The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia offers up two stories on the arrival of the Democratic presidential campaign to Pennsylvania.
BRYAN SCHWARTZMAN reports on the situation in the Keystone State, where Jews account for roughly 2.3 percent of the state population but a higher percentage of the Democratic electorate.
The story quotes Burt Siegel, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, as hoping “the campaigns themselves will not try to make Israel a divisive issue within the community.” Of course, Siegel added, “Even if the campaign doesn’t do that, advocates and supporters certainly will.”
Schwartman quotes a major Obama fund-raiser from Bryn Mawr, Mark Alderman, as saying that Israel should be off the table, since both his candidate and Hillary Clinton are strong on the issue. But an influential Clinton money man, Mark Aronchick, argued that Obama is still an unkown.
“I know where she stands. I know she fully understands Israel’s right to self-defense – to protect Ashkelon, to protect Netivot,” said Aronchick, who serves as Pennsylvania’s representative to the Democratic National Committee. “She gets it, she understands the reason for the fence, she understands that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations.”
JONATHAN TOBIN, the editor of the Exponent, dedicated his weekly column to the circus coming to town and offered some free advice (to the candidates and the voters):
What issues can win Jewish votes?
Non-Jewish politicians often wrongly assume that Jews focus on parochial interests, but typically, Jews are not single-issue voters on Israel. Other concerns, such as church-state separation and support for a variety of liberal social-justice causes are far more likely to win their affection. And given that surveys tell us that Jews oppose the war in Iraq more heavily than virtually any other demographic group, even if foreign policy is a factor, Israel may not influence the outcome.
But the circumstances surrounding this vote require Jewish Democrats to be thinking about their responsibility to play a special role in this election year.
What should they be demanding of the candidates?
We don’t need to make Obama and Clinton merely mouth more platitudes about support for an Israel that continues to suffer terrorist attacks from a foe that is uninterested in peace. Both have already aligned themselves with the pro-Israel cause.
Rather, local Dems need to use every rally, town-hall meeting and fundraiser as a chance to have the candidates further define their stands on points like negotiating with Hamas, U.S. aid to a Palestinian Authority that foments hate against Jews and supports terror, as well as the right of Israel to self-defense against those who attack it. They need to be asked about whether they will continue to push a failed peace process as the Clinton and Bush administrations have done? Can they offer a more prudent alternative?
Even more importantly, Democrats here must use these weeks to press Clinton and Obama on Iran and its drive for nuclear weapons. There is simply no other issue on which so many lives will hang during the next four years as this one.
We know that both favor diplomacy (as does Republican candidate Sen. John McCain and the State of Israel) to persuade the Iranians to drop their push for nukes. But if, as seems likely, Tehran gets the bomb during the next administration, we must know if these leaders are afraid to do whatever it takes, including pre-emptive strikes, to see to it that the mullahs and their genocidal frontman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad don’t have the power to unleash mass murder on Israel or any other country.
But although the overwhelming majority of Democrats want a president who will back Israeli self-defense and face down Iran, some worry that by raising Israel as an election issue, they will be disrupting the bipartisan consensus that has helped solidify the alliance. Many Democrats think trying to hold the candidates accountable on Israel issues is just a way for the Republicans to create a wedge issue.