American Jews Disenchanted with Obama, Democrats

Wednesday, 20 Oct 2010 01:21 PM

American Jews, among the nation's most reliable liberal voters, are likelier than ever to give Republicans a long hard look in upcoming elections, as enthusiasm wanes for President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party.

Unless Democrats succeed in rallying under-motivated base voters -- including African Americans, young people and Jewish Americans -- for the November 2 polls, Republicans are given good chances of winning several governors' seats and gaining control of one or both houses of Congress.

But here in South Florida, as well as across the United States, Obama's popularity has fallen sharply among American Jews.

Friction between the US president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is partly to blame.

"Obama is perceived, rightly or wrongly, of having been less supportive of Israel than previous presidents," said Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project at the University of Miami.

Obama has criticized Israel for plans to build more Jewish settler housing in the disputed West Bank, which the president says threatens efforts to restart Middle East peace talks and increases instability in the region.

The criticism has raised the ire of some Jews, many of whom are stalwart supporters of Israel and were already mildly suspicious of the African-American Obama with his vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding name.

Sheskin said that in addition to being influenced by the candidates' stance on Israel, "the Jewish vote this year, as always, will be determined by a candidate's views on the social issues, particularly abortion and gay rights, and more importantly on the economic issues."

More than 600,000 Jews live in south Florida, the largest Jewish community after New York City.

Jews make up just two percent of the US electorate, but their activism and generous campaign donations give them political influence that belies their numbers.

They are likely to have an impact in Florida's tight three-way race for the US Senate, in which Florida Governor Charlie Crist -- a long-time moderate Republican who quit the party to run as an independent -- trails the Republican candidate and frontrunner Marco Rubio by about 10 percentage points.

The recent endorsement of Crist by Robert Wexler, a Jewish Democratic former congressman with deep roots in the community, is considered key in his bid to close the gap.

But Sheskin said the Jewish community does not appear to be intrigued by the conservative Tea Party movement.

"In places where the Republican primary produced a Tea Party candidate, even fewer Jews will vote Republican than is normally the case," he said. "They will vote for centrist or liberal candidates."

Sari Bloom, 45, secretary, said she is hoping that the Democrat in the Florida Senate race, Kendrick Meek, who is running third in the polls, pulls out, since moderate voters who back him likely would flock to Crist -- preventing a Rubio victory.

"Rubio would be a disaster," said Bloom, a Democrat.

"Crist is the best thing a Jewish democrat can hope for -- the lesser of two evils."

And like most voters across the country, Jewish voters here are particularly sensitive to issues surrounding the recession and high unemployment, which in Florida reached 11.7 percent in August.

Real estate here has been harder hit than many other parts of the country, as the housing bubble and massive mortgage finance scandals that nearly brought down the US economy continue to reverberate here.

Michael Koretzky, 45, a Democrat, said he is none too thrilled with Obama, but said Republicans, who have swung sharply to the right in recent years, don't seem to be a viable alternative.

"While Obama hasn't exactly been Israel's best buddy, the Republican Party has shifted so far right, it's equally disconcerting to Jews like me," said the professional writer, who lives in Hollywood, a town north of Miami.

"I think most pro-Israel Americans pine for traditional Republicans."

Analysts said that while the Tea Party movement is not likely to make major inroads among American Jews, some of its ideas have bled into political thinking here -- including rumors about Obama already discredited as false.

"I believe Obama is a Muslim," said Jeff Greenman, 55, a Republican hospitality services worker and a member of a Boca Raton Synagogue.

"My vote will go to getting everyone who is currently in, out," he said. "I think the Republicans are more pro-Israel than than Democrats." ... /id/374301