Today’s Politico has an article that suggests that maybe, just maybe, many of Obama’s Jewish supporters are realizing that he’s not quite what they’d thought he’d be, at least on the subject of Israel.
They’re getting into arguments about Obama at dinner parties. They’re having to increasingly defend him, and finding it harder and harder to do so. They’re regretting their support of Obama rather than Hillary.
It’s not that this group—and it’s impossible to know how large a percentage of Jewish Democrats it represents—has turned on the Democratic Party, or liberal principles as a whole, or even Obama’s other policies. It’s just that his behavior on the Israel/Palestine question has made them question the sincerity of his more benign rhetoric on the same subject.
And that behavior of Obama’s isn’t based on just one incident. The evidence has been piling up over time in a way that has stirred more and more doubt about both his knowledge of the conflict and his intentions regarding Israel.
It doesn’t sound as though this group of Democrats is extrapolating from Obama’s hypocrisy on Israel to his hypocrisy on other matters—at least, not according to the article’s author Ben Smith, who purports to have conducted several dozen interviews with leading Jewish Democrats and donors on the subject of Obama and Israel. Nor is it explained why these seemingly intelligent and savvy people were fooled by Obama’s rhetoric in the first place, when it’s clear that many of them were a bit wary of his stance on Israel even during the campaign. But it seems they were very easily reassured back then. Here’s a typical tale:
“When Obama was running, there was a lot of concern among the guys in my group at shul, who are all late-30s to mid-40s, who I hang out with and daven with and go to dinner with, about Obama,” recalled Scott Matasar, a Cleveland lawyer who’s active in Jewish organizations.
Matasar remembers his friends’ worries over whether Obama was “going to be OK for Israel.” But then Obama met with the community’s leaders during a swing through Cleveland in the primary, and the rabbi at the denominationally conservative synagogue Matasar attends — “a real ardent Zionist and Israel defender” — came back to synagogue convinced.
“That put a lot of my concerns to rest for my friends who are very much Israel hawks but who, like me, aren’t one-issue voters.”
Now Matasar says he’s appalled by Obama’s “rookie mistakes and bumbling” and the reported marginalization of a veteran peace negotiator, Dennis Ross, in favor of aides who back a tougher line on Netanyahu. He’s the most pro-Obama member of his social circle but is finding the president harder to defend.
“He’d been very ham-handed in the way he presented [the 1967 border announcement] and the way he sprung this on Netanyahu,” Matasar said.
Some of them are even considering—gasp!—voting Republican for the first time in their lives. But many still seem easily reassured by a little talking to:
David Cohen, a Comcast executive and former top aide to former Gov. Ed Rendell, said questions about Obama’s position on Israel have been a regular, if not dominant, feature of his attempts to recruit donors.
“I takes me about five minutes of talking through the president’s position and the president’s speech, and the uniform reaction has been, ‘I guess you’re right, that’s not how I saw it covered,’” he said.
This seems naive, somewhat akin to the wife who finds evidence of infidelity all over the place and yet believes the husband’s reassurances that nothing’s amiss because she wants to believe. For many liberal American Jews, Obama was a dream come true. He is black, and Jews have historically been in the forefront of the civil rights movement (until they were tossed out in anger by black power advocates during the 60s and 70s). He is an intellectual (or at least plays one on TV), a role Jews tend to admire. His liberal credentials and voting record were impeccable. The combination was powerfully seductive.
Will this group actually turn on Obama and vote Republican? My guess is that a few will, but not many. Voting for the nominee of the “enemy” party can be surpassingly difficult, especially for members of cultural, racial, or religious groups that vote overwhelmingly for one party or another, as Jews tend to do. Here’s a quote from the book A National Party No More: the Conscience of a Conservative Democrat by Georgia’s Zell Miller (not a Jew) on the subject:
I was born a Democrat. It’s not simply a party affiliation; its more like a birthmark for me and many of my fellow mountaineers. There’s actually a small pinkish spot on the back of my neck just like my father’s. Both the birthmark and allegiance to the Democratic Party have been handed down in my family from one generation to the next. Time does not erase it. It is part of our DNA. I would no more think of changing parties than I would think of changing my name. To change would be like walking on my mother’s grave.