In the last presidential election in 2008, 78 percent of Jews voted for Barack Obama. The only group giving Obama greater support, probably closer to 90 percent, was the African-American community, and understandably so. One need not be surprised at racial pride being a factor. Even after President Obama revealed his hostility to the state of Israel by his insulting behavior at the White House directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, American Jews, while distressed, continued to overwhelmingly support President Obama, and presently support him by a large majority.
The President’s recent demand that Israel negotiate a settlement with the Palestinian authority — tying Israel’s hands by demanding that the negotiations on borders begin with the 1967 armistice lines as the border, subject to agreed upon swaps — drew criticism from the American Jewish community. The President made no demands upon the Palestinian Authority. He did not demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, if negotiations end successfully. Nor did he demand that Hamas, now part of the Palestinian Authority, forswear violence and agree to accept the Jewish state of Israel if negotiations conclude successfully. Nor did he demand that the Palestinian Authority state it will engage in land “swaps.”
The President of the U.S., leader of a country that has been the only real friend Israel has ever had among the nations of the world, has ended in effect the special relationship which began with President Harry Truman, who first recognized the state of Israel over the objections of a long-time Arabist U.S. State Department. Lyndon Johnson protected Israel when the Soviet Union threatened to support Arab nations in a new war against Israel, by sending a U.S. aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean Sea. Richard Nixon resupplied the Israeli armed forces when in the 1973 so-called Yom Kippur War, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel.
President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, probably Israel’s greatest friend among U.S. presidents, made clear that he would not permit the Arab countries to gang up upon and dismember Israel, stating that any settlement on Palestinian borders would have to take into consideration “the facts on the ground,” a reference to the 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem and the 300,000 living in cities and villages on the West Bank.
I have not recovered from my shock when I learned from a Gallup poll conducted in February 2010 that 48 percent of Democrats supported Israel and 70 percent of Republicans did. Those figures are permanently seared in my mind.
The 9th Congressional District can play a role in the coming special election similar to that played by the state of Massachusetts in 2010 when Scott Brown was elected Senator. Brown’s election shocked Washington, D.C. and the President by reducing the Democratic majority to 59, one vote short of the number needed to stop a filibuster by the Republican Party. If the 9th Congressional District elects a Republican to the House of Representatives, it will be another political shot heard around the nation.
If Jewish New Yorkers and others who support Israel were to turn away from the Democratic Party in that congressional election and elect the Republican candidate to Congress in 2011, it might very well cause President Obama to change his hostile position on the State of Israel and to reestablish the special relationship presidents before him had supported. His own reelection will be decided next year in 2012. The outcome of the 2011 congressional special election in the 9th Congressional District will certainly get his attention.
There are equally important domestic issues that should also cause the voters in the 9th Congressional District to send the Democratic Party a message. President Obama, to the consternation of many Democrats, myself included, in negotiating with Speaker John Boehner in seeking to arrive at a debt reduction plan, has, according to The New York Times of July 10, “been the major advocate for seeking a far-reaching deal that would have combined a debt limit increase with substantial spending cuts; significant changes in social programs like Medicare, Medicaid and perhaps Social Security; and as much as $1 trillion in new revenue.”
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now Democratic minority leader in the House, has said in rejoinder, “When we take a look at Social Security, then look at it on its own table, but do not consider Social Security a piggy bank for giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country. We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of America’s seniors, women and people with disabilities.” She is right on this one.
If the Republican candidate runs on these four issues: Israel, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in the 9th Congressional District, which will probably no longer exist after redistricting takes place in 2012, I believe that candidate would win. Are the voters of the 9th Congressional District up to this opportunity? We will soon see. They can consign themselves to oblivion or be remembered in the history books.
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.