Surprisingly, as the U.S. threatens to veto in the U.N. Security Council a resolution for Palestinian statehood, President Barack Obama faces plunging poll numbers with Jewish Americans. Obama’s sinking poll numbers in the Jewish community (dropping from 80 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in July 2011), usually an extremely loyal bedrock of support for the Democratic Party, are worrying a president seeking reelection. The decline in Jewish support for the president may have explained the outcome of the recent stunning Republican upset in a special election to replace Democratic Rep. Anthony Wiener in a heavily Jewish congressional district in New York City that hasn’t elected a Republican in 88 years. According to USA Today, fewer than 25 percent of Jewish voters in that district approved of the president’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama’s eroding support among Jewish voters really shows the amazing expectations of the Israeli lobby and the stranglehold it has on American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Stunningly, the falling numbers come as the United States has increased support for Israel during its deepening isolation in the Middle East and the world.
Recently, the Obama administration diplomatically backed Israel despite international opprobrium following the invasion of Gaza in 2008. The administration also politically backed the Jewish state in the face of widespread international criticism after Israeli commandos killed nine people, including one U.S. citizen, in a 2010 raid on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists who opposed Israel’s strangling economic quarantine of Gaza. In the latter case, a U.N.-mandated inquiry conducted by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer concluded, “Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable.”
In the humanitarian realm, the administration recently helped rescue Israel diplomats in Egypt when their embassy was under attack, for which Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly thanked Obama.
Militarily, the administration has deepened U.S.-Israel security relations to new levels. The U.S. has continued its embarrassingly exorbitant military aid to a now-rich Israeli nation ($3 billion per year), and the two countries have prepared to function in wartime as joint task forces. Finally, the administration supported Israel’s building of the Iron Dome air defense system.
And what did Obama get for all the diplomatic, political, and military largess that has been slathered on Israel at a time of dangerously high American federal deficits and debt? A desperate Palestinian plea for statehood at the U.N., as Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations fell apart amid resumed Israeli settlement-building — illegal under international law — in the face of administration opposition.
It’s now time for Obama to ask himself the hard question — especially when he is trying to get reelected — about whether such lavish aid and support only encourages Israeli intransigence in the peace process. Obama could reach the courageous decision that if he is losing support in the Jewish community (he never had much among the more numerous evangelical Christians who are slavish supporters of Israel), he might as well double down and reduce or eliminate U.S. aid and political and diplomatic support for Israel. American politicians’ support for Israel has much less to do with genuine U.S. security interests in faraway lands that have no oil than with winning the electoral support of powerful domestic groups that support Israel.
Hopefully, Obama will not continue to capitulate to the Israeli lobby and shower Israel with military aid and unrequited support when the United States can no longer afford it; the largess only encourages more aggressive Israeli policy toward other nations. Unfortunately, however, Obama will probably react as Harry Truman did when things looked equally bleak for his reelection in 1948. Truman recognized Israel only 11 minutes after it provocatively announced statehood in the face of Arab complaints that it was stealing Arab land. Truman had earlier said, “I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have Arabs as constituents.” Trying to get reelected in the same country, Obama is unfortunately in the same boat.