When Ed Koch endorsed the Republican in New York’s ninth Congressional district a few weeks ago, leading to a surprise victory for the GOP in a heavily Jewish district, many proclaimed that a certain type of Jewish swing voter looked to be deserting Obama. After all, Koch had specifically cited Obama’s alleged “open hostility to the State of Israel” as a reason to endorse the Republican.
But that was then. Koch has now come out and endorsed Obama, specifically citing Obama’s cooperation with the Israeli military as a key reason:
The President should be praised for intervening with the Egyptian army to save the Israeli diplomatic personnel from physical assault and providing the Israeli military with bunker buster bombs, advanced military technology and providing military intelligence cooperation far exceeding his predecessors. I’m now on board the Obama Reelection Express.
As Ben Smith noted: “Perhaps the Jews-against-Obama storyline has hit its high-water mark.”
Perhaps, but a few quick points. First, anyone who read too much into the signficance of Koch’s earlier criticism of Obama got played. Koch has been a go-to guy for whacking Democrats as allegedly soft on Israel for many years now. Indeed, Koch already has a well documented history of criticizing Obama on Israel before coming around to supporting him. In 2008, Koch spent weeks coyly refusing to reveal whether he would back Obama over John McCain — leading to reams of speculation that he would endorse the Republican, and bring many Jewish Americans with him — before finally coming out for Obama.
Second, Koch’s mention of the bunker-buster bombs is noteworthy. Obama’s top Jewish surrogates had been privately frustrated by the Obama campaign failure to inform Jewish voters about increased U.S. military cooperation with Israel, in order to push back on the “Obama is soft on Israel” criticism. But the other day, Newsweek reported that Obama had quietly authorized military deals Israel had sought for years. Whether the leak of this story was timed to address Jewish concerns about Obama or not, as some have speculated, Koch’s citation of it is a sign that this aspect of Obama’s record is now getting out there, and could mollify Jewish doubts.
It’s absolutely true that Obama’s campaign views the defection of Jewish voters as a possibility they must take seriously. It would be malpractive if his campaign advisers didn’t prepare for every worst case scenario. Koch’s endorsement will likely drain some of the momentum out of the right’s perennial narrative about inevitable Jewish desertions, but given Koch’s unreliability and affection for game-playing, it won’t diminish the campaign’s vigilence on this front, as well it shouldn’t.