers.

#1 Should the U.S. cut financial aid to Israel in order to effect a withdrawal from the territories?

How is it that a country of 7 million people, with a GDP of about 150 billion dollars yearly, is a recipient of "financial aid"? Its the logical choice. If the Israelis insist on maintaining illegal settlements on internationally disputed territory then let them do it on their dime. I see no reason the American taxpayer should shore up the Israeli economy and public sector, while Israel uses its own tax revenue to support useless mouths, illegal squatters, and vigilanteism. Israel will soon find out what its like to have champagne tastes on a beer budget. The settlement enterprise and the infrastructure that supports it will not be sustainable under these circumstances. Israelis in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, etc. will not be willing to watch their already detiorated public sector become even more so for the sake of appeasing Kahanist malcontents and sedititionists. Israelis, much like Americans are about to do, will vote their wallets and alot of half-wits and hooligans are gonna be packing their bags.

#2 Restrict Israeli purchase of defense equipment they don't produce themselves?

This has been done in the past and is being done at the present moment. The implication that a Obama Administration would initiate this is disingenuous.

#3 have the US urge the UN Security Council pass a resolution demanding punitive sanctions of this settlement freeze is not implemented?."

Not gonna happen under any circumstances short of a breaking of diplomatic ties. The supposition, rather than having any substance, is again, agenda driven malarky.

Y. Ben-David said...

Pirate-Shoded Yam-
You are quite right, the economic aid is not needed and should be terminated. It is given for political reasons, in order to keep Israeli politicians on a short leash. However, the Israeli gov't should request it to be terminated, not unilaterally by the US gov't as "punishment" which is what I was referring to, because this could be interpreted as the US "cutting Israel loose" just like France did before the Six-Day War which led the Arab countries to think that Israel was now vulnerable and which pushed the Arab countires, particular Nasser in Egypt to make the threats he did which led to the war.

Few American Jews, even "progressive" ones, would support punitive steps against Israel of this sort (not to mention much of the American public as well, who views Israel as a ally), and that is why "J-Street" is really an fraud and is really an "anti-Israel" organization, for all its propaganda otherwise.

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