So, let’s try this again: Is Mitt Romney ‘a friend to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel’?

A month and a half ago, when I published Is Mitt Romney also an anti-Semite?, I heard about the title almost immediately from two friends.

The first was upset at the ‘shameless sensationalism’ latent (you can’t say blatant without saying latent*) in the post’s title. As sensationalism is admittedly a practice I have condemned in the past, I will note only that I thought the title was warranted by the fact that the piece addressed the frequency with which the label ‘anti-Semitic’ is thrown around – the headline was ironic, is what I’m getting at.

*the ‘e’ in latent renders the spelling formulation unworkable

The second was upset at what the headline implied:

Romney is many things, and of course you don’t like him, but anti-semite? That seems to be going a little far, don’t you think?

Considering that the goal of the piece was – as I said – to argue that when you call someone an anti-Semite you’re probably going a little too far, she was absolutely correct – which is why this time, I’m approaching the question from the opposite direction: is Mitt Romney ‘a friend to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel’? You’ll see the source of that formulation shortly, but first, let’s take a look at the poll – allegedly showing that Jews have abandoned Obama in droves – that prompted this post:

A recent Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll, released Monday, found that while President Obama leads in overall polling — 46 percent to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 44 percent — his support among Jewish voters has dropped from 78 percent in 2008 to 59 percent today.

The poll — conducted during the midst of the Democratic National Convention’s omission of God and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel from their platform, only to have an effort to reinsert the two items booed by Obama delegates — further found that Romney garners 35 percent of the Jewish vote, up from Senator John McCain’s 21 percent showing in 2008.

Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary Magazine, who initially noted the drop, pointed out that the decline is unmatched in any other demographic groups. He chalked the decline up to the administration’s relationship with Israel.

“While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel,” Tobin wrote.

I’ve now attended law school classes for over a week, and while I can’t yet claim to be a lawyer, I can tell you that one important legal distinction is between questions of fact and questions of law.

I’ll first take up the question of fact: Will more Jews vote for Mitt Romney than voted for John McCain? Probably – but you can’t base that guess on this poll. Why not? Here’s the crucial paragraph:

The telephone poll, which surveyed slightly more Democrats than Republicans, queried 808 registered voters across the country from Sept. 4 – Sept. 9. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.5 percentage points.

With a margin of error at 3.5, it’s tempting to conclude that the Jewish breakdown is largely correct: at best, Obama can hope for roughly 63% of the Jewish vote, while Romney can, at worst, count on about 31%.

Obama’s would be the worst showing for a Democratic Presidential candidate since (surprise) Jimmy Carter.

But! Note that the poll was not one of 808 Jewish voters, but of 808 American voters from across the country. Using 2% as a rough estimate for the proportion of the country’s population that considers itself Jewish, I think it’s fair to estimate that approximately 16 Jews participated in this poll.* In other words, we’re talking about a sample size smaller than the poll’s overall margin of error.

*The number that best fits the percentages is actually 17: 59% (10.03) for Obama, 35% (5.95) for Romney, and 6% (1.02) undecided. Any other set of integers that so closely matches the attendant percentages would wildly over-represent the number of Jews in the United States.

If you took the time to look at the actual results, published by the poll itself, you might note the small asterisk denoting ‘small sample size’ next to the Jewish vote. But if you just read the breathless headlines proclaiming that Obama has an Israel and Jewish problem, you probably won’t.

So, a single poll’s questionable conclusions non-withstanding, let’s consider the ‘question of law’: assuming the facts are not in dispute – in other words, accepting the premise that Jews are abandoning Obama – should they?

To get at an answer, let’s go back to 2007, when Mitt Romney first announced he was running for the GOP nomination. The following excerpt is drawn from an opinion piece published by Alan Dershowitz, entitled What were you thinking, Mitt Romney?:

Why would an American presidential candidate choose to announce his candidacy at a museum dedicated to the memory of America’s most notorious and influential anti-Semite?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a friend to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel, opened his campaign in front of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

This demands explanation, particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is spreading around the world.

Ford was the American patron saint of this oldest of bigotries. His anti-Semitism was not a matter of degree, nor was it disguised by anti-Zionism. It was out and out Jew-hatred.

He published an anti-Semitic screed called the Dearborn Independent, which became the model for the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer. Ford’s newspaper reprinted the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other anti-Semitic propaganda.

Ford also wrote an anti-Semitic treatise called The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, which was circulated widely throughout America, admired by Hitler and distributed and sold in translation in Nazi Germany.

It would be hard to imagine any Democratic candidate announcing his run for the presidency in front of the homes of notorious segregationists such as Lester Maddox or Bull Connor, or in front of the statehouse where George Wallace shouted “segregation forever.” Yet Henry Ford is the anti-Jewish equivalent of these anti-black figures.

In the piece, Dershowitz goes on to extensively excerpt Ford’s writings on ‘the Jew’, and to demand an explanation and apology from Romney. While this is hardly a charge of ‘Nazi-grade anti-Semitism‘, I imagine that’s one press-conference Romney wishes he could also ‘retroactively retire‘.

And while I think Dershowitz’s insistence that Romney is ‘a friend to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel’ provides a nice rhetorical flourish, I would argue that the claim is entirely unwarranted. Indeed, the rest of Dershowitz’s article – about Henry Ford – helps drive home the point I once tried to make in Is Mitt Romney also an anti-Semite?, which is that, No, he is not:

I’d have a lot more confidence in Romney’s support of Israel – for its own sake, and not just to win Jewish and evangelical votes [and Sheldon Adelson’s money] – if he would for once put his money where his mouth is.

In fairness to Romney, I’m not sure anyone’s mouth is big enough for all that money.

OK, that wasn’t really ‘in fairness’.

So in real fairness to Mitt Romney, I concede that I also don’t believe Barack Obama is any particular friend to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel. After all, he made an identical pilgrimage to the Henry Ford Museum in April of this year, and has also shown no sign of appealing to Jewish voters for any reasons other than votes and money. In other words, like Romney, he is a presidential candidate.

Burdening candidates with the expectation that they reserve a special place in their hearts for Israel is unrealistic, and ultimately unhelpful. If you want to see the United States stand by Israel, the standard you should be looking to support is one in which it is enough that a politician’s policies support Israel, regardless of his or her personal feelings on the matter. The last thing you should want is for Israeli-American relations to turn into a political football.

And for those – like Tobin – who would respond by pointing to  “the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel,” I would note that such an analysis conflates ‘Israel’ with ‘Netanyahu and Co.’, while conveniently drawing that exact distinction between the Obama administration and the United States.

Consider Tobin’s claim in reverse: “The Bibi administration’s difficult relationship with the United States” – a claim that is also clearly unwarranted without qualification. Through this lens, it becomes clear that Obama doesn’t have a problem with Israel so much as he has one with Netanyahu.

Consider the events of recent days: I’m sure you’ve seen headlines describing how Obama ‘refused’ to meet with Bibi on his upcoming trip to the US. A snub? Perhaps – but I would also note that the headline broke less than a day after Bibi slammed US policy on Iran.

Whether or not you think Netanyahu is right, I don’t think it’s difficult to understand why Obama is not particularly fond of him.

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7 thoughts on “So, let’s try this again: Is Mitt Romney ‘a friend to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel’?”

  1. First of all, I generally find your posts interesting and intelligent, ever since Sundrawati. That said, I feel that your anti-republican sentiments have taken over. a)such a big deal about ford’s character, just cuz he gave a speech there? and then admit that Obama did too? I’m not very knowledgeable about American politics, but I’m guessing this has something to do with the ailing auto industry, maybe. b)True, countries and administrations are not the same. which is exactly why leaders should differentiate between disagreeing with the administration, and harming strategic alliances. of course we could argue endlessly about the facts, but I credit Netanyahu with maintaining correct relations alongside the disagreements, and blame Obama for not honoring the alliance. c) if a “haaretz” *opinion* article is the best evidence you have of Netenyahu being responsable for the current strained relations, I am far from being convinced. in fact, if that’s the best you can do, I am anti-convinced.

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    1. Ari – Thanks for the feedback! As for anti-Republican sentiments: my point in bringing in Obama was to underscore that I’m not actually picking on Romney. Sure, I used him in the title, but that was mostly to mirror the previous post, because the polls showed Jews switching their support to him, and because the quote from Dershowitz was spoken about him. The point of the article was NOT that Romney is not a friend to Israel, etc. – it was that that shouldn’t matter. As for b) and c), I don’t think we’re going to come to any sort of agreement in the comments section of a blog, but I will note that c) was my opinion before reading the Haaretz article, and I just cited it so I could show *someone* else agreed with me. I think that in this case Bibi was making an issue out of nothing, and I also think that he is doing everything within his power to help Romney get elected. But again, that’s just my personal feeling – I can’t make you respect it any more than a Haaretz opinion article 🙂

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      1. a) “The point of the article was NOT that Romney is not a friend to Israel, etc. – it was that that shouldn’t matter.” I understand this sentiment, but It also *should* matter, to me (for instance), and to others. Even if not israel particularly, romney vs. obama includes international relations, siding with good guys and fighting bad guys, opposing tyranny, etc. also, it kind of looked like it was the point (lets not forget the eastwood post. there is something of a pattern here). And just to be clear, I respect you and your opinions WAY more, and you will have to do a lot worse for haaretz opinion articles to even get anywhere near giving a fight.

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