When the thrill of a romance is gone
Some Jews are winking at Republicans, and Democrats are jealous
That pop and crackle in the air is the sound of strains on a romance, like the noise of a cooling wood stove. The Jewish love affair with the Democratic Party has not gone bust by any means but it’s beginning to frazzle at the edges, as unrequited love inevitably does. The Democratic left, which now dominates the party, does not like Israel very much.
Jewish voters have been one of the most reliable sources of liberal support for Democrats for decades, but now Barack Obama must make a case for his nuclear-arms deal with Iran to a Congress of mostly Republicans who are fervently pro-Israel, as many Democrats no longer are. It’s showing up first in a surge of donations by wealthy Jews to Republican causes and candidates.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is a new hero for many Jews for his skepticism of the proposed deal with Iran. His famous letter to the mullahs in Tehran, warning them not to confuse Mr. Obama’s support for a deal with the support of the American people, was signed by 46 Republican senators.
Nobody knows the details of the “framework” Mr. Obama has agreed to, but most Republicans and many Democrats in Washington are afraid those details are bad. Mr. Cotton, a freshman senator from the foothills of the Ozarks, received more than $1 million from sympathetic wealthy Jews in his successful campaign to win the seat once held by J. William Fulbright, an influential Democrat who was not a particular friend of Israel. A million dollars goes a long way in Arkansas, a rural state of small farms and small towns.
Big-dollar Jewish donors are leading the way away from Democrats. The Center for Responsive Politics compiled data of federally regulated campaign contributions of pro-Israel contributors in the 2014 election cycle, and an analysis by The New York Times concluded that Republicans in the Senate collected more than Democrats. This was a first in decades. Jewish cash, The New York Times reports, attracted Republican support.
“Absolutely, it is a factor,” Marc Felgoise, manager of the Philadelphia Israel Network, a fundraising group, tells the newspaper. “They are trying to cater to people who are ultimately going to support them.” Some Democrats pretend to find this strange and even sinister, but there’s a name for it. It’s called “politics.” Few donors, Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, Jews, Christians or otherwise, shower campaign cash on candidates who oppose their causes.
Other Democrats prefer to look the other way and hope the facts will go away. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal group that says it’s pro-Israel in its own way, calls the trend a small one and insists that most Jews still support the Democratic Party, which no one disputes. Democrats have what The New York Times calls “a more nuanced relationship with Israel.”
Nuances are nice, but any senator, every governor, and all the consultants will tell you that as nice as nuances can be, it’s cash that pays for campaigns.
Nevertheless, Mr. Ben-Ami insists that money can’t buy love, and that’s what rich Jewish donors are trying to do. “Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional focus for any element of the Republican Party,” he tells the New York newspaper. “But the feeling now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps [Republicans] to appear strong on foreign policy.” Breaking up, as almost anyone can tell you, is hard to do.