Every four years, the same question is asked in America: Which candidate will win the Jewish vote? With the 2012 presidential election teetering on a razor’s edge, however, the question takes on new importance and even a certain poignancy. That’s exactly why it caught the attention of political reporter and analyst Shmuel Rosner in “The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney: A Voter’s Guide” (Jewish Journal Books: $9.99 paperback, $8 Kindle edition). After all, as Rosner sees it, as many as 5 million Jewish voters may go to the polls next month, and that could be enough to make a difference in an election as close as this one.
“That is not to say that where the Jews go, America also goes,” concedes Rosner. But, at the same time, he insists that “Jews are seen as major political players, because they believe that their vote really counts.”
Shmuel Rosner, of course, is senior political editor of the Jewish Journal, and “The Jewish Vote” is the first title to be published by Jewish Journal Books, a newly launched publishing imprint of TRIBE Media Corp. He’s one of our own, but his analysis is also worthy of attention on its own merits.
It’s significant that Rosner is an accomplished Israeli author and journalist who is writing for an American readership in “The Jewish Vote,” which underscores how much is at stake for the Jewish state in the American presidential elections. Rosner believes that Romney stands to gain the most by cutting into the traditional Democratic edge among Jewish voters: “If he gets 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote — not an easy benchmark — it’s almost like getting an insurance policy against losing.”
Rosner enters the debate between the polarities of what he calls “the-Republican-Party-is-not-an-option-for-most-Jews era” and “the Israel-as-wedge-issue era.” He sees a new geopolitical landscape in which “Republicans [are] drawing closer to Israel, and dangers [are] drawing closer to Israel.” He acknowledges that some Jewish voters do not even consider their Jewishness when they go to the polls, but he divides those who do into two camps: “a more utopian Judaism and a more hard-nosed Judaism.”
He is tough-minded and blunt when it comes to his take on the Jewish community in America. He suggests that progressive Jews are drawn to the Democratic party because of their allegiance to “the new religion of humanistic values (as interpreted by the modern priests of humanistic religion — namely, university professors and ‘tikkun olam’ activists)” and he contrasts them with Jewish Republicans, for whom, he says, “[V]oting for a political party is not like lighting candles: it is a political deed, not a religious one.” He characterizes his own lively book, however, as a bipartisan effort to “focus on issues that are markedly ‘Jewish’ ” and to thereby enable Jewish voters to make an informed decision between Obama and Romney.
Significantly, the issues of greatest concern to Jewish voters do not necessarily include Israel. One survey placed the economy and health care at the top of the list, and “the growing gap between the rich and the poor” ranked higher than either Israel or “the danger of Iran” in another poll. That’s why, Rosner writes, “For Mitt Romney to find [the] hidden key with which to release the Jewish lock on Democrats would require much more than talking about his affinity for Israel.” And that’s why “Obama had the wisdom to give Jewish voters some pride that is unrelated to Israel, to remind them that they and Obama are both members of the same community of ‘justice.’ ”
Intriguingly, Rosner insists that “[Sarah] Palin is Romney’s problem with Jewish voters” — or, as he goes on to suggest, “the shadow she casts over the Republican Party.” It’s an example of the acuity of his political vision; Rosner understands that even those Jewish voters who are attracted to Romney may feel alienated by a Republican Party “in which religious Christians have a greater voice, in which heartland America has a greater voice, in which Palin can be a candidate, in which Paul Ryan can be a candidate.”
Then, too, Rosner points out that Romney’s staunch support of Israel can be unsettling, rather than reassuring, to Jewish voters. After all, when Romney invokes Israel, the Mormon candidate is courting the Evangelical Christian vote as much as, if not more than, the Jewish vote. “If Romney can’t quite win over this vast pool of voters by force of his religious beliefs,” explains Rosner, “he can still convince them that, on matters important to them, he will pursue policies they will find more palatable.”
Obama comes under the same close and discerning scrutiny. “The list of Obama-induced assistance to Israel’s security is indeed very long, as Israeli officials readily admit,” he writes. But he also reminds us that Obama touched a nerve in the Jewish community when he stated in 2008 that “there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” The statement takes on a new meaning when we consider Netanyahu’s outspoken interest in American party politics: “Obama was basically telling both American and future Israeli voters this: If Israel elects Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister and Americans elect Obama president, expect trouble.”
Rosner insists that he comes to understand and explain the Jewish vote, not to influence it, and his book bears him out. Anyone who consults “The Jewish Vote” before Election Day will carry into the polling booth not Rosner’s political advocacy but the wealth of information that he has gathered and the nuanced analysis that he has conducted.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.