Jewish Journal


October 25, 2012

15 short comments about politics



Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset. (Photo: Reuters)


Say what you want about Netanyahu the statesman, or Netanyahu the politician – Netanyahu the magician, the man that always has a surprise up his sleeve, has done it again. The decision to merge the Likud Party with the Yisrael Beiteinu Party – Netanyahu and Lieberman dancing together – will once again reshuffle the political deck. In the coming days a lot of (virtual) ink will be expended by the experts charged with analyzing the implications of this move. Read them all but remember: Not one of them knew in advance this was going to happen. They – we – are all experts on things that have already happened. Predicting the future is something we do on demand, but the rate of success is hardly impressive.


As readers of our House Jewish Projection know, the number of Jewish legislators in Congress is going to take a serious blow. But there’s a chance -  slight as it might be - that the number of Jewish Republican House members will finally climb – from one to two, or even three. That is, if both Randy Altschuler (NY) and Adam Hasner (FL) win their very tight races. Now a question: If you’re a tribal Jew – but also a Democrat like most Jews – would you be happy about two more Jews joining the House on the other side of the aisle?


President Obama has been trying hard to convince voters that he is staunchly pro-Israel – but Israelis themselves never really bought into it. Our new Israeli Opinion on Obama tracker has the details and the numbers. Take a look.


I tend to agree with Jonathan Tobin: “That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability” regarding the Jewish vote. I also agree with former congressman Wexler that “Jewish voters will stick with Obama”. The Jewish vote is not about the vote – a Democratic majority, no doubt – but about expectations. Lower expectations, and Obama wins, raise them, and he could look like a loser (but we’ll have to wait and see).


For our last Israel Factor survey before Election Day we asked the 10 panelists to rank eight previous presidents on the good-for-Israel question. We are still crunching the numbers for this survey, but I can already tell you this: George W. Bush will not be the highest ranking. Jimmy Carter will be the lowest ranking. Survey results, early next week.


There’s a new update of the ongoing Taglit-Birthright study – an update that generally confirms previous findings: Birthright makes Jewish youngsters more Jewishly engaged in many ways. But since this post is about politics, I’ll postpone other issues related to the new study for later, and focus on one political nugget from it: a total debunking of the Birthright-makes-participants-more-right-wing claim – one that has appeared in the writings of some former participants.

Here’s what the study says: Taglit participants and nonparticipants did not differ in their likelihood of having an opinion about the future of the West Bank or Jerusalem. Among those who had an opinion on Jerusalem, Taglit participants and nonparticipants are equally likely to think that Israel should compromise on the status of Jerusalem. Among those who had an opinion on West Bank settlements, Taglit had a small effect, with participants slightly less likely than nonparticipants to say that they favor dismantling “none” of the settlements in the West Bank as opposed to “some.” As the authors conclude: “Specific views on Israeli politics appear to be largely unrelated to Taglit participation”.


Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week writes about my most recent JPPI study:

Birthright participants come back feeling strengthened in their connection to Israel, and their subsequent visits to Israel keep increasing that sense of attachment, according to the study, written by the Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner. At the same time, though, he found that these positive feelings about Israel do not indicate “an absence of critical thinking about [Israel], nor does it imply agreement with Israel’s current policies.” To the contrary, the research shows that “reservations about Israel among diaspora Jews, and particularly young American Jews, have been more significant in recent years than in previous generations.” Some may find that contradictory and upsetting. But I think it’s a positive indication that young people are engaging in the multilayered reality of Israeli life and policy, and thinking independently about solutions.


I don’t usually recommend articles from Open Zion, the blog edited by Peter Beinart. But I’ll make an exception – as it was refreshingly surprising for me to see how unbiased Noam Shelef was able to be as he analyzed the scandalous poll by Haaretz, according to which – well, according to the headlines attached to which – Israelis favor apartheid. Shelef wrote: “The poll actually shows that Israelis want to separate themselves from the West Bank, not even annexing the major settlement blocks [sic]. Only in a hypothetical situation - whereby their preference that Israel not annex the West Bank is ruled out by the pollster - do most Israeli Jews show a willingness to rule over non-voting Palestinians and thus tolerate apartheid”. Exactly right.


More Israeli politics: We will soon post another update of our Israel polls tracker – Prof. Camil Fuchs is working on it. One thing to remember: Early next week we will know if Olmert and Livni will be running to unseat Netanyahu. If they don’t, we have a clear map – if they do, all bets are off.


Yes, I wrote a book about the Jewish Vote (if you haven’t yet read it – get it here), but this doesn’t mean that I can’t read other works on the same topic. Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the "Jewish Vote" and Bipartisan Support for Israel is an interesting work of history. Beware though – it is conservative in tone and conclusion. Harry Stein writes about in City Journal about why Jews are still mostly liberal:

...the striking ability of such voters to deny, or willfully misinterpret, the evidence before their eyes. That this has been the case for generations is the unhappy but inescapable conclusion of a recently published book that examines Jewish political behavior during the crucial years from the end of World War I through the achievement of Israeli independence in 1948: Herbert Hoover and the Jews, by historian Sonja Schoepf Wentling and Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. Its intriguing title aside, the book’s principal character is Hoover’s successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, still revered in many Jewish homes as the ultimate champion of the little guy and the most devoted friend of the Jewish people ever to hold the nation’s highest office.



I hope you all read my six Florida Diary posts from last week (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6). If you did, but want to know even more about the battle for Jewish Florida, try David Weigel:

The battle for Florida’s Jews is best seen from the new 22nd Congressional District, a long swath of small cities and suburbs that stretches from the Palm Beach area down 60 minutes south to Fort Lauderdale. For two years it’s been represented by Rep. Allen West, ever since he humiliated Jewish incumbent Democrat Ron Klein in the Tea Party wave. Then the state tweaked the district and moved some conservative suburbs into other districts. The new 22nd had given 57 percent of its vote to Obama in 2008. West jumped to the 18th District, packed with conservatives who struggle to describe how much they adore their new congressman.

This forces the 22nd to choose between Democrat Lois Frankel and Republican Adam Hasner. Both are Jewish. Both were born in New York. Hasner came to Florida with his family in 1975; Frankel arrived in 1974. The Democrat, who’s 64, was elected mayor of West Palm Beach after leading the party’s diminishing delegation to the state House. Hanser, 42, helped Marco Rubio run the growing Republican majority. She spent half the campaign running against West; Hasner spent half the cycle running for U.S. Senate. And now they’re in a race where the Israel issue is a wash, hard for a Democrat to lose.



I wrote about the same race:

Conveniently, both candidates claim that “differences between us are very clear”, as Hasner puts it. This is of course true when talking about economic issues, about the Obama administration. It is also true when it comes to Israel, but in somewhat different way: Hasner’s emphasis on the issue is in great contrast to Frankel’s dismissive reluctance to make it one.

For me, though, their markedly different answers to all questions related to the Jewish vote, to Jewish voters, was the most telling. It is reflective of two world views, one giving Judaism a central role in public life, the other considering it a more private matter; one seeking an expression of communal Jewish interests, the other refraining from any such communal otherness.



An Israeli Reform rabbi is running for office. He is running as part of the Labor Party. Is it good for the movement to be associated with Labor, or with any party? There’s no simple answer to this question – and campaign PR aside, Kariv’s chances at getting in are not necessarily high (it will be refreshingly annoying to other parties though if he does get in). And another question: As a Knesset Member, will he be presented as a rabbi? And what happens if it’s his turn to speak, and the presiding chair is a representative of a Haredi party?


Another question our Israel Factor panel is going to answer: “On a scale of 1 (poor candidate) to 10 (great candidate), please rank the following candidates for secretary of state in the next Obama (O) or Romney (R) administration”. I can already tell you this: Susan Rice will not be the Factor’s top candidate.


If the panel were asked about Israel’s next Foreign Minister – we might do it closer to Israeli election – I suspect Avigdor Lieberman isn’t likely to be the Factor’s top candidate either. Meaning, regardless of Factor opinion, both Rice and Lieberman might end up being their respective country's top diplomat.

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