Yousef Munayyer, my new Jewish guru


It’s come to this.

The smartest guy in a roomful of noise about Jews and voting is someone who heads a Palestinian institution.

Politico asked a bunch of luminaries to comment on Ben Smith’s story today on Jews supposedly jumping the Good Ship Obama, another in a series of "One day, a man may bite a dog" stories,  even entitled "Obama may be losing the faith of Jewish Democrats."

Here’s Yousef Munayyer, who directs the Jerusalem Fund:

It’s hard to take seriously any article that talks about public opinion without citing polling data that uses a representative sample and not just "several dozen" chats Ben Smith had with Jewish-Americans who may not at all be representative of the rest of that community. This is especially necessary when historically Jews have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats for president and care about things other than Israel as well. In fact polls show American Jews rank six other issues before Israel as important to them. 

Here’s Aaron David Miller, who’s usually a smart guy:

Let’s be clear: Barack Obama has a problem with Israel and the Jews. We can dress it up, down, look at it sideways; but after 30 months he’s pretty low on the trust and self-confidence scale.

Dress it up? Self-confidence? What is this, a beauty contest?

Munayyer goes off track when he says "poweful pro-Israel groups" (he means AIPAC) do not represent Jews. Look at the American Jewish Committee’s reliable annual surveys: On the specific issue of Israel-Arab, U.S. Jews generally fall maybe a smidgen to the left of AIPAC: They want two states (so does AIPAC, but it does not emphasize this); they do not trust Arab or Palestinian governments (neither does AIPAC.)

And Obama does face the prospect of losing Jewish voters, as recent surveys have shown, and this may present a problem in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, perhaps New Jersey.

But this has to do with the issues afflicting him among the general population: Unabating unemployment, unrallying house prices, unending conflict overseas, confusion over health care.

Israel? No.  As Munayyer notes, Israel consistently ranks low among Jeiwsh voting booth priorities. There’s been a lot of talk over the years about Israel as a "threshold" issue — the point when a president becomes so awful on Israel, that it rises to issue number one. 

I know Republicans and conservatives believe Obama has crossed that threshold, but their message has yet to resonate among Jewish voters. In the AJC surveys, it ranks fifth in 2010, seventh in 2008, fifth in 2007. The question is asked differently each time, different choices are presented in different ways, but the bottom line is: not among the top three.

So let’s wait until the next AJC survey, and then we can write headlines without "may."

Now, Smith’s story has some important stuff — not about voters, but about donors. I would never discount the anxieties of a thoughtful interlocutor like Betsy Sheerr, for instance.

But even here, what does "Jewish donor" mean? Look at the last election: Among Obama’s Jewish donors and bundlers, there were those who agree with him on Israel for whom the issue has been a preeminent one (Alan Solomont), those who agree with him on Israel for whom the issue has not been preeminent (Penny Pritzker), those who may fall to his right on Israel, but who are seized by other issues (Steve Grossman), those who have not registered on Israel (Julius Genachowski). And there are those for whom Israel is preeminent, but who did not give to Obama in the past and have pledged to continue to support Democrats (Haim Saban.)

So how much money does Obama lose with his Israel policy? We hope to get a little deeper into the Jews and donations issue in the coming months, but it is clear that one cannot predict unequivocally that this will cost him major bucks.

One other minor issue: Dennis Ross has emphatically denied being "marginalized." Of course he would, but his denial should be noted. And with George Mitchell’s departure, Ross’ continued prominence in shuttle diplomacy, and an Iran policy that looks pretty much as Ross described it as an Obama proxy in 2008 — he might have a point.

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