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J Street Boasting of Defeating Israel’s Friends, But its Relevance Is Questionable

So eager to claim a starring role, J Street released details of several exit polls they commissioned which, upon examination, tell far more about how little J Street matters.
J Street president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

J Street president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Given the large election majority received by President Obama and many other of their favored candidates, a reasonable morning-after position for a group such as J Street would be one of quiet satisfaction, or even – why not? – gleeful rejoicing.

But J Street, which has rarely met a critic of Israel it didn’t like, instead tried to promote itself as an integral part of the campaign, a driving wind propelling Democratic victories. So eager to claim a starring role, J Street released details of several exit polls they commissioned which, upon examination, tell far more about how little J Street matters.

But first, to refresh your memory regarding the quality of candidates supported by J Street:

In the Wisconsin race for U.S. Senator, the Democratic contender, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, defeated former Wisconsin governor Republican Tommy Thompson. Although Israel was not much of an issue in the race, the Emergency Committee for Israel, a staunchly pro-Israel organization with conservative political roots, aired an ad attacking what they called Baldwin’s anti-Israel position during her congressional career.

ECI said Baldwin was “nothing less than hostile to the U.S.-Israel alliance. She has accused Israel of war crimes, befriended anti-Israel groups, refused to sign bipartisan letters of support for Israel, and defended the libelous Goldstone Report.”

Yes, that was J Street’s candidate in that race.

J Street supported Cheri Bustos in the 17th Congressional District of Illinois, and she defeated Republican Bobby Schilling. Unlike Baldwin, Bustos has nothing whatsover to say about foreign policy. Her issues are jobs, the economy, Medicare and Social Security, and the second Amendment. But in losing Schilling, Israel has lost a great friend in Congress, with a 0 rating by the Arab American Institute.

There goes another J Street-targeted friend of Israel.

And, as was to by expected, J Street threw their support behind the CAIR and Hamas man in Washington, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. He is a regular at CAIR fundraisers and pro-Hamas rallies. A former member in Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, Ellison has also participated, later in life, in interfaith dialogue (mostly with Reform rabbis). Even if we were to discard past accusations of Antisemitism and his defense of Farrakhan – what business does a Jewish PAC have supporting him?

J Street also supported Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, one of the most widely recognized anti-Israel members of Congress. With a +3 rating by the Arab American Institute, Dingell voted No on withholding US contributions until the UN retracts accusations of Israeli war crimes, on opposing any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, and Absent on a bill to ensure that United States taxpayer dollars are not used to fund terrorist entities in Lebanon. What point is J street making by giving him PAC money, and why are they so happy he won?

LITTLE ACTUAL INFLUENCE

The above short list demonstrates rather well J Street’s agenda in these elections, but the fact that candidates they supported have won does not mean that the organization’s contribution actually got them over the threshold.

J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, boasted in an email sent out to thousands with the subject line “Astounding! J Street Goes 71 for 70 on Election Day,” but with respect to Jewish voters—whom J Street claims it represents, and whom it is trying to persuade—in very few of the campaigns in which it contributed heavily did the Jewish voters who were in play make a difference.

In an upstate New York race, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) was defeated by the man she herself had defeated two years ago, Dan Maffei. J Street backed Maffei, but the hot issue in that race was abortion, not Israel. Maffei successfully tied Buerkle to Missouri’s Republican contender for Senator Todd Akin, notorious for his unfortunate “legitimate rape” comment.

In Florida, Republican Rep. Allen West was defeated by Patrick Murphy in an extremely tight race. West was redistricted out of his comfortable seat, and Israel was far down on the list of issues on which Murphy focused.

In Illinois, Democrat Tammy Duckworth defeated sitting Congressman Joe Walsh. Walsh is an ardent Israel supporter, but the district they battled over is a majority Democratic one, and Duckworth had received the endorsement of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The focus of her attention was energy, the economy and education – not Israel.

And in Ohio, where Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown handily won over his upstart Republican challenger Josh Mandell, a New York Times editorial written by Mitt Romney back in 2oo8 probably did more to defeat any Ohio Republican challenger for office in 2012. In this state, second only to Michigan for auto-related employment, Romney’s opposition to the automobile industry bailout and his op-ed, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” was just too much of a kick in the home state face to overcome. Even though what Romney actually called for was a re-structuring of the car companies, a “managed bankruptcy,” the details were swept away while the headline hung there and hanged the Republicans.

It is clear that J Street’s role in this year’s election was basically irrelevant, and certainly far humbler than its own superlative: “astounding.” While revealing just how unabashedly anti-Israel their choices are, Ben-Ami et al simply have not demonstrated that they mobilized the Jewish vote in a direction it wasn’t already following.

DISMAYING POLL RESULTS

The Republican Jewish Coalition also released poll results, in which they tracked the same few Jews, in virtually the same ways, and received pretty much the same results.

In the broadest terms: Obama won. He won big amongst Jews. No argument from either group. According to the RJC, Romney received just under 32 percent of the votes cast by Jews, according to J Street, Romney received 30%. Not such a big difference.

Where the information and the analysis did begin to differ, was in determining whether there was a significant decrease in Jews voting for Obama this election, versus 2008. While most agreed that Barack Obama received approximately 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008, J Street is now claiming that a more recent calculation revised that number downwards to 74%. With the four fewer percentage points in 2008, and a two point lower estimate in 2012, the differences become more significant.

If, as the RJC claims, there was a 10% increase in Jews voting for the Republican presidential candidate, which amounts to a 50% gain (22% of American Jews cast their vote for McCain in 2008, and 32% of American Jews cast their vote for Romney in 2012), that reflects a recognizable and significantly growing trend, albeit with only two data points.

If you accept J Street’s sudden revision of historic facts, claiming that a greater percentage of Jews cast their votes for the Republican candidate in 2008, and, consequently, that somewhat fewer Jews voted for Romney this time around, the loss of Jewish voters to the Democratic candidate becomes only four percentage points, which means that over the lifetime of Obama’s “blocking back,” J Street, there have not been nearly as many Jews jumping from the Democrats’ ship.

Either way, of course, far fewer Jews cast their votes for President Obama this time around, and either way, of course, President Obama remains in office for four more years.

First, the information provided by the exit polls paints an alarming picture, even without looking at whom the respondents chose.

For Jewish Press readers, there’s a frightening picture that calls out for action: American voting Jews don’t care all that much about Israel, and they really don’t care about Israel’s number one concern: Iran.

The J Street and the RJC polls asked the question slightly differently, but either way, only about 10% of American Jews consider Israel to be an issue that drives their voting decisions (J Street poll), and for more than 21% Israel is of no importance in making the decision for whom to vote (RJC poll). To look on the bright side, slightly more than 75% consider Israel to be either very important (30.2%) or somewhat important (46.3%). But still, we are talking about Jews here, not the general public.

The denominational breakdown between the two polls is of vital interest: 11.9% of the RJC poll respondents identified as Orthodox and 31.1% identified as Conservative, while only 10% of the J Street poll respondents identified as Orthodox and 27% identified as Conservative. In both polls the largest denomination was the Reform movement.

Only the RJC poll asked about synagogue attendance, but the responses there were interesting. Slightly more than 25% of those answering the poll claimed they attend synagogue almost every day or once a week, but 13.9% said they never attend, and nearly 2% refused to answer the question.

One quirky finding is who received high favorability ratings. President Obama garnered a 60% favorability rating, the second highest of those included in the question (Bill Clinton received the highest). But Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received a 59% rating, beating even Vice President Joe Biden, who came in with a 54% rating. And DNC Chair Cong. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had a 46% favorability rating — that’s far below any of the other Democrats, Netanyahu, or the Democratic Party as a whole.

Although Iran and Israel are not significant voting issues for American Jews, fewer than half of those polled think that sanctions and diplomacy as tools for dealing with Iran’s nuclear race should be given more time, and a full 35% think those methods have failed.

The RJC poll asked about respondents’ understanding of Barack Obama’s attitude towards Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Nearly 45% believe Barack Obama is more pro-Israel, 22.8% more pro-Palestinian, and 17.4 believes he is neutral, while a full 15.3 either refused to answer the question or said they did not know.

So, strangely enough, while J Street cannot show serious influence in this election, essentially cheering races that would have been won without them – the overall picture emerging from the polls of Jewish voters’ attitudes are an icy shower to American Jews with traditional Jewish values.

Yori Yanover contributed to this article.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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48 Responses to “J Street Boasting of Defeating Israel’s Friends, But its Relevance Is Questionable”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    There is a different lesson to be learned from each of these featured races:

    Thompson lost because he was running as a right wing extremist in a Democratic year in a state that is marginally Democratic (now having voted D in the last six Presidential elections). Nothing more, nothing less.

    Schilling, who isn't an extremist, lost because the Illinois legislature gerrymandered his district to elect a Democrat. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Buerkle lost because she was a very weak candidate in a marginally Democratic district — so weak that the Democrats in Albany didn't even attempt to gerrymander her seat.

    Walsh lost because he was the most embarrassing member of the Republican caucus, and that is saying something. His absence from Congress will actually help Israel, whose cause is not helped by its association with either political extremists or ethnically challenged nutcases. Walsh was both.

    Lori is correct that Mandel never had a chance — not only did Romney oppose the auto bailout, but Republican Gov. Kasich started a crusade against labor unions. The Republican brand is tainted.

    In absolutely none of these races did Israel matter. It isn't that American Jews don't care about Israel, it is that we aren't going to throw every other concern under the bus to support either extremists or nutcases just because the extremist or nutcase is pro-Israel. Of course J Street is going to try to spin this like it had something to do with these results, just as Karl Rove is going to try to maintain his relevance after having wasted hundreds of millions of dollars of his contributors money. But it is hard to find any races at all where Israel was an issue that mattered.

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    An interesting additional question is why Walsh would be considered pro-Israel. He has been even more outspoken in his opposition to Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians than has Baldwin. But does opposition from a right winger not count?

  3. Yori Yanover says:

    Charlie — thank you for the thoughtful response. I'll wait for Lori to respond to your notes on the individual races, but I'm glad to see you agree with the major point she was making, namely that J Street had little to do with the Democrats' victories. They remind me of the king who get up before dawn every day to command the sun to rise.

    Meanwhile, don't you find their endorsement of clearly anti-Israel candidates like Baldwin, Ellison, and Dingell? In that sense, I believe we should judge Jewish organizations on a different scale than we do Jewish individuals. While in your own district you absolutely should vote for the guy who makes the trains run better — it's different for a Jewish identified PAC. You don't have the freedom to claim you like these people based on non-Jewish, non-Israel themes.

    It's like the Jewish Press were to start covering extensively the events in some remote communities across America where no Jews live. Sooner or later, folks would start asking what gives.

    Also, you don't see AIPAC jumping up and down showing how effective they've been — but, trust me, they've been effective. You only make the noise if your actions don't speak for themselves.

  4. Charlie Hall says:

    Yori, I've disliked J-Street since the day it was founded. I actually got invited to its national conference a few years ago, and considered attending, but I found little to attract me as an Orthodox Jew who appreciates the connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. And its actions since then speak for themselves.

    AFAIK, AIPAC does not endorse candidates. But it is indeed successful — and a major reason is that it is not concerned about other issues. On that you are absolutely correct that they are doing the right thing.

    BTW did you know that Dingell is the longest serving member of the US House of Representatives ever? And he has never been a friend.

  5. Now that the election in the USA is history, with, despite the majority opinion of authors and posters here, the re-election of President Obama, I would like to offer my advice to the voters of Israel. Please vote for the candidates most likely to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians, so that peace and tranquility may return to the Holy Land. Thanks.

  6. Yori Yanover says:

    Nope. It's Robert Byrd from WV, who served 57 years, 176 days in the House and the Senate. But Dingell is right behind him, with 56 years, 335 days, and since he is still relatively alive, he COULD break the record next year.

  7. Yori Yanover says:

    Are you basing that request on past ezperience? Because, you should know, every single time, without exception, that Israel has entered in a negotiation for peace with the Palestinians, it ended with rivers of blood.

    Perhaps you should encourage Israelis instead to avoid negotiations like that like the plague and discover safer, less mad solutions.

    You probably recall how Albert Einstein defined madness, as doing the smae thing and expecting different results. After the 1947 partition that ended in a 2-year war, the Oslo accords of 1992 that ended in thousands of Arabs and Jews dead, the 1999 Camp David meeting that ended in the Second Intifada with thousands more dead — would you perhaps consider giving up that dangerous dream and pick a less harmful hobby?

    I hear knitting is perfect for the season.

  8. Charlie Hall says:

    Yori, note that I said "House of Representatives". Byrd served in both the House and the Senate.

  9. Charlie Hall says:

    Here is the independent fact-check on Baldwin. While the Emergency Committee for Israel overreached, Baldwin clearly was on the wrong side of several issues. On these she is every bit an extremist as Thompson was on other issues.

    http://factcheck.org/2012/10/pro-israel-group-misleads-wisconsin-voters/

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    In addition to his extreme positions (he once said he wanted to eliminate Medicare and Medicaid, for example), Thompson also had a tendency to make significant gaffes:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Thompson#Statements_about_Jews.2C_Israel

  11. Charlie Hall says:

    Michael, it takes two to negotiate. Not only does Hamas not think Israel should exist, it thinks almost all Jews should be expelled from the region. Even were Fatah more "moderate", something I very much question, it isn't strong enough to bring about peace until Hamas is totally out of business. There are also violent terror groups not affiliated with either Hamas or Fatah that would need to go out of business, and the small democratic (small "d") movements in the PA have not attracted a lot of popular support.

  12. Alan Kardon says:

    Bottom line, Israel lost friends in Congress. How do we get them back in office is the question.

  13. Yori – OK, so no negotiations? So, endless war and no attempt for peace? Pardon me, but that is truly an insane proposal. Perhaps you could knit me a nice scarf?

  14. I'm in the midst of penning a column to my blog, http://www.tentofabraham.com about the limited capacity of conservative reactionaries to deal with facts that challenge what they need to believe to maintain their intellectual equilibrium. After Fox Noise, I can think of a media outlet that offers more evidence of the intellectual limitation than the readers and writers of the Jewish Press. This article is a case and point. Triblism is on the wane: those who insist on reject having any kind human relations with tribes that perceive as inherently evil are quickly becoming obsolete. No Lori Lowenthan Marcus, not all of believe Israel is beyond criticism or that all Muslims and Arabs are Jew killing terrorists. And guess what? We don't have twist facts and edit stories to make our point.

  15. Mildred Bilt says:

    I don't give a hoot for J Street. What makes me furious is the incessant screed from Israeli know-everythings telling me what's going on in the US and worse-you insult, degrade, berate and try to erase my personhood. Obnoxious, ignorant, whining, demanding. narcissitic pundits of nothing have totally estranged my concerns for Israel and my empathy for my poor fellow Jews who have to live in such a society. The enemy of Israel is within the state. Ultra Orthodox, hareidi-are you kidding? Don't you recognize them? Sacarii and Zealots have come back reincarnated and determined to destroy Israel, again and again. As Ben Grion said"Thenk G-D for the Arabs. Otherwise we would have civil war". Wake up.

  16. J.J. Surbeck says:

    Michael, which part of "it takes two to tango" do you not understand? Why do you insist on a) dancing alone, b) looking like an idiot doing so, and c) feeling guilty because whatever passes for your potential partner is not one bit interested in dancing with you? It also takes two to make peace, and if one of the protagonists doesn't give a damn, why should you? Who is insane here? Hint: you are.

  17. And your alternative is what?

  18. Charlie Hall says:

    Eliminate Hamas. The US eliminated most of the leadership of Al Qaeda, Israel should do the same thing to Hamas. And it can also do what the US did when a few hundred of Pancho Villa's thugs staged cross border raids into the US from Mexico in 1916 — it invaded with a 4,800 man army. Similar overwhelming force would be justified to stop the rocket attacks.

    Hamas is a bunch of anti-Semitic homophobic misogynistic violent thugs. They see Tel Aviv as occupied territory and not only want to eliminate the State of Israel but to expel almost all Jews from the region. They deserve what I have suggested.

  19. Charlie Hall says:

    With friends like Thompson and Walsh, who needs enemies?

  20. Charlie Hall says:

    It should be noted that the #1 enemy of Israel in the entire congress, Ron Paul, has retired and won't be around next session. Hooray!

  21. Yori Yanover says:

    Michael — No 2-state solution. It's a concept that habitually brings about death and mayhem.

  22. Alan Kardon says:

    Sorry for not stating my case properly. I meant how do we get supporters of Israel into office?

  23. Chiel Wind says:

    With friends like THI who need enemies….

  24. Arie Rosenrauch says:

    Let's not forget that it was "j"udenrein street director ben-ami that asserted that the "founding of the State of Israel was the single greatest tragedy of the 20th century." I presume that the "ami" he is "ben" of is al qaeda.

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