We can write irony’s obituary after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on Meet the Press to articulate his differences with the administration’s approach to Iran while telling David Gregory, repeatedly, that he wasn’t “going to be drawn into the American election.”
Netanyahu has inserted himself quite clumsily into the race. He recently demanded that the United States lay out specific “red lines” that, if crossed by Iran, would bring American military power to bear on the Islamic Republic (the administration has done so already, but Bibi doesn’t like them). He berrated our ambassador, Dan Shapiro, over the issue with an outburst that Alon Liel, a former Israeli foreign ministry official, characterized as “an attempt to help the Republicans in the upcoming election. The entire show… is meant to prove to the American public, and in particular to the Jewish community, that the rift between Israel and the United States is more significant and deeper than we thought.” And then last week a dubious story was leaked claiming that Netanyahu had requested a meeting with Obama only to be declined.
And Bibi isn’t just putting his thumb on the scale because of his decades-long friendship with Mitt Romney. Time magazine’s Joe Klein said of the blackmail attempt, “I don’t think I’ve ever, in the forty years I’ve been doing this – and I’m trying to search my mind through history – have heard of another example of an American ally trying to push us into war as blatantly, and trying to influence an American election as blatantly as Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party in Israel is doing right now. I think it’s absolutely outrageous and disgusting…. it is cynical and it is brazen.”
It’s also the case that Bibi, who supposedly knows more about American politics than most American politicians, is fundamentally misreading the political landscape and, in doing so, playing a very weak hand.
Here are five reasons he’s getting the picture wrong.
1. Obama’s Support Among Jewish Voters Unchanged
Over the past three years, there have been dozens of breathless stories claiming that Obama was losing his hold on the Jewish vote, ostensibly because of the tensions that exist between the president and Netanyahu. And Bibi no doubt believed that to be the case – he believed that he could have a spoiler effect in Florida. But all those stories were nonsense – Jewish support declined from election night 2008 along with other Democratic-leaning groups. Obama’s post-convention “bounce” has been about those voters coming back into the fold, and Jewish voters are no exception.
Among Jewish voters, Obama beat John McCain 69-25 in 2008. According to Gallup, he now leads Romney by a 70-25 margin among those same voters.
2. Jews Don’t See U.S.-Israel Relations as a Key Election Issue
If you believe AIPAC or the Republican Jewish Coalition, as Netanyahu probably does, Jewish voters place an enormous amount of weight on U.S.-Israeli relations, and are always ripe for the picking by a Republican who shows sufficient fealty toward the Jewish state or hostility for Iran. The reality is quite different.
Back in March, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) released it’s comprehensive annual survey of American Jewish opinion. It asked Jewish voters to rank eleven issues by importance. Just 6 percent said U.S.-Israel relations was their top issue, and only one in five listed it among their top 3 issues. American Jews are, after all, Americans and have to live here – 29 percent said the economy was their number one issue, followed by healthcare (20 percent). Taxes, Social Security and national security all beat out Israel as issues of importance.
If Jews make up the same share of the electorate in 2012 as they did in 2008 – 2 percent – this means that 0.4 percent of American voters are Jews who rank Israel among their top 3 issues. Even in Florida, they’d make up only .08 percent of the vote.
3. Conservative White Evangelicals Won’t Vote for Obama Anyway
Although we don’t have the data necessary for an apples-to-apples comparison – with white Evangelicals ranking the same eleven issues as Jewish voters – it’s possible that this group puts more emphasis on the issue of Israel than Jewish Americans. A 2006 poll by Pew found that “seven-in-ten white evangelicals (69%) believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people and a solid majority (59%) believes that Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.”
According to a Pew poll last year, two-thirds of them said, “helping to protect Israel should be a very important policy goal for the United States in the Middle East” – a much higher share than among other Christian groups. What’s more, the study found that the conviction was stronger among more conservative Evangelicals – people who would never vote for Obama anyway.
4. Jewish Voters Aren’t Too Worried About Iran; Approve of Obama’s Approach
According to the AJC survey, just 4 percent of Jewish voters say that Iran’s nuclear program is their most important concern, and only one in seven say it ranks among their top three.
When the survey was conducted in March, Obama’s overall support among Jews was 9 points lower than it is in the latest Gallup poll, but the respondents approved of how Obama has handled Iran by a 61-37 margin.
5. Like other Americans, Jews Care About the Economy
Jewish Americans’ top four issues, according to the AJC survey, are the economy, health-care, taxes and national security (in that order).
Here’s how they rated Obama’s performance on those key issues back in March (again, when their overall support for Obama was around 10 points lower than it is today):
Economy: 59 percent approved
Health-care: 62 percent approved
Taxes: 57 percent approved
National Security: 69 percent approved
And while it wasn’t a top issue, Jewish voters approved of how Obama has handled the U.S.-Israeli relationship by a 58-40 margin.
All of this is why Netanyahu’s attempt to drive a wedge between Jewish voters and Obama is a fool’s errand. Give Obama some credit for calling his bluff.