While American Jews continue to lean heavily Democrat – a stance usually attributed to liberal positions on social issues – a Gallup poll conducted in the early summer found that among registered Jewish voters, support for Obama stood at 64 percent, down from 74 percent in October-November 2008.
The poll recorded Jewish support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at 29 points, six points higher than the support it measured for his predecessor, Sen. John McCain, in the fall of 2008.
A similar trend was seen in the most recent Pew Research Center survey tracking this issue, earlier this year, which found that the percentage of Jews supporting or leaning towards the GOP climbed from 20 percent to 29 percent between 2008 and 2011, while the number supporting or leaning Democratic fell from 72 percent in 2008 to 65 percent in 2011.
Neither poll examined the preferences of non-Jewish, pro-Israel voters, many of them evangelical Christians – a far bigger segment of the electorate than Jews. A Gallup poll in March found favorable views of Israel remain strong in America – 71 percent in total, 80 percent among Republicans and 65 percent among Democrats.
Critics accuse President Obama of being less enthusiastically supportive of Israel than predecessors of either party have been, an assertion disputed by his supporters.
Partisan Jewish groups were energized this week over the Democratic platform’s missing reference to Jerusalem – only the second time since 1972 that the issue did not make an appearance – with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) calling the exclusion “unconscionable” and the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) hitting back.
“Republicans will do everything they can to shift the conversation away from talk of choice, Medicare, marriage equality, and the laundry list of issues on which American Jews overwhelmingly line up with the Democratic Party,” said NJDC president and CEO David Harris on Tuesday. “But it won’t work.”
The conversation clearly had shifted, however, for after taking flak from Republicans and others over the issue – as well as the fact the platform made no reference to God – the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. afternoon held a voice vote on Wednesday to amend the platform adopted the previous evening.
Platform drafting committee chairman, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, proposed two additions to the document:
-- “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
-- “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values and interests of working people and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."
The bid to deal with what many Democrats saw as a damaging distraction was itself not smooth-sailing, as an increasingly uncomfortable-looking convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, struggled to obtain an unambiguous show of support for the changes.
Three times he called for a voice vote and it was difficult to tell whether the shouts of “aye” or those of “no” were louder. In the end Villaraigosa determined that “in the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative.”
Amid audible boos, he added, “The motion is adopted, and the platform has been amended as shown on the screen.”
The RJC jumped on the images of Democratic delegates responding negatively to the proposed changes.
“To hear delegates on the floor of the Democratic convention strongly voice their opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, then boo when the chairman passes the resolution to adopt that language, is a shock,” the group’s executive director, Matt Brooks, said in a statement.
“This unfortunate incident highlights the split among rank and file Democrats when it comes to the critical issue of Israel, something we’ve seen for some time.”
The Anti-Defamation League praised the decision to restore the Jerusalem language, but national director Abraham Foxman said the organization was “still troubled that it was removed, and it should never have happened in the first place.”
The NJDC, meanwhile, accused the Republican Party of weakening its platform language relating to Jerusalem, accusing the GOP of hypocrisy for pointing out the Democrats’ omission.
The 2008 GOP platform stated, “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”
The 2012 GOP platform says, “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.”
It is the first time since 1996 that a Republican platform has not included a specific reference to relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. The last time a Democratic platform included support for moving the embassy was in 1984.
The U.S. Congress in 1995 passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and instructing that the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although all three presidents since then have postponed the move, invoking an inbuilt “national security” waiver.
‘Eternal and indivisible’
When the modern State of Israel was established in 1948 its leaders declared Jerusalem – the capital of King David’s kingdom of Israel 3,000 years ago – to be its capital. The ensuing war launched by its Arab neighbors in a bid to destroy the nascent Jewish state ended with the eastern parts of the city controlled by Jordanian forces.
Jordan’s occupation, which only Britain and Pakistan recognized, lasted until the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel expelled the Jordanians from the eastern parts of the city and the West Bank, areas regarded by the international community as “occupied Palestinian territories.”
Along with most countries, the U.S. had since the establishment of diplomatic relations chosen not to locate its embassy in Jerusalem.
After the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law in 1980, declaring Jerusalem Israel’s eternal and indivisible capital, the 13 foreign embassies still based in the city withdrew.
Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims is derived from the claim that Mohammed visited it on his winged steed during his “night journey” from Mecca to heaven.
Despite this, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s foundational covenant, adopted in 1964, contains not one reference to the city.
Still, Palestinian leaders, who often dispute the city’s Jewish heritage, want to establish the capital of a future independent state in Jerusalem, and say the issue is non-negotiable if peace is to be achieved.