Republican Presidential Candidates Seek Jewish Vote

Wednesday, 07 Dec 2011 11:59 AM

By Dan Weil

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Many Jewish voters are upset with President Barack Obama for his lukewarm support of the Israeli government. That’s creating an opportunity for the Republican Party to convert a normally solid Democratic constituency over to its side. And GOP presidential candidates aren’t missing out in that effort, The Hill reports.

The American Jewish Committee’s most recent annual survey, conducted in September, showed that 48 percent of Jews disapproved of Obama’s job performance, while only 45 percent approved. And 53 percent said Obama isn’t handling relations with Israel properly. Just two years ago, 54 percent of Jews approved of how Obama was handling relations with Israel.

Jewish voters could play a major role in the election’s outcome, as they make up a sizable portion of the population in the swing states of Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

All the major GOP presidential candidates, except for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, are appearing in Washington, D.C., today at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. The Libertarian Paul, who has called for an elimination of foreign aid, wasn’t invited.

The coalition is excited about the possibility of drawing Jewish voters away from Obama. Matthew Brooks, the coalition’s executive director, told The Hill that the shift has begun.

That fact was underscored with Republican Bob Turner’s victory in the special 9th District House race in New York. The support of Jewish voters played a major role in Turner’s victory in a district that was represented by a Democrat since the 1920s.

“You’ll see some very strong, clear, unequivocal contrast between the vision of Republicans running and the current president as it relates to Israel, a turbulent Middle East and pushing back on the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons,” Brooks said.

Indeed, the GOP presidential hopefuls are playing up their support for Israel.

In May, when Obama proposed that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations be based on pre-1967 borders, which has been the U.S. policy for years, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney alleged that the president was throwing Israel “under the bus.”

And administration officials’ recent comments have given Republican presidential hopefuls more ammunition to criticize the president.

First, Howard Gutman, U.S. ambassador to Belgium and the son of a Holocaust survivor, said traditional anti-Semitism is different from “Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Gutman later pulled back from those remarks, and Obama disassociated himself from them, but the opening was created. Texas Gov. Rick Perry described Gutman’s commentary as “part of a pattern of hostility” and urged Obama to fire him.

Then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanded Friday that Israel “get to the damn table.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich jumped on that statement Tuesday, saying, “The American people deserve to know today: Is it now permissible for American officials to flout official U.S. policy publicly, or do Panetta and Gutman speak for the entire administration?”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, a nonpartisan, pro-Israel group, told The Hill that GOP presidential candidates can make major inroads among Jewish voters.

“It has really been eye-opening to me to see a number of the candidates say to me personally, ‘I wonder if the United States under President Obama can still call itself an ally to Israel,’” he said.

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