Last Wednesday I got a real education. I had asked Andrew Neil, presenter of the BBC’s political satire show This Week, on Twitter whether he would apologise on this week’s This Week for his insinuation on last week’s This Week that American Jews control America’s foreign policy and that America might get dragged into war with Iran because of it.
Andrew Neil had asked ex-Conservative politician Michael Portillo for his “moment of the week”. The exchange went like this (see above for the short clip):
Michael Portillo: “Mark Mardell, who’s the America editor of the BBC, produced a report, I think on Tuesday, in which he said that the White House now believes that Israel will attack Iran during the course of this year, possibly as early as the Spring, certainly before the Presidential election. The reasoning is that before long the nuclear weapons’ programme of Iran will be beyond reach. But also if you were to launch an attack before the Presidential election, both Presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat, would have to support Israel in an election situation so it’s a good time to launch an attack.”
Andrew Neil: “Because of the Jewish vote?”
Michael Portillo: “Because of the Jewish vote, of course. So, this appears to be the betting. Now if this happens, of course this may lure the United States in in one way or another. But it is a transformational occurrence if it happens. Iran could be expected to retaliate in all sorts of ways, possibly against Saudi Arabia, for example, possibly against the Sixth Fleet in Bahrain. I mean it’s going to make most of the things we are talking about at the moment seem pretty much like a Sunday picnic.”
Andrew Neil: “I’m sure Mr Obama needs that like a hole in the head as he tries to get re-election.”
Michael Portillo: “Well, on the other hand Presidential incumbents tend to do quite well in a war situation.”
Incredibly, Andrew Neil seems more concerned for Obama than Israel’s security in all this, but the above exchange also raises the tired, old slur of dual loyalty; that Jews are more loyal to Israel’s concerns than their own country’s interests.
After that my brief Twitter exchange with Andrew Neil last Wednesday went as follows:
Me: “are you going to apologise tomorrow night for talking about “the Jewish vote” in America or are you going to let it slide?Shameful”
Andrew Neil: “Bit hard since we’re not on. But no anyway. Jewish vote has been feature of US politics for over 100 years. Studied it at uni!!”
Me: “American Jews r 1.5% of American population. How can such a tiny vote affect American election?What about the Christian\Muslim vote?”
Andrew Neil: “Because Jewish turnout is huge, concentrated in key states and tends to vote in unison. Go get a book on US psephology.”
Me: “They always tend to vote Democrat whatever! You insinuated Jews control American foreign policy! Disgraceful. You should apologise.”
Andrew Neil: “I’m trying to educate you not offend you! But clearly not getting anywhere. There is no apology and no point in prolonging this”
It was disappointing that Neil didn’t wish to prolong the exchange as he may have learnt something. In last December’s article Why Republican efforts to corral Jewish vote may come up short Nathan Guttman is quoted as saying:
“Poll after poll, survey after survey, show that Jewish Americans love Israel and want their elected officials to support Israel, but don’t view this issue as decisive. Topping the Jewish voter’s priority list are economic and social issues. Israel is somewhere in the middle.”
As of a few months ago, there were 6,588,065 Jews in America out of 308,745,538; just some 2.1% of the American population. Tiny!
These Jews are mainly based in New York which has 1,635,020 Jews representing 8.4% of New York’s population, California (1,219,740 @ 3.3%), Florida (638,635 @ 3.4%) and New Jersey (504,450 @ 5.7%). These states represent respectively 29, 55, 29 and 14 of the 270 electoral votes needed to secure a Presidential win.
New York (29) has voted Democrat in the last six Presidential elections, California (55) has voted Democrat for the last five as has New Jersey (14). Admittedly, Florida (29) is a major swing state having vote Republican in seven out of the last 10 Presidential elections; although it voted for Obama in 2008.
Jews have overwhelmingly vote Democrat historically: 78% of them voted for Obama in 2008, 76% for Kerry in 2004, 79% for Bush in 2000, 78% for Clinton in 1996, 80% for Clinton in 1992, 64% for Dukakis in 1988, 67% for Mondale in 1984, 45% for Carter in 1980 and 71% for Carter in 1976.
Meanwhile, a Pew Poll released a few days ago shows that only 5% of the American public thinks that America should not support Israel if it attacks Iran, while 39% think it should support Israel. 51% think America should remain neutral. The Poll also found:
“Fully 64% of white evangelical Protestants say that the U.S. should support Israel if it attacks Iran in an effort to stop their nuclear weapon program. That compares with 42% of white mainline Protestants and 41% of white Catholics.”
It isn’t just about religion either. The Poll suggests that “There are large demographic differences in views about what the U.S. should do if Israel attacks Iran”, for example depending on whether you are male or female, young or old.
But in all of the categories listed far more Americans think that if Israel attacks Iran then America should support Israel (see results of Pew Poll below).
So, in conclusion, it isn’t, as Michael Portillo thinks, that Presidential candidates “would have to support Israel” but that Americans generally identify with Israel. America, like Israel, is also under attack and America was created in the same way as Israel; in both cases mostly uninhabited land was colonised. In the 1880s when Jews started to return to the area that was eventually to become Israel there were only some 550,000 Arabs and Jews in an area that now holds seven million in Israel.
And Andrew Neil’s claim that “Jewish turnout is huge, concentrated in key states” is wrong. The Jewish vote is tiny and not in key states, apart from Florida. It’s the American Christian evangelical vote that is huge, there being some 50 – 80 million of them in America.
The only claim Neil gets right is that Jews tend to vote in unison. But they vote on a range of issues, only one of which is Israel, which is why they vote mainly Democrat.
Finally, an American President is going to do what is in the best interests of America and not just America’s Jews. In 1980 Reagan received 39% of the Jewish vote, which was relatively high for a Republican, but in 1981 he forced through Congress the sale of Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia despite fierce pro-Israel lobbying against the sale.
Reagan’s Jewish vote did fall back to 31% in the 1984 election, but it didn’t stop him getting re-elected.
So, it really isn’t about “the Jewish vote” at all, although the likes of Andrew Neil and Michael Portillo, in their ignorance, will continue to tell you that it really is.
Pew Research Center Poll