Unwanted loyalty test in Massachusetts election
By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — Jewish voters had Martha Coakley’s back.
The special Jan. 19 election in Massachusetts to fill the vacancy left by Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death was evidence once again that Jewish voters passed an unwanted loyalty test.
As a Democrat, Coakley offered to bolster President Obama in pursuing progressive measures long supported by American Jews. Republican Scott Brown threw his lot in with a political party that promises unmistakable backing for Israel; Obama is on shaky ground in this arena.
Brown swept affluent suburbs of Boston where turnout was high while Coakley performed well in urban areas with low turnout, despite being edged out by Brown statewide, according to The Boston Globe.
In towns with a strong Jewish presence, Coakley trounced Brown in Newton 23,456 to 11,352 where turnout was 63 percent and took Sharon 4,461 to 3,536 with turnout at 66 percent, as evidenced by The Globe‘s rundown of individual towns. Brookline voters backed Coakley 15,264 to 5,217; turnout was 49 percent. Coakley also took Needham, Wellesley and Framingham, all towns with a strong Jewish presence.
Brown won the adjacent North Shore towns of Marblehead (5,285 to 4,657) and Swampscott (3,222 to 3,121), both of which comprise a large number of Jewish residents.
We can only speculate why Brown won these last two towns. Maybe many Jews there are fed up with Obama because of his careless approach to Israel, or they simply oppose his domestic policies.
Most American Jews would embrace Obama’s domestic agenda, but are at best confused by the president’s Israeli initiatives, setting up Jews for an inadvertent dual-loyalty test. That test was probably played out to some degree in Massachusetts. American Jews have not had this problem recently until Obama ran for president.
Many Americans believe that Jews wield heavy influence on presidents and Congress on Israel’s behalf, without questioning Israel‘s policies. That impression could apply to the minority of Jews who operate pro-Israel lobbying groups, but not to the vast majority of American Jews. Jews usually vote for Democratic presidential candidates by a range of 75 to 80 percent. If Jews support hawkish Israeli policies and the invasion of Iraq, why would they have voted for Al Gore and John F. Kerry?
To be clear, most Jews who vote for Democrats or moderate Republicans are in solid support of Israel, but they do not condone Israel’s actions that they believe are misguided.
Jews have for decades voted for Democrats or seemingly moderate Republicans for their liberal or centrist positions on progressive issues. Centrist and liberal Jews took for granted that presidential candidates for both major parties support Israel, if in different ways. The more hawkish Jews, who probably comprise 20 percent of America’s Jewish population, only trust the Republicans to be in Israel’s corner.
Until Obama ran for president, the vast majority of Jews had the best of both worlds in
Democratic candidates – staunch support for Israel and a progressive domestic agenda. Most Jewish voters are with Obama on the domestic side, but they legitimately wonder about his stance on Israel. His administration attempted to intimidate Israeli leaders; vaguely compared the Arabs to pre-Civil War slaves; ignored recent Middle East history; and acted as if a peace settlement could be reached by waving a magic wand.
Right-wing Jews have made up their minds about Obama, but other Jews must take a hard look at the situation. Domestic concerns directly affect us all, but Israel also has a fundamental effect on Jews. Israel remains a refuge for Jews, and more than 5 million of my people live there. We expect the United States to be there for Israel so long as it is in the right.
Fortunately, Obama has softened his stance with Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no pushover. Besides, the Palestinian Authority refuses to negotiate with Israel because it wants what Israel is unlikely to allow.
Maybe it is best if it stays that way. Who needs a loyalty test?
Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance journalist from Philadelphia. He can be reached at BTicker@comcast.net.