Republicans try to make NY-9 — and 2012 — about Israel

A special election convinces conservatives that they can finally win over Jewish voters

Topics: New York City, War Room, 2012 Elections, Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., New York, Republican Party,

Republicans try to make NY-9 -- and 2012 -- about IsraelFILE - In this Sept. 1, 2011 file photo, congressional candidate David Weprin listens while being introducted at a campaign stop in Queens, N.Y. Weprin, a Democrat and a member of the state assembly, made the campaign stop to seek the support of seniors in his quest to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner. An upset win by Weprin's opponent, Republican Bob Turner in the Brooklyn and Queens area district Tuesday Sept 13, 2011,would be the latest indication of the depth of President Barack Obama's problems just over a year before he seeks re-election. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)(Credit: Bebeto Matthews)

Today’s NY-9 special election, it has been decided, is about Israel. The Republicans, who’ve decided that Obama is against Israel, or just too mean to Israel, will push the narrative that Jewish Democrats broke with their party to support a Republican.Whether Bob Turner wins or not today, it is true that he’s attracted support from a lot of Jewish voters who are registered Democrats. TPM’s Benjy Sarlin met and interviewed some of those voters. The Republicans will try to take this model — exploit paranoia about Obama’s support for Israel to win disaffected Democratic voters — national next year. Will it work?

First off, every candidate in this race is objectively, explicitly, strongly “pro-Israel.” Azi Paybarah links to Rebecca Vilkomerson’s column on how both the candidates and retired Rep. Anthony Weiner are the hardest of hard-liners on Middle Eastern issues. Democrat Weprin is an avowed supporter of open-ended occupation. But Ed Koch and a couple others successfully turned the race into Bob Turner versus Obama, in order to send the message that any deviation from full-throated support will not be tolerated. (This is the first time in decades that Ed Koch has had any national political influence of any kind, so good for him.) If Turner wins, expect Rudy Giuliani to go on a gloating tour of the state of Florida.

John Podhoretz is salivating at the idea that Jewish voters and — more importantly? — big donors will finally, at long last, abandon the Democratic party. Republicans have been hoping that the chilly relationship between this White House and the current Israeli leadership (a relationship that is chilly not because Obama loves Arabs, but because the current Israeli government cares more about consolidating right-wing support domestically than building a sustainable democracy) will lead to a political realignment of American Jews.



While Ron Paul’s quasi-isolationism is actually a pretty popular stand among voters, Tea Party politicians are further to the right on Middle East issues than any Republican president in modern history, in part because evangelical Christians love Israel and in part because operatives think those hawkish Democratic votes and dollars are available, if everyone can be convinced that the Democrats are no longer Israel’s best friends. The GOP is lurching ever rightward (and encouraging Benjamin Netanyahu to bide his time until the GOP can retake the White House) because they want to make it a choice between the left-wingers who will tell Israel what to do and the freedom-lovers who will support her No Matter What.

Here’s Podhoretz’s fantasy:

Jews make up 4 percent of Florida’s population but probably closer to 7 percent of the electorate (since they’re almost all of voting age), and 2.3 percent of Pennsylvanians.

If, say, a third of the Jews who voted for Obama in either state in 2008 decided to vote against him in 2012 — or not to vote at all — that could be game, set and match for the president.

That’s the plan. Hammer home the message that Obama is throwing Israel under the bus, use trash-dwelling bigots like Pam Geller to whip up anti-Arab hysteria, and swing a couple old Jews in Florida to the Republicans. 2012 in the bag. Obama losing NY-9 because Ed Koch wanted him to cease lightly pressuring Israel to stop building settlements on Palestinian land is a great start.

But again, NY-9 is weird. It ain’t Florida. Even the Jewish vote there isn’t just a referendum on Israel. The Jewish voters in the district are more likely to be Orthodox and hence already pretty conservative than Jewish voters nationwide. Despite Ed Koch’s wishes, Turner and his allies have campaigned almost as hard on Weprin’s support for gay marriage as they have on the Democratic party’s supposed support for the imaginary “Ground Zero Mosque.” The National Organization for Marriage has a prominent rabbi doing robocalls for Turner on gay marriage, not settlements and borders.

If we’re going by the campaigns themselves, this election has mostly been about local issues. Specifically, the Islamic community center proposed for Lower Manhattan and the New York Democratic Party’s support for gay marriage. Those are nationalized and heavily demagogued local issues, but they’re about New York, and what the voters in this bizarre district care about. Not what Pennsylvania’s Jewish voters care about. As a Democratic reader just argued to Ben Smith at length, the White Ethnic politics of outer-borough New York City are unique to the point of being worthless as any sort of barometer of the national mood.

Unless a lot has changed since July, Jewish Americans still approve of Barack Obama by wide, comfortable margins. Even Haim Saban, exactly the sort of big-money Israel-focused donor Podhoretz is predicting/praying will break with Obama, is sticking with the Democrats.

Republicans will continue to try to be the party of the real Jews who truly love Israel. And if Weprin loses, Democrats may well panic and urge Obama to stop pressuring Netanyahu to negotiate peace (even though Weprin’s own hawkishness was no defense against the anti-Israel charge). But there’s no need for panic. Despite a couple minor PR missteps, American Jews still seem to support Obama and be terrified of the kooks in the other party.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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