National Elections: A Jewish Perspective

Detroit Jewish News

Kari Alterman

November 9, 2012

Whether happy or disappointed by the election results, every American should breathe a sigh of relief that there was a clear-cut winner of both the popular and the electoral vote, eliminating the need for legal challenges and judicial intervention (remember hanging chads?) In the best tradition of American politics and to the envy of countries where the verdict of the ballot box is routinely overridden, the loser congratulated the victor, who in turn graciously complimented his erstwhile opponent.

And while some observers express frustration that Election Day leaves us right back where we started, with a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House of Representatives, the clear necessity to forge a bipartisan approach to the challenges that confront the country may prove just the incentive to break the gridlock in Washington and evoke a new spirit of compromise that will be required to deal with the magnitude of the “fiscal cliff” that looms and other demanding tasks ahead.

Exit polls conducted by CNN and others suggest that close to 70 percent of Jewish voters supported President Obama, just about what AJC’s Survey of American Jewish Opinion, conducted in September, found. This was a few percentage points lower than his share of the Jewish vote four years ago. While some of the falloff may be due to energetic Republican outreach to the Jewish community, it must also be seen in the context of Obama’s poorer showing among white voters as a whole. Jewish leaders and organizations tend to analyze political trends with “Jewish” issues in mind, while in fact, as the AJC survey also showed, the great majority of Jews are also motivated by the same concerns as other Americans, which, in this instance, focused on the economy.

Of course “Jewish” issues were prominent in the campaign, most notably the security of Israel and Iran’s dangerous program to achieve nuclear capability. Anyone watching the final presidential debate, the one devoted to foreign policy, could not but be impressed by how often both candidates proclaimed their support for Israel and commitment to its security, and their determination to make sure, through economic sanctions and if need be by force, that Iran shall never attain the means to achieve what President Ahmadinejad has described as his goal, to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Amid the partisan sniping over whether President Obama was the most supportive president in Israel’s history or “threw Israel under the bus,” whether Governor Romney possessed the required toughness to face down the Iranians or would recklessly involve us in a new Middle East war, it is easy to forget our good fortune in living in a country where support for Israel transcends political labels. That is not the case even in other Western democracies, where prominent voices in public life often take the side of the Palestinians and paint Israel as the oppressor.

Thus Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has had his differences with President Obama, congratulated the president on his reelection, affirming that the U.S.-Israel alliance is “stronger than ever,” and Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, thanked Obama for his “unprecedented commitment and support for the security of Israel.”

Perhaps the kind of consensus that exists in American political life on Israel-related matters can be broadened to encompass two other key issues on the American Jewish agenda, making the U.S. independent of hostile foreign energy sources, and achieving immigration reform that would somehow regularize the uncertain status of the millions of undocumented aliens living in our country. Both major parties are on record as favoring both, although they disagree sharply on how these goals can be accomplished.

One thing is for certain: AJC, with its nonpartisan approach to solving problems, will make common cause with the administration, both parties in Congress, and all people of good will in addressing the nation’s pressing priorities.

Kari Alterman is Detroit director for AJC.
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