Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel & Harriet Sherwood’s miscalibrated American political ‘Jewdar’

The strap line for Harriet Sherwood’s Guardian report of July 27th, Mitt Romney woos Israel by considering U.S. strike against Iran, reads as follows:

Sherwood writes:

“An American military strike against Iran‘s nuclear sites should not be ruled out, Mitt Romney has said in interviews with the Israeli media before his visit to the Jewish state.

He also suggested it was not “right” for the US to act as a negotiator between Israel and the Palestinians, and he accused President Barack Obama of publicly criticising its “friend and ally”.

Romney has repeatedly attacked Obama over his administration’s stance on Israel and is attempting to win over Jewish voters in the US. [emphasis added]

A July 29th report by Sherwood, Romney declares unity with Israel over nuclear threat, repeated this narrative about Romney’s visit to Israel.

“…a senior Romney aide said the candidate would back unilateral military action by Israel against Iran’s nuclear sites. “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” Dan Senor, Romney’s senior national security aide, told reporters.

Romney’s speech touched many key buttons for his target audience of Jewish voters in the US.” [emphasis added]

However, a recent comprehensive survey by the American Jewish Committee demonstrated that Israel (and the Iranian nuclear issue) are not nearly the most important issues for Jewish voters.

Per the following results, Israel was the most important issue for only 6% of Jews surveyed, while the Iranian nuclear issue was the top issue for only 4% of Jewish voters.  (The economy and healthcare represent Jewish American voters’ two biggest concerns.) 

Alternatively, support for Israel is a top concern for evangelical Christian voters.  This group is important for Romney both because it constitutes a large share of the American population – about 26% – and because it provided President George W. Bush with 40% of his total votes in the 2004 presidential election.

Adding additional doubt to Sherwood’s working assumption about the intent of Romney’s visit are numbers regarding the contrasting voting strength of Jews and evangelicals.

While, according to exit polls, Jews made up 2% of the overall votes in the 2008 elections, born-again/evangelical Christians made up 38%.

Further, while 74% of evangelicals voted for John McCain in 2008, 78% of Jews voted for Barack Obama.

Romney is unlikely to be specifically courting the Jewish vote in the U.S. as the vast majority of American Jews are going to vote Democratic (based on past results as well as recent polling on the upcoming November election). The great support for Israel right now is in the evangelical community, which is a huge part of the Republican base and, per many reports, is still quite skeptical of the Mormon candidate’s credentials.

So Romney’s trip to Israel is a way of firing up this enormously important Republican base. 

As Jonathan Tobin of Commentary Magazine wrote:

“Romney needs a huge turnout of evangelicals — a group that often fails to maximize its numbers at the polls — this fall if he is to beat President Obama. As conservatives work to register and mobilize conservative Christians, expect to hear more about Israel from Romney. It may be that most Jews don’t care if Romney is more sympathetic to the Jewish state, but support for Israel is an issue that a great many Christians believe is a deal breaker.”

David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel – an extremely large and well-funded pro-Israel group – told the Washington Examiner that for many evangelicals, support for Israel is a key motivating factor in elections.  On the Iranian nuclear issue, Brog added:

“Whether there’s an Israeli strike or not, the issue of Israel threatened by Iran and a perception that the administration has not confronted Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons with sufficient courage and clarity, is absolutely going to motivate the base.”

The belief – which is implicit in Sherwood’s coverage of Romney’s visit and consistent with the narrative routinely advanced by Guardian contributors – that American politicians are pandering to Jews by expressing support for Israel is simply not supported by the empirical data regarding voting habits of various religious groups.

Sherwood’s superficial take on the motivations of the American Presidential challenger demonstrates that Israel is not the only country whose politics she egregiously misinterprets.   

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