Conservative pro-Israel groups that have spent millions of dollars targeting President Barack Obama’s policies toward the Jewish state are facing a daunting reality: If the president wins anyway, their political influence may never be the same.
For groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel, as well as a vocal class of Israel-boosting GOP opinion leaders, the 2012 presidential election is an almost existential test of relevance. In a sense, the 2012 race is to conservative Israel hawks what the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall was for organized labor; a campaign that could permanently strike fear into their political enemies or raise embarrassing questions about their viability as a national political force.
Funded in large part by billionaire gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson — an unswerving supporter of Israel and its conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — these groups have helped place Israel at the core of the GOP message on foreign policy. They’ve aired television ads seeking to woo Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party; one group, Secure America Now, has run multiple ads in Florida simply clipping from Netanyahu’s warnings about the threat of a nuclear Iran.
So far, the impact of all those efforts is uncertain at best: A poll released in September by the American Jewish Committee found Obama leading Mitt Romney by 41 points among Jews, 65 percent to 24 percent. A Gallup Poll last month was even more optimistic for Obama, showing him ahead 70 percent to 25 percent.
Jewish voters aren’t the only constituency that cares about Israel; evangelicals in particular are strongly hawkish when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But when it comes to swinging votes in 2012 on the basis of Israel policy, Jews have been the focus of Republican efforts, and may be the best indicator of whether the issue packs a punch in the presidential race.
The flipside of this argument is US policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. If both Obama and Romney’s policy towards Israel are essentially the same, hasn’t the lobby won out in the end? Maybe we’ll get to see on Monday if any daylight exists.