The Israel Wedge

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The professional American Jewish world has been a bit roiled over the past few weeks as the result of a Pledge for Unity on Israel issued jointly by the American Jewish Committee and the ADL. What makes this non-innocuous is that it pointedly argues against turning Israel into a partisan political issue.

The Jewish community has had a strong interest in ensuring that
American support for Israel is one of the critical strategic issues that
unites rather than divides parties and officials. U.S.-Israel
friendship should never be used as a political wedge issue.

This has elicited a fair amount of yelping from the right, which sees it, plausibly, as a way of protecting President Obama from GOP claims that he’s bent on throwing Israel under the bus. And the AJC’s David Harris and the ADL’s Abe Foxman have pushed back in kind. What’s clear is that the GOP has every intention of using Israel as one of the few clubs it has to beat Obama and the Democrats on foreign policy in current election cycle. What’s worth pondering is who’s the audience for this exercise.

The natural assumption is that it’s Jewish voters, who are sufficiently numerous in swing states like Ohio and Florida to provide a theoretical margin of victory. But it is not the hunt for Jewish voters that’s leading the Republican presidential aspirants to talk about Israel right now–there aren’t enough of them who vote in Republican primaries to matter. And given the perpetual inability of Republicans to garner Jewish votes in the era of the religious right–and, pace the Tea Party, we’re still in that era–I’d say that they’re not aiming at general election Jewish votes either, albeit hope may spring eternal in the GOP breast.

More likely it’s the evangelical crowd that the candidates are playing to. These days, evangelicals worry more about U.S. support for Israel than American Jews do, and they’re a whole lot thicker on the ground. Telling stories about how Obama is anti-Israel will help get them to the polls–and evangelicals must turn out in force for the Republicans to regain the presidency.

But if they’re false stories that are denounced as such by the AJC and the ADL, it will put a serious crimp in the anti-Israel narrative. That’s the hidden threat behind the Pledge for Unity–and the reason it’s raising Republican hackles.