Conservative and Republican groups hailed the results as a referendum on President Obama’s tough love treatment of Israel during the past two years and the restart of the shaky peace process with the Palestinian Authority. Liberal and Democratic groups noted that Jewish support for Democrats — particularly in Pennsylvania — remains strong, and warned that the Tea Party surge could endanger the church-state separation enshrined in law that protects Jews.
“[Tuesday’s] Congressional election result indicates a sweeping rejection of President Obama’s domestic, economic and foreign policy,” the Zionist Organization of America said in a prepared statement. “Many polls indicate Americans’ dissatisfaction with President Obama’s handling of the Arab/Israeli situation. This election further validates that part of the message sent to President Obama to cease pressuring Israel to make further, unreciprocated, one-sided concessions to the Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayyad, which promotes violence and hatred towards Jews.”
The statement quoted ZOA National President Morton A. Klein saying, “By common consent, the strong swing against the Democratic Party in these congressional elections reflect the unease and disapproval of the American public for the policies and performance of the Obama administration in both domestic and foreign policy.
“In foreign affairs, the American public has certainly been upset and unnerved by such things as President Obama bowing before foreign despots, like the King of Saudi Arabia; his return of the gift of a famous bust of Winston Churchill to Britain, a long-standing ally, after refusing to display it anywhere in the White House; offering open-ended negotiations and lots of carrots but no sticks to Iran over its nuclear weapons program, only to be ridiculed; the wasting of two years before allowing largely ineffective anti-Iran sanctions to pass, during which time Iran has moved even closer to acquiring nuclear weapons; letting down of our Czech and Polish allies by discontinuing plans to install missile defense systems on their territory; the bullying pressures exerted on small, democratic Honduras to reinstate a lawless president favored by Latin American despots like Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega; the humiliation of his repeatedly apologizing abroad for U.S. actions; his erasure of the terms ‘radical Islam’ and ‘Islamism’ from government use; the renaming of ‘terrorism’ as ‘man-made disasters’; his support for civilian, rather than military tribunals to deal with foreign terrorists; and, last but not least, his policy towards Israel.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition was far less verbose in its critique. It merely claimed that the election results as a repudiation of J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace organization.
According to the RJC, 12 of 13 senatorial candidates supported by its political action committee were victorious, while all three candidates supported by the J Street PAC lost.
In the House, RJC said 25 of its 36 PAC-supported candidates won their races while six of J Street PAC’s top 17 candidates prevailed in theirs.
J Street disputes the figures.
"Putting the RJC's cherry picking aside (17 is a bizarre number to choose for us when they chose 36 for themselves), their math is off," J Street spokeswoman Amy Spitalnik said. "Of JStreetPAC's top 17 House recipients, 8 won or are likely to win. ... If you expand that list to our top 36 House endorsees and compare apples to apples, 24 of our candidates won or will win."
Yet despite the big wins for Conservative Republicans Tuesday, liberal Jewish groups say most of the support for those winners came mostly from non-Jewish voting blocks — not from Jewish voters who still back Democratic candidates.
“Despite millions of dollars worth of partisan and neo-conservative attempts to turn Israel into a wedge issue this election cycle … failed to change the way American Jews voted,” a J Street statement said.
Quoting a first-ever election night poll of American Jewish voters, the J Street statement said, “Nationally, only 7 percent of American Jews identified Israel as decisive in how they vote, ranking it eighth behind the economy (62 percent), healthcare (31 percent) and the deficit (18 percent), among other issues. In Pennsylvania, only 8 percent of Jews consider Israel one of their top two priorities in deciding how to vote. Comparatively, 14 percent of Jews in Illinois’ Ninth Congressional District, which includes a larger Orthodox population than average, consider Israel one of their top two priorities.
In Pennsylvania, the statement added, 71 percent of the Jewish voters chose the Democratic senatorial candidate, Joe Sestak over the winner, Republican Pat Toomey, according to the poll.
Gerstein/Agne Strategic Communications conducted two polls — one that surveyed 1,000 Jewish voters across the country, and the Pennsylvania poll, which questioned 600 Jewish voters from across the state on the evening of Nov. 2, J Street spokeswoman Amy Spitalnik said.
J Street commissioned both polls.
The polls also concluded 83 percent of American Jews support an active U.S. role in resolving the Arab-Israel conflict and would back U.S. leadership “if it meant ‘publicly stating its disagreements with’ (71 percent support) or ‘exerting pressure’ on (65 percent support) the Israelis and Arabs to resolve the conflict.”
In their own statement, National Jewish Democratic Council Chairman Marc R. Stanley and President and CEO David A. Harris put a brave face on Tuesday’s election results.
“We’re heartened to welcome new Democrats to Congress, among them new Jewish Democrats - including Senator-elect Blumenthal in Connecticut and Representative-elect Cicilline in Rhode Island. But clearly we’re deeply saddened that so many staunchly pro-Israel Democrats lost seats in this election, and that Democrats will cede control of the House of Representatives come January,” the chairman said in their prepared statement. “The House Democratic leadership has been powerfully supportive of Israel, and Speaker Pelosi has been nothing short of passionate in her successful pursuit of a number of key agenda items for the pro-Israel community — including biting sanctions against Iran. For this and so much more, the entire Jewish community owes the Democratic leadership our thanks. Pelosi was and is a tireless advocate of causes supported by the mainstream Jewish community.”
Noting that the Senate remains in Democratic hands, Stanley and Harris added, “We would be remiss not to express our serious concern and fear about the strong showing of Tea Party candidates in this election, and their central presence in the GOP congressional delegation. If this does in fact indicate the shift to the right that it appears to within the Republican Party and within Congress, this poses a very significant threat to the separation of church and state, reproductive rights, healthcare reform, social security and more. Indeed this portends dangerous times for the domestic issue agenda of the vast majority of the American Jewish community.
They also said, “We have serious concerns about the future of foreign aid and House GOP Whip Eric Cantor’s suggestion that aid to Israel be removed from the larger package. Like the vast majority of the rest of the organized pro-Israel community, we believe this proposal to be truly detrimental and one we sincerely hope does not proceed forward under Republican leadership.
The chairman also criticized the use of the U.S.-Israel relationship “as a partisan political football” during the election.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)