Why Now? That is one of the big questions surrounding Barack Obama’s trip to Israel which began today. After avoiding the Jewish State for the first four plus years of his presidency why is he going now, especially since the word coming from the administration is nothing major will happen–no agreements, concessions etc.
The answer is pretty simple–American Politics, specifically the 2014 election.
While the liberal pundits will talk about Barack Obama’s strong standing in the American Jewish Community (true), they will not tell you how much it has deteriorated since he became President. His one-sided attacks Israel reduced his percent of the vote from 78% in 2008 to 69% in 2012.
While the 9% decline does not seem much it is significant for few reasons. Firstly Obama’s 69% does necessarily reflect his popularity amongst Jews as many of votes for Obama were a rejection of Romney and the perception of his economic policies than a support of the incumbent.
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From an anecdotal perspective only- many Jews decided not to vote at all in 2012 because they didn’t trust either candidate (NOTE: I have not been able to find Jewish turnout numbers for 2012 vs 2008-if you have knowledge of where they can be accessed please send them to me so this point can be disproved or proved).
A relatively small decline by a small minority may have little effect on a national election but the 2014 midterms may be a different story as Jews may represent a major bloc in some congressional and/or Senate races. Don’t forget in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner in a heavily Jewish district in Queens/Brooklyn New York, it was the Jewish vote which gave the seat to GOP candidate Bob Turner. Much of that vote was seen as a direct repudiation of Obama’s policy in the Middle East.
The beltway scuttlebutt is the President desperately wants his party to take over the House in the 2014 election as a way to ensure passage of his progressive legislation and cement his legacy. The Israel trip will help Obama in this quest.
While outwardly Obama has been saying the “right things” about Israel-related issues in his second term some of his actions haven’t matched his words, especially his appointments of John Kerry as S.O.S, Chuck Hagel as S.O.D, and John Brennan as CIA Director. This trio is not seen as friendly to Israel.
One major criticism of Obama during this past campaign was that he traveled all around the Middle-East during his first term but never visited Israel. Additionally the President has a very frosty relationship with the recently reelected Israeli Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu and as recent polls show that almost 2/3 of the Israeli people do not trust him.
That’s why this trip is a perfect opportunity for our campaigner-in-chief as he concentrations on the 2014. He gets a check mark in the visited Israel box, he is discussing Iran with Netanyahu and nothing public is expected to come out of it—the administration will leak some positive results (whether true or not) as is their practice, and Israel will be silent (as is their practice).
Obama will be seen talking to Bibi, receiving an award from Perez and will make a speech on Israeli TV. His speech will be all about his “love” for the Jewish State. Just as he does in this country he is taking his case directly to the people, but in this case it’s not just the Israeli people but also pro-Israel Americans.
In the end the President is going to Israel because he will receive some great pro-Israel publicity from the US press and he will attempt to raise his popularity amongst Israelis, which will enable him to counter-act the truth that his administration is the most anti-Israel presidency in the history of the modern Jewish State.