This is it. The Israel Factor’s last survey of this election cycle. The last survey in which we compare Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, two candidates we started scoring six long years ago. And in this final survey, our panel of Israeli experts ended up giving Romney the better score, but the gap is tiny. Like the American electorate, our panel seems to have difficulties deciding which is the better candidate. Three panelists think Romney is the better candidate, three others believe Obama is the better one, the rest – four – call it a tie.
Our instructions to the panelists were straightforward: Watch the last debate between Obama and Romney – the foreign policy debate – then answer the questions. They also included a request to assess both candidates’ “supposed policies” in different areas if elected, as well as a request to give the final score on the question we’ve been asking for six years: Is the candidate “good” for Israel?
Obama has the edge on three important areas: Iran, Syria and the Arab Spring. Romney convinced the panel that his answers on three other topics are better: The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Egypt, and – and I believe this to be the definitive issue – relations with Israel. For years we’ve argued that policy toward Iran is what gets a candidate better scores with the Israel Factor panel, but now we have a case in which the candidate with the better score on Iran is ranked a little lower overall. Why?
Relations with Israel is the key: While the panel believes that policies toward Iran can be altered, that Romney will be able to do tomorrow what Obama proposes today (and vice versa), it does not believe that Obama’s strained relations with the Israeli government can be changed much. Prime Minister Netanyahu is the likely candidate to be Israel’s next prime minister (with the obvious caveat: Israel’s political landscape is fast changing). If Obama is reelected, this means four years of tension between the leaders. Four crucial years in which the Middle East will keep changing, in which Iran might reach the nuclear red line, in which the Assad regime might fall, in which intimate relations between the two governments will be as important as ever.
Still, the two candidates are very close to a tie. In the last several months, the panel seemed reluctant to clearly tilt one way or the other, alternating between Obama and Romney, without ever giving either much more than the other. Thus, 10 days before Election Day and – unlike most Israelis, who believe that only one candidate is truly good for Israel (Romney) - the Israel Factor panel has an optimistic Israeli outlook on the American political situation: There are two candidates, and both of them are good for Israel.
Check out Rosner's new book, The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide