By Niall Stanage - 08/03/14 06:08 AM EDT
Republicans believe that the deepening crisis in Gaza could ultimately loosen the grip that the Democratic Party has traditionally held upon American Jewish voters.
While declarations of a rift between Democrats and the Jewish community have proven premature in the past, things could be different this time, they assert.
Just in the last week, the Obama administration used unusually strong language to condemn the shelling of a United Nations-run school in Gaza, apparently by the Israeli military, and drafted a document for a cease-fire that Israeli officials denounced as favoring Hamas.
Conservatives say the overall stance of the administration has created an atmosphere of skepticism in the Democratic base toward Israel.
They point to a succession of recent polls to make their case. A Gallup survey last month found that only 31 percent of Democrats believed Israel’s actions against Hamas were justified, whereas 65 percent of Republicans held that view.
A Pew poll during the same period asked people which side was most to blame for the violence. Democrats split almost evenly on that question, with 29 percent blaming Hamas and 26 percent blaming Israel. By contrast, more than four times as many Republicans held Hamas culpable (60 percent) as pinned the blame on Israel (13 percent.)
“The bigger issue is not whether the Obama administration imposes a ceasefire on Israel or not,” said Noam Neusner, who worked for the administration of President George W. Bush as a liaison to the Jewish community.
“The bigger issue is with the Democratic Party electorate, namely academic elites, African Americans and younger voters. As those blocs of voters become more skeptical of Israel’s right to defend itself — and that seems to be happening — that is going to make American Jews who are Democratic Party voters less comfortable in their own party.”
Other observers note that the attitudes among the base have the capacity to change the approach of Democratic office-holders to Israel.
Highlighting the recent polls, another Bush administration Jewish liaison, Tevi Troy, said, “Democratic voters are much less likely to be supportive of Israel and Republicans voters are overwhelmingly supportive. That means that, if you are a Democratic politician and you are speaking to your base, the audience that you’re speaking to has a less than 50-50 shot of being pro-Israel.”
But Troy also noted that expectations among conservatives that Jewish voters will align themselves with Republicans have been raised — and dashed — before.
“I have been around many blocks and I’ve heard it so many times: ‘Now is the point that it’s all going to change.’ And it never happens. It’s like ‘Waiting for Godot.’”
Those doubts have a solid foundation. In presidential elections, approximately three-quarters of Jewish voters give their support to the Democratic candidate.
In 2012, pollster Mark Mellman (who is also a columnist for The Hill), Aaron Strauss and Kenneth Wald published an in-depth report: “Just the Facts: Jewish American Voting Behavior 1972-2008.”
They found that, in presidential elections from 1992 to 2008, the Republican candidate had never got more than 24 percent of the ballots cast by Jewish voters.
In the 2008 presidential election, Obama commanded the support of 78 percent of Jewish voters, according to exit polls.
But the trend lines may be moving. By 2012, that number had fallen to 69 percent. Obama’s 2008 opponent, John McCain received the support of 21 percent of Jewish voters, whereas Mitt Romney increased that share to 30 percent in 2012.
Some prominent Democratic politicians have been at pains to emphasize their support for Israel during the current crisis.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed a New York rally in support of Israel last week. “Let us not forget one word describes why there are so many innocents who died: Hamas,” he told the crowd.
Meanwhile, Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice addressed a Jewish leadership conference last week and told the audience, “Israel is not alone — not in war and not in peace. … We have Israel’s back.”
Some of the most supportive Democrats in the Jewish community insist that the idea of a major shift in support is overdone — and so too, they add, is criticism of the administration during the current crisis.
“I think the administration has handled this absolutely appropriately and correctly,” said Andrew Weinstein, a Florida lawyer who serves as the finance chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. “They have expressed their strong support for their ally, Israel, and they have expressed the appropriate level of concern for making sure the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] do everything they can to protect loss of life, while still maintaining their ability to destroy these tunnels.”
Neusner cautioned that Republicans should not expect any immediate influx of Jewish support.
“The issue here is whether the American Jewish community votes on a single issue? The answer is no,” he said. “It takes a lot to move somebody from one party to another party once they have established a political identification.”