Much has been made about the “Jewish vote” in 2010.
Some on the Jewish right tried to claim that Tuesday would be a nation-wide referendum on President Obama’s Middle East policy. Others speculated that the conservative tidal wave would hit the American Jewish community in 2010. Neo-conservative and partisan groups seized on this fabricated dynamic, pouring money into an attempt to turn Israel into a wedge issue and attacking sensibly pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates as “anti-Israel” or worse.
But despite what you may hear, there is absolutely no basis for any portrayal of the 2010 elections as a message to President Obama over Israel. Jewish voters stood firm as a core progressive constituency — on Israel and in general. If neo-cons and partisan groups take away one lesson from this election cycle, it should be that no matter how much money they throw into campaigns in the hopes of making Israel a wedge issue, it won’t work.
The facts speak for themselves. According to the first-ever election night polling of Jewish voters, commissioned by J Street and conducted by Gerstein Agne Strategic Communications, American Jews stood firm as one of the country’s most solidly Democratic constituencies. Sixty-six percent of American Jews voted for the Democratic congressional candidate in their district. In Pennsylvania, where Senate candidate Joe Sestak faced a barrage of right-wing attacks related to Israel, 71 percent of Jewish voters cast their ballot for Sestak. President Obama’s approval rating among Jews — 60 percent — remains significantly higher than his general ratings. American Jews continue to be strongly unfavorable toward the Tea Party (71 percent unfavorable), the Republican Party (67 percent), Sarah Palin (78 percent), and Glenn Beck (67 percent).
In addition, right-wing Israel-related attacks failed to move the Jewish community — and, in some cases, even backfired on candidates. In Illinois’ ninth congressional district, where Republican challenger Joel Pollak ran a campaign centered on Israel, Rep. Jan Schakowsky handily won reelection. In fact, a poll conducted before the election showed that Pollak’s attacks not only failed to resonate among Jewish voters, but even made 35 percent of Jews who heard the attacks more likely to vote for Schakowsky.
While it shouldn’t surprise us, the Jewish community remains a core progressive, liberal constituency — deeply supportive of Obama, including his policies in the Middle East. Support for a two-state solution is overwhelmingly high at 80 percent; 69 percent of American Jews support a partial or full suspension of settlement construction. Seventy-one percent of Jewish voters believe that the US must play an active role in resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict, even if it means publicly disagreeing with both the Israelis and the Arabs.
The Jewish community clearly supports this Administration’s Middle East policies. But it is also clear that American Jews are not single issue voters and — like most other Americans — voted on the bread and butter concerns that affect their day to day lives. In fact, when asked which two issues are most important in deciding how to vote, only 7 percent of Jewish voters chose Israel, placing it eighth behind the economy, health care, education, and a number of other matters.
As the 2012 campaigns pick up steam, right-wing candidates and interest groups will have to decide if they want to rehash the same tired talking points from this year’s campaign. If they take a hard look at the facts, they should recognize that it is in their — and Israel’s — best interest to avoid attempts to turn Israel into a wedge issue once again.
Amy Spitalnick is the press secretary of J Street.