By MELANIE GOLDBERG
The controversy over removing support for Jerusalem as the capital of
Israel from the Democratic platform is causing some Zionistic American Jews
to reconsider backing President Barack Obama.
“I have been a Democrat for years,” Nava Burgida, a 54-year-old attorney
from Brooklyn, said. “And although my vote usually stands along my party
lines, this might have crossed my own personal line.”
The Democrats’ platform committee had removed the party’s support for
Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in August, then reinstated it after Obama
insisted on it at the convention in Charlotte, N.C. in September. The
waffling has led some Jewish voters to ponder allegiances involving
politics, religion and nationality.
Polls show that traditionally strong Jewish support for Democrats has been
In the 2008 election, exit polls showed that 78 percent of the Jewish vote
went to Obama. According to Pew Research Center, just 65 percent of Jews
identified with the Democratic Party by 2011. More recently, the attention
of Jewish groups has focused on the Investors Business Daily/Christian
Science Monitor/TIPP Poll released Sept. 10 finding that 59 percent of Jews
plan on voting for Obama this time around, a sharp drop from 2008. The
pollster noted that this number was based on a small sample size.
“Voting is a complicated task. Personally as a Jew, this [Israel] is one
issue among many,” said Bob Liff, a self-described Democratic political
activist and a former political reporter for New York Newsday and the New
York Daily News. “Israel is a concern to all voters. It just carries a
particular resonance with Jews.”
This debate hasn’t been limited to older voters. Politically active
college students have joined in, especially on campuses where concern for
Israel has been strong.
“Foreign policy is always a big concern for me when I’m voting,” said
Michelle Terebelo, a member of the Israel Club at Brooklyn College. “And
the fact that I would consider not voting for Obama because his platform’s
stance has been shaky on what resonates with me, says a lot about how votes
might be determined in this election.”
Terebelo was referring to the controversy at the Democratic National
Convention concerning Jerusalem.
“There’s a bigger picture here,” Robin Cohen, a Brooklyn College computer
science major, said. “If Obama cannot decide his policy on the Middle East
before he gets elected, who’s to say he won’t flip-flop on it once he is
actually elected? It presents itself as a major concern to me.”
Back in 2009, in his speech in Cairo, Obama promised the Arab world and the
Palestinians “two states for two peoples.” Although this has been the
stance of the U.S. government towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
critics said the president didn’t specify that he expected the Palestinian
people to make concessions along with the Israelis in pursuit of a state.
“The problem was that he gave them [the Arab world] false hope,” Tova
Medetsky, an accounting major at Brooklyn College, said.
Medetsky said that she hadn’t been planning to vote for Obama
for “a variety of reasons,” but said the dispute over the platform affirmed
Interviews conducted with 60 politically active Jewish students at Brooklyn College found that Medetsky is not alone in this decision. Some 29 percent said they would have voted Republican anyway.
“If Obama affiliates himself with the Democratic Party, he holds what the
platform says,” Jack Silverstein, the college’s Israel on Campus Coalition
intern of 2011-2012, said. “The platform changed for the first time ever,
so Obama changed too.”
“If you have people looking for partisan reasons, and I’m not against
partisan reasons, you’ll find things,” he said. “Israel is a political
football. Context is the first casualty in a political campaign.”
He said that the Romney voters would’ve voted for him no matter what the
Democratic National Convention did, since the platform is just “an
expression of activists in the party.” The change in the platform won’t
impact the outcome as much as some are saying, he said. That was the view of one-third of the politically active Jewish students interviewed at Brooklyn College.
platform “makes me vote Democrat a little less enthusiastically.”
choices based on policy toward Israel.
for America’s future,” Daniel Kuhn, a 25-year-old Israel advocate,
explained. “Still, Israel is very special to me, and a very important ally
to the United States. Israel is my top issue, but many other issues are right up there.”