Romney or Obama, which President is good news for Israel?

Jonathan Cummings says that Romney is not the blessing many may think, while Robin Shepherd argues a vacillating Obama is due a bloody nose.


By Jonathan Cummings and Robin Shepherd, October 14, 2012
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Jonathan Cummings

Would President Mitt Romney be good news for Israel?

His supporters certainly think so. They envisage the return of an unapologetic approach to the Middle East, a refreshing change from President Barack Obama’s misjudged embrace of the Arab Spring. They also cast him as a friend of Israel, a no-brainer when support for Israel hovers somewhere between half and two-thirds of all Americans.

Early on in the campaign, Mr Romney struck a chord when he accused the president of “throwing Israel under the bus”. Mr Romney shares Israeli (and Palestinian) pessimism about the chances of restarting the peace process. He is demonstrably comfortable with Bibi Netanyahu, and Sheldon Adelson is comfortable with both of them, to the tune of $150m. Israelis like Mr Romney, or at least prefer him by a large margin over Mr Obama. However, it may be more style than substance that distinguishes Mr Romney from Mr Obama when it comes to specific Middle East policies. Both are resolved to prevent a nuclear Iran but neither will endorse unilateral Israeli action. Both seek regime change in Syria, but neither will deploy US troops to achieve it. Both are concerned that the current Israel-Palestinian calm is fragile, but neither will exert sufficient pressure on the sides for negotiations to resume.

As for the Jews, Mr Romney is playing catch-up. Mr Obama got a very respectable 78 per cent support from Jewish voters four years ago. It is safe to say there is a solid tradition of Jews voting Democrat. No Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1980 has broken 35 per cent.

Mr Romney might get close to that, but the two-in-three Jews who will not vote for him next month are not making their decision based on his affection for Israel or his policy on Iran. Economic issues, and particularly his running mate Paul Ryan’s plans to cut budgets for healthcare and social safety-net programmes, bear more weight.

Jonathan Cummings is a commentator on Israeli politics, based in New York.

Robin Shepherd

Unless the polls are wrong, American Jews will once again overwhelmingly back the Democrat candidate in the November 6 election. It is likely that President Obama will score less well than last time, when he garnered 78 per cent of the Jewish vote, but even the most starry-eyed of Romney supporters would be reluctant to predict anything better than a 60-40 defeat among this particular demographic.

To many in Britain, this may seem perplexing. US Jews are less likely than the average American to find themselves on welfare. Salaries, and wealth levels, are above the national average. But the presumption that such factors would lead a group to the right of the political spectrum and that therefore American Jews should be backing Republicans merely shows the dangers of mapping British political stereotypes onto American realities.

Though Mr Obama may be something of an exception, the Democratic party has not historically been left-wing in any sense that Britons or continental Europeans would understand that term.

Joel Leyden, director of Jews4MittRomney.com, told the Israel News Agency that “American Jews have always picked the liberal side due to their own history of suffering… American Jews have always perceived the Democratic Party as being more sensitive and understanding of human issues.”

Mr Leyden went on to argue that, this time, things might be different, in part due to the Iranian threat.

He may have a point. While Mr Obama has been hot and cold towards Israel, Mitt Romney seems as staunch as they come. Unlike Mr Obama, he appears to understand that the ultimate cause of the conflict with the Palestinians is Palestinian rejectionism and that the settlement issue is little more than a red herring.

To the extent that Israel is a defining issue in deciding which way they will vote next month, and given that the question of whether Iran does or does not acquire nuclear weapons will be answered during the next presidential term, it would not be a surprise if Jews served up the ever-vacillating Mr Obama with something of a bloody nose.

It’s unlikely to be a knock-out blow, but it will remind the Democrats that they can no longer take the Jewish vote for granted.

Robin Shepherd is the owner/publisher of the commentator.com.

Last updated: 11:45am, October 14 2012