Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
On Election Day, President Barack Obama won reelection with 50 percent of the national popular vote. In the Jewish community, support for the President was much greater – about 69 or 70 percent of American Jews, according to two exit polls of Jewish voters released on Nov. 7.
The two polls – one conducted for the Republican Jewish Coalition, the other for the progressive “pro-Israel pro-Peace” organization J Street – may have found similar levels of Jewish support for Obama this year, but the conclusions each sponsoring organization drew from the results could scarcely have been more different.
“There was essentially no net movement in the Jewish-American voting bloc above and beyond the movement that took place among other voters,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
RJC Executive Director Matthew Brooks, meanwhile, said he saw in the election results evidence of the Republican party’s making “unambiguous inroads” in the Jewish community.
“The bottom-line takeaway from these results is that these are very significant,” Brooks said on a separate conference call on Wednesday. “In terms of moving the needle in the Jewish community, it’s consistent with what the Republican Jewish Coalition has been saying.”
What explains the difference between these two conclusions? It’s all about context.
For the RJC, whose pollster found Obama had gotten 69 percent of Jewish votes, putting this year’s election results in the context of Jewish votes for Republicans in past Presidential contests reveals a trend of Republicans steadily gaining market share among American Jews.
Since 1992, when then-incumbent President George H. W. Bush took 11 percent of Jewish votes, the percentage of Jews voting for Republican presidential candidates has risen in all but one cycle – 2008. That year, Obama took 78 percent of the Jewish vote, according to national exit polls, and Brooks boasted that Jewish support for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 was “almost 50 percent” higher than what the 2008 Republican nominee John McCain had.
J Street’s national poll found Obama had the support of 70 percent of Jewish voters, and pollster Jim Gerstein compared that number to a closer analysis of the 2008 result that showed Obama was elected the first time with slightly less Jewish support than initially believed -- 74 percent, rather than 78 percent. A four-point drop among Jews this year – from 74 percent to 70 percent – was consistent with the drop in support for the President seen among many other groups of voters, Gerstein said.
Both polls also attempted to determine the degree to which a candidate’s position on Israel swayed Jewish votes, and by asking different questions, came up with very divergent conclusions about which direction their groups needed to move.
J Street’s pollster offered Jewish voters a choice of issues that concern them, and found that Jews across the country cast their ballots based primarily on concerns about the economy and health care, and that Israel only cracked the top-two in 10 percent of cases. Other poll results led the group to conclude that the President has a mandate to pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The RJC’s pollster, Arthur Finkelstein, asked all respondents “how important issues concerning Israel” were in making their decision, and found that 77 percent of Jews considered Israel to be either important or very important. Brooks said that finding showed that, “The Israel issue is important and it does cut in the Jewish community.”
By one measure – the number of candidates who won and lost – the election last night was discouraging for the RJC. Candidates across the country backed by the RJC – Florida Congressional candidate Adam Hasner, Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel and Hawaii Senate candidate Linda Lingle – were all unsuccessful in their campaigns, as were Congressional candidates Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in New Jersey and Randy Altschuler in New York.
J Street’s Ben-Ami, meanwhile, said that of the 71 candidates backed by his group’s affiliated PAC that supports candidates who are in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 70 had either won election or were leading in races where the final results weren’t yet known. Ben-Ami called that record “an incredibly important demonstration of political support for candidates who espouse a ‘pro-Israel, pro-Peace’ set of positions.”
In terms of the Presidential race, the RJC argued that the $8 million it spent on ad campaigns and other forms of messaging targeting Jewish voters had an impact, and that the rest of the party needed to adopt some of its methods.
“What’s important now is that other Republicans learn from what the RJC did and grow their vote with other key groups,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary who worked closely with the RJC in its efforts to move Jewish voters into the GOP’s column leading up to yesterday’s election. “You have to go into their communities, ask for their votes, take people seriously and respect them.”
And the voters who need to be taken most seriously aren’t American Jews, who make up just two percent of the population. Latinos, whose support for Obama this year helped propel him to a second term, are the votes Republicans need to win.
To do that, Gerstein, the J Street pollster, said that Republicans will need to rethink some of the policy positions adopted by Romney this year – particularly his promoting a policy of “self-deportation” for Latinos. That – combined with a perception that the GOP is hostile to Latinos – drove that group into Obama’s camp.
As for whether any shift among Jews to the Republican party could sway future elections, Gerstein was skeptical.
“We’re talking about a population that’s two percent of the country,” he said.
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October 23, 2012 | 12:41 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
By the third or fourth time Mitt Romney called the Iranian nuclear threat “the greatest national security threat we face,” a good number of the few dozen youngish Jews who had gathered at Federation headquarters to watch Monday evening’s Presidential debate appeared to have stopped listening.
Some were perusing their Twitter feeds, others were nursing plastic cups of kosher wine, and a handful were busy finishing off the sliders on pretzel bread on the buffet near the back of the room.
Even in the Federation boardroom, where there was no shortage of interest from voters in the candidates’ pro-Israel bona fides, people seemed well entrenched in their positions, and little they heard from the men projected on the two big screens at the front was going to change their minds.
“Certainly, the Israeli question is going to very important to me,” John Mirisch, vice mayor of the nearby city of Beverly Hills, told me near the beginning of the debate.
Mirisch, a registered Republican who’s a self-described social liberal (he’ll be voting for Prop. 34 on Nov. 6, which would abolish the death penalty in California), said he wasn’t too happy about casting his vote for either Romney or President Barack Obama.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been a fan of a candidate for President,” he said. “I was a fan of Al Gore.”
Well aware that the issues of greatest importance to most American voters are domestic, Romney and Obama frequently pivoted away from the prompts being lobbed at them by CBS News’s Bob Schieffer to address subjects including education, fiscal policy and who would best prepare America for another generation of prosperity and economic growth.
The biggest cheer from the crowd came from the more vocal of the Democrats, who exulted when Obama responded to Romney’s criticism that the U.S. Navy’s fleet was smaller than it had been in nearly a century with a barb about how the army also had “fewer horses and bayonets."
But as expected, the debate did feature a number of exchanges between the candidates about Israel. On more than one occasion during Monday evening’s debate, Romney made reference to the President’s perceived distance from Israel, a criticism that clearly had resonance among some at the Federation’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters.
The President’s supporters in the audience were audibly impressed by the response Obama had ready for Romney’s criticism of his not having visited Israel during his first term. Obama described his 2008 visit to Israel as a candidate and drew a sharp distinction between his itinerary -- which included trips to Yad Vashem and Sederot -- and Romney’s, which featured two fundraisers attended by wealthy Republican Jewish donors.
“His response about visiting Israel as a candidate was very effective,” said Leeor Alpern, President of the Los Angeles chapter of Democrats for Israel, who called the criticism of Obama for not visiting Israel “a straw man." The last two Presidents to visit in their first terms were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the latter for the funeral of the assassinated Israeli Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin, Alpern said.
Obama’s opponents, like Ron Rothstain, were undeterred. He pointed to President’s lack of a visit to Israel as just one piece of evidence of the friction he saw between Obama and the Jewish state.
“A couple of weeks ago, Bibi wanted a one-on-one meeting with him after the whole U.N. address, and he wanted to be on ‘The View’ instead, having no time to set aside for him,” Rothstain said a few minutes after the debate ended . “So clearly there are issues there.”
October 19, 2012 | 10:08 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the inherent peril of the third and final debate’s focus on foreign policy is obvious.
“All he has is speeches,” my colleague Shmuel Rosner writes in this week’s Jewish Journal cover story, a formulation that sounds ironically similar to the very attack Republicans like to level against President Barack Obama. Aaron David Miller, in a recent article in Foreign Policy, notes that the argument Romney has to make – that he’ll be markedly better than the man he’s seeking to replace – is a “counterfactual” one. He won’t point to his stint as Governor to illustrate his experience abroad (because you can’t see Russia from Massachusetts), and pointing to policies by way of illustration is tough, too, because his policies on significant international issues often don’t differ much from the President’s.
So, what we can expect from Romney on Monday night is a bit more of what we’ve seen already. He’ll probably have polished the attack he used (clumsily, yes) in the town hall debate, when he assailed Obama for his administration’s response to the murder of four Americans in Libya. Romney will likely also take on Obama for having “apologized for America,” a cliché that even the Wall Street Journal editorial board is tired of.
Though it’s less apparent, there’s peril lurking in the foreign policy debate for Obama, too – but it’s a strategic peril. Could Obama clean up on Monday night simply by claiming credit for ending the war in Iraq, drawing down the American military’s presence in Afghanistan and killing Osama Bin Laden? Maybe, but even if he gets a “win,” the impact will be blunted, in part because the debate over foreign policy matters less to voters (polls show they’re making their decisions based on economic issues) and in part because unlike the first and second debates (which 67 and 65.6 million people watched, respectively), at least a few (million) Americans are going to be tuning out the candidates and watching the Lions and Bears instead.
If the challenges are different – Romney has to make a strong showing on a subject where he’s at a disadvantage; Obama needs to retroactively win a more significant debate that he already lost a few weeks ago – the answer for both candidates is the same.
Go domestic. No matter the question, the candidates would do well to treat every one of those 90 minutes as an opportunity to get back to the issues most likely to be driving votes in November by connecting foreign policy to the economy and healthcare.
For Romney, the central argument should be that the biggest obstacle to continued American leadership in the world is the sluggish recovery of the American economy. Accusing Obama of mismanaging the world’s most powerful economy – thereby weakening the world’s only true superpower – might be the challenger’s best line of attack. It gets to what people care about and harks back to Romney’s strong suit, his business experience.
On Monday, Obama needs to do the exact same thing, and answer questions about foreign policy in ways that remind voters about the unease they have about Romney and his domestic policies.
Imagine how each candidate could address a question about the Middle East, for example.
Romney could quickly deliver his piece about how the President has distanced the United States from its allies and then say something to the effect of, “Our allies around the world are strongest when we are strongest at home. Any President has to be able to do more than one thing at a time, sure, but this President went on a world tour when he should’ve been busy in Washington creating jobs, which is what I intend to do from my very first day in office. When world leaders need me, they’ll know where to find me – working to put American people back to work, every single day.”
Obama’s argument would have to be that Romney has made so many conflicting statements over the last seven years he’s been running for President (Will he “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state,” as he said at the Virginia Military Institute earlier this month? Or will he just “kick the can,” as he was recorded as saying in the “47 percent” video this summer?) that neither allies abroad nor voters at home know enough about him to trust him.
“Where does my opponent stand on the challenging issues facing this country and the world? We don’t know,” Obama could say. “Our allies can’t tell what kind of foreign policy he’ll pursue any more than Americans can tell you which tax loopholes he’ll close, because Mr. Romney has offered no details.”
Take the foreign and make it domestic – that’s the task facing Obama and Romney next week. Because when Election Day rolls around, voters are almost certainly going to be thinking about how this election will affect them at home more than how it might affect their country’s standing abroad.
October 9, 2012 | 10:34 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
As anyone who listened to Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech, the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran to the United States and to its ally Israel sits at the center of the contest to determine who will lead the United States for the next four years.
No surprise then that on Sunday, Oct. 14, when the Iranian-American Jewish group 30 Years After holds its third Biennial Civic Action Conference, the participants in nearly every political race going on right now will be represented.
All four declared candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles will be there, as will the man who currently holds the job, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Surrogates for each of the Presidential candidates are taking part, as are both halves of the “Berman v. Sherman” race (although those two won’t share the same stage).
A host of rabbis and a few U.S. and Israeli diplomats are also scheduled to appear at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel at some point during the daylong conference, which is expected to draw more than 1,000 people.
“Our community stands at the nexus of a dangerous conflict between the United States, Israel, and Iran,” Sam Yebri, president of the five-year-old organization, said in a statement.
The conference, Yebri said, is intended to empower young members of the Iranian-American Jewish community with the political know-how to advocate against a nuclear-armed Iran and to inspire them to become more active in improving their city, state, and country.
For more information about 30 Years After’s and this Sunday’s conference, visit www.30yearsafter.org/conference.php.
September 29, 2012 | 10:34 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Should the Shalhevet student newspaper win the National Scholastic Press Association’s Pacemaker award, the student-journalists attending the Fall National High School Journalism Convention in San Antonio will be able to accept the award in person, even though the ceremony is set to take place on Nov. 17, which is Shabbat.
Permission to attend the ceremony came from the rabbinical authorities at the Modern Orthodox private high school, whose newspaper, The Boiling Point, is one of nine finalists competing for nation’s most coveted award for a student newspaper.
“They're sending a Judaic Studies faculty member to help chaperone, and we'll be dressed for Shabbat,” Joelle Keene, The Boiling Point’s faculty adviser, wrote in an email to The Journal on Sept. 28.
The Boiling Point is competing in the category for broadsheets of 17 pages or more. Keene said the plans for the student-journalists that day include Shabbat morning prayers and a festive Sabbath lunch in advance of the award ceremony.
“It should be a day to remember,” Keene wrote.
September 27, 2012 | 5:24 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
President Barack Obama is expected to win a strong majority of Jewish votes in November, according to a national survey released by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on Sept. 27.
Out of 1,040American Jews polled earlier this month, 65 percent of them said they were likely to cast ballots for Obama, while only 24 percent said they were likely to vote for his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts’ Governor Mitt Romney.
Of the 10 percent of voters polled who said they were still undecided, the group split along a similar line, with 63 percent leaning toward Obama and 27 percent leaning toward Romney.
Incorporating those undecided voters leaning each way into the overall result for Obama and Romney suggests that the President could win reelection with 71 percent of the Jewish vote.
That’s less than the 78 percent of Jewish votes the President took in 2008, but would still seem to be quite a far cry from the mass exodus of Jewish voters that was predicted by some pundits and partisan groups.
In releasing the results, AJC noted, “a striking divide by denomination.” Orthodox Jews support Romney by a margin of 54 to 40 percent; all other Jews prefer Obama by margins of at least forty percentage points.
When it comes to the issues motivating Jewish voters to vote for either Obama or Romney, the issue driving most Jewish voters is the economy; 90 percent of those surveyed ranked the economy as one of the top three issues they care about when considering whom to vote for.
By contrast, Jewish voters are far less likely to consider the U.S.-Israel relationship in deciding whom to vote for in November. Only 14.8 percent of Jewish voters ranked it as one of their top three issues that would guide them in casting their ballots.
Just because an issue doesn’t rank in the top three that drive most American Jews to vote one way or another, though, doesn’t mean that Jews aren’t concerned about the issue at all.
Only 6.4 percent of Jews ranked “Iran’s Nuclear Program” among their top three vote-driving concerns, but when asked how concerned they were about Iran’s obtaining a nuclear weapon, a majority – 55 percent – said they were very concerned, and an additional 32 percent responded that they were somewhat concerned.
Read the entire survey results here.
September 20, 2012 | 3:37 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A new survey conducted by American Jewish Committee (AJC) earlier this month shows that 69 percent of Jewish voters in Florida are backing President Barack Obama; 25 percent of respondents said they would support Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.
The results, which are drawn from AJC’s not-yet-released national poll, confirm a great deal of conventional wisdom. They show that Jewish Democrats vastly outnumber Jewish Republicans, that Florida Jews are going to be casting their votes primarily based on the candidates’ positions on domestic issues like the economy and health care, and that they overwhelmingly trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to social issues including abortion rights and the separation of church and state.
The survey also found that 49 percent of respondents strongly disapproved of Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R – Wisc.) as his running mate, compared to 11 percent who strongly disapproved of Vice President Joe Biden.
But how much to infer from the survey’s most closely watched finding – that Obama would win Florida’s Jews 69 - 25 percent if the election had been held in early September – is hard to tell.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) put out a press release on Thursday stating that the poll “Hints at Trouble for Obama in Jewish Community.”
On the blog of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), meanwhile, the poll was interpreted as showing that the President was “Clearly Ahead Among Florida Jews.”
In dispute here isn’t whether Obama will win among Florida Jews, but how close he’ll be able to come to his 2008 result, when he took 78 percent of Jewish votes nationwide.
“We have seen ample evidence in many recent polls that Pres. Obama will have difficulty reaching the same level of Jewish support that he received in 2008,” Matt Brooks, executive director of RJC, said in the press release, which described the AJC poll as showing the President “would receive just 69 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida.”
The NJDC blog post, which went live before the RJC’s press release was distributed, anticipated and attempted to rebut the RJC’s line of argument.
Five percent of the Florida Jewish voters in the AJC survey were undecided on whom to support in the Presidential contest, leading the NJDC blogger to conclude that since “there are (generally) no undecided voters on Eelction Day,” a better number to use would be the poll’s result without the undecided voters. Such a sample yields an Obama win by a margin of 73-26 percent among Florida Jews.
Drawn from a sample of 254 Jewish voters in this hotly contested swing state, the AJC survey was circulated without one crucial piece of information: its margin of error. Without that piece of data, it’s hard to say how much meaning to attribute to the apparent nine-point (or six-point, if the NJDC’s argument is convincing) drop from Obama’s 2008 result.
Thanks to $6.5 million from wealthy Jewish Republicans, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the RJC is making a strong push for Jewish votes in Florida, one of a few key swing states that could decide the election.
But even if the RJC’s effort can help peel off some number of Jewish voters who supported Obama in 2008, a number of recent polls show Obama leading Romney nationally by margins ranging between 1 and 8 points.
September 20, 2012 | 12:36 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
For weeks, the warnings on Freeway signs have been advising motorists about the second weekend-long closure of the 405 Freeway on Sept. 29-30. But for observant Jews living in Los Angeles, there’s a separate hassle looming a few days earlier, and the warnings have been announced in dire tones and bold, red capital letters on the Los Angeles Community Eruv Web site.
“[T]here will be NO ERUV ON YOM KIPPUR THIS YEAR,” the text on the site reads. “The construction cannot be halted for us.”
Because Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Sept. 25, falls on a weekday when construction crews will be working on the expansion of the 405 Freeway, the Los Angeles eruv, a massive symbolic enclosure that allows observant Jews throughout most of the city to carry objects in public spaces almost every single Shabbat, will not be in operation.
The Day of Atonement may be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, but as far as the prohibition on certain work-like activities goes, Yom Kippur is very much like an ordinary Sabbath, which means that carrying objects from a privately owned space to a public one is prohibited without an eruv.
And while fasting Jews won’t need to carry, say, bottles of wine or pans of kugel down the block for lunch next week, there are bound to be inconveniences, particularly for families with young children. Strollers, which may only be used with an eruv, will be prohibited this Yom Kippur, which could strand some parents at home this holiday.
If “Yom Kippurgeddon” was unavoidable, what’s notable about the eruv’s downing is how rarely it happens.
“We’ve been up for 10 years; we’ve ben down for two Shabboses [Sabbaths],” Howard Witkin, the L.A. eruv’s administrator, said. “We’ve got a pretty good track record.”
That record is even more impressive, considering just how much work has been going on each week to keep the eruv’s Western “wall” intact while construction has been going on. The L.A. eruv has a 40-mile circumference, most of which is made up of solid freeway walls in fences; along that entire circuit, there is no break wider than eight inches.
The section under construction, the 10-mile stretch of the 405 between the 10 and 101 Freeways, presents a difficulty, but with the cooperation of the contractor, Witkin said, most weekends haven’t presented a problem.
“There’s a trench right now that they’re putting in, on Sepulveda,” Witkin said. That trench, which is being built to facilitate drainage, leaves a 12- or 13-foot break in the wall, enough of a gap to render the entire eruv unkosher.
To keep the eruv in operation, Witkin explained, the eruv administrators have worked with the contractor, Kiewit, to ensure that such gaps are filled with “movable walls” made of “poles and some really flexible chicken wire” that are put in place by workers to eliminate those gaps.
“They play with scheduling of work,” Witkin said. “They just don’t use those areas on Saturdays. To ask them to do that in the middle of the week, on a working Wednesday, is just impossible.”
Dealing with the construction, however, has brought with it an increase in cost. The budget for the eruv in previous years, Witkin said, was about $80,000; this year, the costs have gone up to around $100,000. That expense is paid by members of orthodox synagogues across the city, whose members currently pay $56 per family year to support the eruv.
Witkin said he hoped the costs would go back down next year, once the 405 construction is completed.
Witkin was comfortable discussing the precise procedure of putting up temporary fencing – it takes about seven minutes, involves steel zip-ties and is done on an as-needed basis by (mostly non-Jewish) construction workers – but he didn’t want to weigh in on the intricacies of what is and is not permitted on Yom Kippur without an eruv.
“Talk to your local rav [rabbi] and have him tell you how you’re supposed to handle it,” he said.