Capping a race that on a national level was largely defined by the economy but in the Jewish community turned into an extended debate over which candidate would steer the best course for U.S.-Israel relations, President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday to earn a second term.
Obama, who as of Wednesday morning had garnered 303 electoral votes to Romney’s 206 and was ahead in the popular vote 50-48 percent, took 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, representing a nine-point drop from the 78 percent he won in 2008.
National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris, speaking exclusively with JNS after major television networks called the race for Obama on Tuesday night, said he “and the clear majority of American Jews” are “reassured by having President Obama in office for another four years.”
“The president has a stellar pro-Israel record,” Harris said. “The facts speak for themselves. Whether it’s missile defense or some of the closest [U.S.-Israel] security cooperation ever, or heralding an era of isolating Iran like never before, I see…the close cooperation between the United States and Israel continuing into and through the next four years during what’s a crucial period for Israel’s security.”
The recent course of the U.S.-Israel relationship, however, has also included disagreements between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, with Obama refusing to set the “red lines” for U.S. military action that Netanyahu has requested; in one television interview he called those demands “noise.”
Just a day before the election, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett has been leading secret talks with Iran for several months. That story followed a New York Times story last month that said the U.S. had agreed to direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for the time – a report denied first by the White House, then by Obama himself in the third presidential debate.
Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine, told JNS that Obama’s win will mean “probably four years of ongoing tension with the government of Israel, which is likely to be led by the same person [Netanyahu] with whom Obama is engaged in a long-term feud” – including tension on Iran, especially if Obama approves an Iranian deal brokered by Jarrett.
However, Tobin acknowledged that the “infrastructure of the [U.S.-Israel] alliance isn’t going anywhere.”
Netanyahu congratulated Obama on his victory by saying in a statement, “The strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever. I will continue to work with President Obama in order to assure the interests that are vital to the security of the citizens of Israel.”
While Israel was a widely debated election issue in the Jewish community, “American Jews are first and foremost Americans, and like other Americans they are concerned very much about the economy and jobs,” Harris said, calling that “the president’s number one priority today and immediately.”
The battle for the Jewish vote was hotly contested in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania, with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) running a $5 million “Buyer’s Remorse” television advertising campaign in those states that featured Jews who supported Obama in 2008 but regretted that decision. RJC’s advertising in swing states – which also included “Obama…Oy Vey!!” billboards in South Florida – totaled $6.5 million.
Rabbi David Steinhardt of B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla., said election season was “a very, very challenging period of time and a very difficult campaign.” In his congregation, however, Steinhardt said “people were really respectful of each other in the conversation, surprisingly so, looking at how things began.” Steinhardt said much of the pro-Obama sentiment in his community was “quiet support,” as opposed to the more aggressive approach of Romney supporters during the race.
As far as the U.S.-Israel relationship is concerned, Steinhardt believes “the policies will remain pretty consistent as to what they have been.” He said Israel “can depend on the United States as an ally in what takes place moving forward.”
Rabbi Misha Zinkow of Temple Israel in Columbus, Ohio, recalled the intense campaign in his state.