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At the second presidential debate, undecided Jewish voters did not ask about Israel

The second presidential debate was held Tuesday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island. The moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, chose questions that were submitted in advance by the rather small audience, all of whom were undecided voters.

According to the CNN poll conducted immediately after the debate, 73 percent of respondents thought the president did significantly better than in the first one. Given that his performance in the first debate was widely acknowledged to have been a disaster, with Daily Beast uber blogger Andrew Sullivan predicting it would lose Obama the election, a cynic might say that the president had nowhere to go but up the second time around.

But it was clear that the old Obama was back  - engaged, knowledgable, articulate, empathetic. And he was far more aggressive this time, not hesitating to call Romney out when he lied. But perhaps the best moment came when Candy Crowley interrupted an argument between the two candidates and confirmed that the president had, indeed, called the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi an act of  terror the day after it happened – that Obama had not, as Romney claimed, waited two weeks to label the attack terrorism. U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the consulate attack.

Besides the reference to Libya, there were no foreign policy questions. Americans tend to be uninterested in the subject, so the failure of this typically middle class, suburban audience to evidence more interest in issues beyond their borders is perhaps not that surprising. But in this case, half the questions were asked by Jews. Their names sounded, I tweeted, like my bat mitzvah guest list: Jeremy Epstein, Susan Katz, Carol Goldberg, Barry Green.

But none of these middle class Long Island Jews asked a question about Israel. They were interested in jobs, economic policy and how the two candidates perceived themselves. From the way they phrased their questions, it seemed pretty clear that they had voted for Obama in 2008 and were now primarily concerned about the same issues that preoccupy most middle class Americans – how to pay the bills, how to save for the future and how to make sure their kids find a job after college.

Last week, the vice presidential candidates argued during their debate about who was closer to the prime minister of Israel. They called Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi,” to indicate that they were friends of Israel’s prime minister. These men believed that being perceived as a friend of Bibi’s would lend them credibility with their constituents. Otherwise, they would not have wasted precious time boasting and competing over the matter.

Then along come four typical suburban middle class American Jewish voters and – voilà! – they do not ask about Israel.

Youssef Munnayer, the director of The Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., tweeted: “Clearest loser tonight: People who think American Jews’ primary interest is Israel.”

This is the ongoing enigma of U.S. domestic politics, where Israel is an issue of critical, primary importance to the politicians, while their Jewish constituents base their votes on the same issue as their non-Jewish fellow citizens – jobs, taxes, income and education.

In case you missed it, click here to read the transcript of the debate and watch the whole thing on video.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. RichardL

      What’s the enigma? The Zionist lobby represented foremost by AIPAC calls the shots. Who cares what Jewish constituents are concerned about? Welcome to U.S. democracy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Adam

        Classic anti-Semitic move, RichardL: if you don’t like the facts, assert that the Zionists are in control(and, yes, your statement is anti-Semitic because 1) It’s not true: the so-called Zionist lobby does not call the shots and 2) You are drawing a direct connection between this so-called Zionist lobby and the interests of Jewish voters). Lisa was spot-on: Jewish Americans have more pressing domestic: Israel is barely on our radar. As a Jewish American– and as one who would like to see Obama give Bibi a beat-down– I’m going to consider a candidates’ stand on women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality and health care long before I ever think of Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • RichardL

          So AIPAC is not Zionist and it has no influence on US foreign policy. That’s a novel and interesting hypothesis. Incidentally I was suggesting there is no connection between the aims of the Zionist lobby and the everyday concerns of Jewish voters. I’m surprised you should misread that in the way you have.

          Reply to Comment
          • Adam

            There’s a world of difference between saying that AIPAC has some influence over American foreign policy and saying that they “call the shots.” If you watched the debates(and I’m presuming you didn’t– you sound British to me) you would have noticed that the lobby casting a shadow over the debate was the NRA, judging by both the pathetic response of both candidates to the question about assault weapons.

            Reply to Comment
          • RichardL

            Watch the debates! Whatever for? It won’t change anything whoever gets in. I mean nearly four years on and Obama has not even closed Guantanamo yet, and he was banging on about on his first day of office.

            By the way how many standing ovations did Netanyahu get on Capitol Hill (I have genuinely forgotten for the moment)? Do you really think that was because his rhetoric was so compelling? Just how many times have you bought that bridge in Brooklyn now?

            Reply to Comment
          • RichardL

            Yes Adam, you ducked out without either withdrawing your charge of anti-Semitism or making a case to justify it. The actions of a scoundrel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Adam

            Richard– I “ducked out” of the conversation because I work 12 hours a day and don’t always have time for this. As for the anti-Semitism charge, if you don’t understand why saying that “Zionists call the shots” in the U.S. government is anti-Semitic, then I doubt we’ll agree about much. The slander that Jews control governments is a classic anti-Semitic trope straight out of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and substituting “Zionists” for “Jews” doesn’t change the anti-Semitic structure of the argument. However, my more substantial disagreement with you is that it doesn’t matter who gets elected president of the U.S. You’re right that the outcome of the election probably won’t change anything about Guantanamo, and I doubt many Americans care one way or the other. Maybe that doesn’t speak well of us. But many Americans care deeply about affordable health care, women having control over their reproductive rights, regulating the big banks the created the recession. If Romney gets elected, try telling women in the US who won’t be able to get a safe and legal abortion that it doesn’t matter who is president. Many people who think like you voted for Ralph Nader rather than Gore in 2000. Guess what? If all the people in Florida who had voted for Nader in 2000 had voted for Gore, Bush would not have become president. If Gore had won, we wouldn’t have waged war in Iraq. So, don’t tell me that there’s no difference between the two major parties. You’re upset that Bibi gets a standing ovation in the Senate. Get over it. I’m much more concerned about whether all Americans have access to health care, and the results of this election will directly affect who lives and who dies in this country from curable illnesses.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Mitchell Cohen

      What is so surprising here? I have been saying all along most Americans (including Jewish) are more concerned about keeping their homes, sending their kids to college, having health coverage, etc. It’s not rocket science.

      Reply to Comment
      • CigarButNoNice

        Still won’t stop the Stormfront Brigade (*cough*RichardL*cough*) talking about a Jewish conspiracy of dual loyalty anyway.

        Reply to Comment
        • RichardL

          I am getting a bit old and forgetful so perhaps you would be kind enough to point out where I wrote something, anything at all, about Jewish dual loyalties. I mean you wouldn’t be so malicious as to libel me would you?

          Reply to Comment
    3. Sandy

      Hello Lisa,I just received a very telling article from a friend in Israel who writes for YNET News. I would like for you to read Dan Calic’s article. To me it shows what Israel has to fear when Our President Obama seems to be dissing Israel and her prime minister. In my opinion President Obama spoke the words of his true feelings when he said he would put day light between the USA and Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mareli

      American Jews are just that – Americans. They live in the U.S., not in Israel, and their main concerns are the same as other Americans. They care about Israel, as do many non-Jewish Americans. In fact, the Bibi backers are more likely to be Christian Zionists than American Jews. American Jews still tend to be a liberal bunch politically, and recent opinion surveys in 2012 have borne this out.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Aaron Gross

      The Jews who count are the ones who donate lots of money to the campaigns. Their concerns aren’t necessarily reflected by the Jews asking those questions.

      If you are talking about regular voters, then all that Bibi-is-my-friend, more-Zionist-than-the-Jews stuff is aimed mostly at Christian Zionists. However you define Zionist, the vast majority of American Zionists are Christian. In America it seems to be the Christians much more than the Jews who love Bibi and the national camp.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Stuart

      Most of those who have attended AIPAC conferences are aware that it has always been a bi-partison organization. The speakers and presenters at their meetings are from both sides of the aisle…as AIPAC primary concern is US-Israel relations. Is this an all powerful lobby? Not in comparison to the Oil Lobby, Big Pharma, NRA, etc…but they do spend their funds taking members of Congress to Israel to see the situation on a first hand basis. Those that are against this might be well advised to take a trip to the Holy Land themselves…see how one lives when the rockets come overhead every so often…exploding in the streets ..caring not if they kill
      innocent women and children. Until you walk in thier shoes you should not be allowed to preach your gospel tinged with such hatred of the folk in Isreal…both Christian and Jewish..as well as the fortunate Muslim Arabs who would not think of leaving this democratic country to live in another Muslim nation…Syria…Lebanon…Egypt…
      Libya….Saudi Arabia, etc. Wake up and smell the roses!

      Reply to Comment

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