It’s oe of the oldest canards in American politics — the claim that Jewish Americans are single-issue voters whose support goes to those candidates with the most hawkish views on Israel.
This myth has had a hold on American politics for decades, and it’s taken a serious toll on American foreign policy in the Middle East.
In particular, fear of political consequences has led U.S. politicians and policy makers to back away from asserting the active leadership needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Tuesday night, Jewish Americans once again debunked that myth.
Political donors like Sheldon Adelson and groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel spent tens of millions of dollars in 2012 and before to sow fear and doubt over Israel and to move Jewish votes away from President Obama and the Democratic Party.
Yet the scare tactics didn’t work, and the millions spent were for naught. Seventy percent of American Jews voted for Barack Obama. The result is in line with the 74 percent support he received in 2008, and the 70 percent average support Democratic presidential candidates have received since exit polling began in 1972.
In the swing states of Ohio and Florida, Jewish voters backed the president by 69 and 68 percent, respectively. They supported Democrats for Congress nationally by 69 to 30 percent. As they always have.
The 4 percent decline in support for the president since 2008 simply tracks the similar small decline among the broader population and among white, Catholic and Protestant voters.
Campaigns to shift Jewish votes over Israel don’t work because the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters say the economy, not Israel, is their top electoral concern, followed by health care, Social Security and Medicare. Turns out that Jewish Americans have the same voting concerns as all other Americans.
When it comes to Israel, Jewish Americans are notably moderate in their views.
Eighty-two percent of American Jews support a two-state solution; 76 percent want the president to put forward a peace plan, and 84 percent support the appointment of former president Bill Clinton as a special envoy.
For some, this may read like breaking news because the prevailing narrative around the Jewish vote is so deeply ingrained in our politics.
For decades a loud minority of Jewish Americans has made the case that their hawkish views represent the entirety of the Jewish community. Their well-funded campaigns and lobbying between elections reinforce the appearance of broad-based support for their conservative views.
They haven’t succeeded in moving actual votes, however, because the fundamental premise is simply not true. Of course, the vast majority of Jewish Americans care deeply about Israel and want their politicians to be pro-Israel. But they aren’t single-issue voters and they’re not uniformly hawkish when it comes to Israel.
Understanding the politics of the Jewish community is vital, because Israel desperately needs a two-state solution if it is to remain both Jewish and democratic — before the chance slips away.
Israeli leaders from the current president, Shimon Peres, to senior political figures like Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni are passionate on this point. And 81 percent of Jewish Americans agree.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also a vital American national interest, a fact articulated consistently by American statesmen from both parties as well as by many current American military, intelligence and diplomatic officials.
Opponents of the two-state solution understand it won’t happen without strong American leadership and engagement. That’s why settlers on the West Bank and their political allies in Israel and the United States use political fear to scare American policy makers out of exercising the leadership needed to help achieve it.
The Middle East cannot afford four more years of diplomatic inaction because American politicians live in fear of an illusion.
It is time to acknowledge that a newly re-elected President Obama not only has the political space to pursue a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his second term; he has a mandate to do so from a significant majority of American Jews.
It is time to bury long-held myths around the Jewish vote and for the media and political pundits to stop hyperventilating over the tiniest movement within this 2 percent of the electorate.
Most important, it is time — for the sake of the United States, Israel and the Middle East as a whole — for the president to lead the way toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street.