Washington Jewish Week reports that longtime Democratic operative Ira Forman (who ran the National Jewish Democratic Coalition) has been hired on to run Obama’s Jewish outreach efforts for 2012:
As a former Clinton administration official who managed the National Jewish Democratic Council for nearly 15 years, Forman, 59, is uniquely qualified to help reset relations with those Jews who’ve soured on Obama - and solidify ties with those Jews who haven’t, observers maintain.
“The fact that Ira is one of first employees hired by the re-election effort speaks to the importance the campaign places on Jewish outreach, and perhaps is a recognition of the perception problem that the White House has had over the last three years,” added [William] Daroff, a former Republican Jewish Coalition official who often went toe-to-toe with Forman on the campaign trail. . . .
Campaign insiders readily admit that Forman’s job won’t be easy. Obama’s once-shining star has dimmed in the Jewish world (much as it has elsewhere), largely because of several high-profile confrontations with the Israeli government. . . .
Currently, Obama’s approval rating among Jews stands at around 60 percent, according to several recent polls.
“I don’t think the administration has articulated the depth and breadth of its support for Israel as well as it needs to,” explained former Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.), who campaigned for Obama in the Jewish community in 2008 (and will do so again this season). “Our biggest challenge is to essentially explain the facts and get the record out.”
Well, the facts aren’t all that positive right now. In fact, several developments between now and the 2012 election may add to Obama’s worries.
First, with the expected unilateral declaration of the Palestinian state at the U.N., new criticism will likely be directed by pro-Israel critics over his handling of the Middle East peace process and our participation in U.N. bodies such as the hate-mongering U.N. Human Rights Council.
Second, evidence suggests that sanctions against Iran have been a failure and that the Iranian regime is racing ahead with its nuclear weapons program. Unless a major disruption of the mullahs’ ambitions is achieved, pro-Israel voters will, to an even greater extent than the rest of the electorate, be asking how Obama let a revolutionary Islamic state get so perilously close to obtaining the bomb.
Finally, top GOP contenders Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have strong pro-Israel credentials and solid ties in the Jewish community. It is clear that both consider Obama’s treatment of the Jewish state to be unacceptable. Romney accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus.” Perry in his announcement speech specifically cited Israel as an abused ally. Perry is also getting some positive ink on two fronts. First, there is the Perry mezuzah selling online:
“Over the last few years we have been following with great interest the different stories of condominium boards making rules prohibiting Mezuzahs....
“Recently in June of this year (2011) Texas did something unique in passing a special law explicitly permitting the display of a Mezuzah up to 25 inches tall. This law overrides the authority of the Condo boards to ban Mezuzahs....
“After the bill was passed by the Texas legislature, the only question was whether Governor Rick Perry would sign it into law. When he did, we came up with the idea of commissioning a large, Texas style Mezuzah in his honor....
“In order to push the envelope a bit we told them to make it 26” tall - one inch taller than is protected by the Texas law. They loved the idea and got right to work on it. It arrived in our store in Los Angeles only a few days before Governor Perry announced his presidential campaign. What timing!”
More seriously, Perry weighed in with the administration on preventing Americans from joining the second flotilla seeking to run Israel’s Gaza blockade:
Shurat HaDin [the anti-flotilla Israeli group] lawyers discovered American flotilla activists were potentially in violation of the Neutrality Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from taking part in a hostile act against an allied country. “So we approached the Attorney General of the United States to fix it. And we also got Gov. Rick Perry to write a letter to Eric Holder,” said Darshan-Leitner.
It may seem a little weird that the governor of Texas would be one of the first people [attorney Nitsana ] Darshan-Leitner approached to help with the plan. But she explained that Perry was enthusiastically on-board with the cause ever since he met her on a trip to Israel.
“I once spoke at a mission that Perry took part in, in Israel,” she said. “And he approached me and said, ‘I love what you do. It’s amazing what you do. If you ever need help combating Israel’s enemies, I’m here to assist.’”
In other words, Perry is in an excellent position to argue that he’s a better friend of Israel than Obama. (Obama continues to claim credit for robust military sales, which is certainly a plus in his column, although at least equally attributable to Congress.) Frankly, with the exception of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), virtually all of the GOP candidates have been ferocious critics of Obama handling of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Conservatives should be under no illusions that liberal Jews will desert Obama in droves to vote for a conservative Texan or any Republican. But for those voters already on the fence about Obama, or increasingly disillusioned with his performance on a range of other issues, the Republicans may be able to offer an acceptable alternative. At the very least, Democrats are in the unusual position of having to devote time, energy and resources to courting a group that is supposed to be firmly in their corner.