By JACKIE CALMES and HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — Few issues in American politics are as bipartisan as support for Israel. Yet the question of whether President Obama is supportive enough is behind some of the most partisan maneuvering since the Middle East ally was born six decades ago, and that angling has potential ramifications for the 2012 elections.
The visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the past week captured just how aggressively Republicans are stoking doubts about Mr. Obama. Republican Congressional leaders and presidential aspirants lavished praise on Mr. Netanyahu as quickly as they had condemned Mr. Obama for proposing that Israel’s 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps, should be a basis for negotiating peace with the Palestinians.
Republicans do not suggest that they can soon break the Democratic Party’s long hold on the loyalty of Jewish-American voters; Mr. Obama got nearly 8 of 10 such voters in 2008. But what Republicans do see is the potential in 2012 to diminish the millions of dollars, volunteer activism and ultimately the votes that Mr. Obama and his party typically get from American Jews — support that is disproportionate to their numbers.
And that's not counting unpaid media: of the traditional big 4 newspapers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and LA Times, are all Jewish-owned. Jews make up about half of the Atlantic 50 list of most influential pundits.
While Jewish Americans are just 2 percent of the electorate nationally, they are “strategically concentrated,” as Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, put it, in several swing states that are critical in presidential elections. Those states include Florida — which in 2000 illustrated the potentially decisive power of one state — Ohio and Nevada.
A test of Mr. Obama’s support will come June 20, when he will hold a fund-raiser for about 80 Jewish donors at a private dinner.
John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and a possible Republican presidential candidate, argues that because of administration proposals, Republicans will be able to make gains not only among American Jews but also among evangelicals who are supportive of Israel on biblical grounds, and other voters.
Mr. Bolton said that he was on a cruise sponsored by the conservative magazine Weekly Standard last week in the Mediterranean, and that most of the people on the ship “reacted very strongly against” Mr. Obama’s speech outlining his Mideast vision. “As a Republican,” he said, “you can use this to show how radical the president’s policies are on a whole range of issues.”
The depth of Democrats’ worries was evident from the competition to out-applaud Republicans on Tuesday during Mr. Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress
How many standing ovations did Netanyahu get from Congress? 20? 29? That reminds me of a story in Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago:
At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). ... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause, rising to an ovation, continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. ...
However, who would dare to be the first to stop? … After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first! And in the obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on – six, seven, eight minutes! ... They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! ...
The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers!
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!
... That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:
“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding."
It has been widely noted that VP and President of the Senate Joe Biden merely rubbed his knuckles pensively after Netanyahu's statement that Jerusalem must be the united capital of Israel, while everyone else in the room cheered as if Beyonce had just finished singing "Single Ladies."
Yet it is the Republican Party’s close identification with evangelical Christians in recent years that is perhaps its biggest hurdle to winning over significant numbers of Jewish voters and donors. On issues that are crucial to the conservative Republican base — like opposition to abortion, gay rights, liberalized immigration and much government spending — most American Jews are on the other side, and strongly so. ...
Mr. Netanyahu on Monday experienced first-hand the tension arising from that complaint among Democrats, and Republicans’ rejection of it, in a private meeting he held with representatives of the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition to underscore American Jews’ bipartisan consensus on Israel.
A partisan argument ensued after Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, whom Mr. Obama recently named as chairman of the Democratic Party, suggested they agree not to make support for Israel an election issue. Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican group, objected, accusing her of proposing a “gag order.”