“I heard it!” said Margie Rosen, 84, leaning on her cane outside Sage Bagel and Deli on Monday morning. A clock above the selection of white fish and black-and-white cookies read, “Be a Mensch. . . .” Rosen agreed with Romney that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel, but she didn’t like that he talked about it publicly. “That’s a problem they have to solve.”
Other members of Romney’s intended audience of elderly Jewish voters in this condo-dotted coastal town between Miami and Fort Lauderdale also were unswayed.
“I listen to some of these Jews in here saying Obama is not a friend of Israel,” said Mark Axelowitz, 64, as he walked into the bagel place, “and I say, ‘think of Social Security and Medicare!’ ”
Scott Margules, 55, who walked out with an order of sable, criticized the Republican presidential hopeful for trying to “pander to the Jewish vote” in this swing state.
Every four years, American politics enters a mystical period. Elected officials, campaign operatives and the news media wonder whether this election might be different from all the others. Republicans saw an opening in 2008, when Barack Obama was depicted by some of his more animated critics as the crypto-Muslim personification of “bad for the Jews.” But the Democratic candidate won 75 percent of the Jewish vote.
Could 2012 be the year? Today, Obama’s numbers among Jews have dipped into the 60s, according to recent polls, and Republicans are hoping the drop has less to do with a lousy economy than with Obama’s early, aggressive efforts to move the Mideast peace process along with sometimes blunt criticism of the Israeli government. They are hoping for a conversion among lifelong Democrats, an influx of donors and reassaurance for evangelicals, for whom the protection of the Holy Land is a top issue.
Measure of friendship
In February 2008, Obama told Jewish voters in Cleveland, “There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel.” His appointment of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — a supporter of Israel — as secretary of state gave him some cover, but Clinton astonished many when, in May 2009, she said the administration “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions,” a sentiment Obama echoed in a subsequent speech.
Some of the staunchest Democratic supporters of Israel were willing to cut the president some slack in hopes of nudging the peace process forward. It didn’t move, and the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grew more strained. Jewish supporters of Obama — worried that the president had gone too far in pressuring Israel — closed down the space for debate. Although Obama has publicly and strongly reiterated U.S. support for Israel, Jewish Democratic lawmakers now find themselves having to beat back concerns among some that Obama would return to the previous strategy if elected to a second term.