But contrary to the conclusion of Avishai and the pessimistic Republicans, if Democrats have held their own among the Jews since then, it is not because they have chosen to flout the sensibilities of supporters of Israel but because they have never allowed themselves to be wrong-footed on Israel as they were in 1980.
In line with this insight, throughout this year’s campaign Obama has wisely never allowed much daylight between his positions and that of the pro-Israel community. His goal was not to prove that he had a better record than McCain, but to show an inherently sympathetic audience of Jewish Democrats that his pro-Israel stance was plausible enough to allow them to vote for him, and against his opponent, on the basis of other issues.
Growing assimilation is altering the demographics of the Jewish community, and most American Jews are still more afraid of Pat Robertson than they are of Hamas, Hizbullah or even Iran. But it would be dead wrong to think that most don’t care about Israel.
Republicans may question Obama’s sincerity, and point to his personal history and waffling on issues, such as Jerusalem, to back up their cynicism. But his consistent statements of support for Israel have effectively parried the claim that he is another Carter, which is all he really needed to do to hold on to the Jewish vote.
The proof, of course, will be in the pudding. Should a President Obama prove his critics right and go back on his word on Israel, he will discover that Jewish voters, including many Democrats, are every bit as capable of punishing him as they did Jimmy Carter 28 years ago.