Analysis: Obama, you’re losing the Jews too

By Gil Troy, The Jewish Chronicle, 11-4-10

Democrat Barbara Boxer takes to the podium after beating Republican Carly Fiorina in Hollywood this week. Democrat Barbara Boxer takes to the podium after beating Republican Carly Fiorina in Hollywood this week

As Americans tallied their red, white and blue electoral scores from the 2010 midterm elections, many American Jews completed a parallel blue and white score too.

In charting their wins and losses, sifting through what definitely happened and what might have happened, US Jews will see yet more evidence of their march toward Americanisation. What may also strike them is their increasingly paradoxical position regarding liberalism, the Democratic Party, Barack Obama and Israel.

The range of the Jewish candidates’ political views was extraordinary. Barbara Boxer, who was re-elected in California, and Russ Feingold, who was defeated for re-election in Wisconsin, were among the most liberal senators in the previous, extremely liberal Congress.

Across the aisle, Eric Cantor, who is expected to become the majority leader when the House of Representatives turns Republican, is a fellow Jew but their staunch ideological foe. If Mr Cantor becomes majority leader he will be the highest ranking Jewish legislator in American history. Most impressive of all was the fact that for most Jewish candidates, being Jewish was irrelevant. These Jewish congressional candidates star in the American success story by fitting in rather than standing out.

The election – and Mr Obama’s repudiation – hinged on domestic matters.

The House of Representatives turned Republican because the “Yes We Can” candidate from 2008, who seemingly could do no wrong, found himself at the head of a “No We Can’t” campaign, leading many to think that as president, he can do no right. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel all took a back seat to worries about 9.7 per cent unemployment, anger over Obama-care, consternation about the growing budget deficit, frustration with high taxes and fears about America’s future.

At the same time, the election will certainly affect America’s foreign policy, even if foreign policy did not shape voters’ decisions. Even though Democrats did not capture 78 per cent of the Jewish vote, as Mr Obama did in 2008, American Jewry still voted disproportionately Democratic.

With domestic issues at the forefront, and most Jews voting on domestic concerns, not Israel’s needs, it will be hard to argue that American Jews were punishing Mr Obama for being hard on Israel. And those who were hoping that a chastened Mr Obama may be more inclined to charm Israel (or Great Britain and other allies whom he has slighted) are trusting their hopes rather than this president’s track record. Mr Obama has shown little ability to learn from his mistakes, or even acknowledge them.

Moreover, presidents who find themselves handcuffed by the House are more likely to seek big, quick victories abroad. The amateurish impatience which led Obama to create the settlement freeze demand as a new issue, which Palestinians have turned into a condition for negotiations, may become even more evident as Obama 2.0 seeks to flex his muscles abroad.

And the unhappy fact for American Jews that, despite their community’s abiding loyalty to the Democratic Party, it is becoming the home of those illiberal leftists who hate Israel may become even more evident and stressful in the next two years.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington