American Jews Anti-Semitism Barack Obama Dual loyalty Israel Jewish identity

Sorry to disappoint you, conspiracy theorists: few Jewish voters are obsessed with Israel

A commentator with a brilliant nickname, “Agog,” was disturbed by the previous thread’s discussion of candidates’ positions on Israel. Agog asked: “Is that how you judge the merits of the respective candidates: who is best for Israel? Shouldn’t the criterion be who is best for the US? The two countries’ interests are not one and the same.”

The premise that Israel is the most important priority for American Jewish voters has been endlessly recycled in this campaign season. It was stongly implied in pre-Super Tuesday primary coverage that focused obessively on the positions of Obama/Clinton/McCain on Israel. It was assumed by the ignorant creeps who came up with the smear campaign against Rob Malley; they seemed to believe that if a whiff of even-handedness could be detected in Obama’s advisor, it would automatically swing Jewish votes away from the candidate.

All of this chatter feeds the suspicions of people like Agog, who choose to believe that when American Jews discuss politicians’ views on Israel, it is evidence that we don’t care enough about our own country.

But while Israel’s fate is certainly a concern for most American Jews, an American Jewish Committee poll in November, 2007 revealed that it an obsession for a tiny minority of Jewish voters:

When asked to pick their most important campaign issue from a list of options, 23% of those surveyed named the economy and jobs, followed by health care (19%), the war in Iraq (16%), terrorism and national security (14%), support for Israel (6%), immigration (6%) and the energy crisis (6%).

It is impossible to discern how many of the respondents who ranked the economy or health care as their highest priorities also looked closely at candidates’ stances on Israel. I suspect the percentage is high. Hillary might have had increased appeal to Jewish voters in, for example, New York, because of the perception that she was “good on Israel.” But that doesn’t mean Israel’s plight or future was anything close to the most important reason why they voted for her.

For me, the most important priorities when I entered the voting booth were fixing our unconscionable health care system, preventing the economy from collapsing, getting us out of Iraq and making college education more affordable for my daughter, who is in high school. But of course I also factored in the candidates’ stances on Israel and the Middle East, as well as their ability to restore America’s shattered international credibility, when making my choice.

The truth about Jewish voters’ priorities won’t matter to the conspiracy theorists who search for ways to prove that we are a bunch of disloyal fifth columnists intent upon subverting the Republic. Logic and facts don’t do anything to dissuade them and it is no use trying. But their close cousins, who believe there is something incompatible about American citizenship and concern for Israel’s survival and safety, are often more lucid. They include the likes of Philip Weiss, who insists American Jews’ commitment to Israel means they are less loyal to America than they should be, and that we need a public conversation about this “problem.”

They should look at the AJC poll results and try to understand something that should not be hard to understand: Israel is one of the things Americans Jews care about and worry about, but when it is time to exercise our civic responsibilities, what happens here at home is what matters most to us.

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