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Fodder for Comedy
Pandering to Jewish Voters.

Gov. Sarah Palin (played by Tina Fey) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (played by Amy Poehler) address the nation in a satirical sketch produced by Saturday Night Live (NBC).

-- MJ Rosenberg

Here in the United States, one of the best ways to gauge the state of public opinion is to watch the late night comedy shows and see what comedians like Jon Stewart and the Saturday Night Live team are joking about.

This year the Jewish community’s supposed monomania about Israel has become a great source of merriment. Of course, it’s not fair. The percentage of American Jewish voters whose primary focus is on Israel is tiny. A strong majority of Jews care deeply about Israel’s well-being, but only a small number consider the Israel issue more important than domestic concerns when they vote.

According to the 2007 survey of American Jewish opinion conducted by the American Jewish Committee, the economy and opposition to the Iraq War were the most important issues for Jews when deciding whom to vote for. Israel was the deciding issue for 6 percent, tied with immigration reform. Would Jews vote for an anti-Israel candidate? No. But since no anti-Israel candidate has ever been a serious contender for the presidency, the question is moot.

But that does not stop certain single-issue pro-Israel organizations from sending the message that all we Jews care about is Israel, that we consider Israel’s interests identical to America’s. And that although it’s legitimate to oppose U.S. government policies, it’s wrong to oppose Israeli policies.

What balderdash. Maybe five percent of Jews feel that way. Although that number does include the heads of most major Jewish organizations who issue press releases excoriating any deviation from the “line” at the drop of a hat.

But it is that five percent that makes some candidates quake in fear at the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. It’s not just a few votes in Florida that they worry about, it’s the financial support Jews give to candidates they like. Of course, most Jews give their money based on domestic issues (which is why Democrats get about 80 percent of it).

This year all four candidates for national office have been effusive in their support for Israel. Obama and McCain have strong records of support in Congress and they both earned high marks with their speeches at the AIPAC convention. Palin has no record but says she cares about Israel, even “loves” Israel. Biden is in a league of his own. He has been involved with Israel for over 40 years. It’s safe to say that the Israel aid package might not have passed year after year without Biden.

You have to wonder how all this professed adoration for Israel goes over with the general public. I mean, I have never heard a candidate for president express “love” for Italy or Ireland. I have to think that most voters find it jarring and unseemly when a candidate for president of the United States professes to “love Israel.” Imagine if Palin had said, “I love the United Kingdom and, Joe, I’m glad we agree on that.”

Gov. Sarah Palin (played by Tina Fey) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (played by Amy Poehler) address the nation in a satirical sketch produced by Saturday Night Live (NBC).

On Saturday Night Live, a skit about the Biden-Palin debate specifically ridiculed Palin’s pandering to Jews:

Queen Latifah as Gwen Ifill: Governor Palin, what is your position on health care regulation?

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: I’m going to ignore that question and instead talk about Israel. I love Israel so much, bless its heart. There’s a special place for Israel in heaven. And I know some people are going to say that I’m only saying that to pander to Florida voters, but from a very young age, my two greatest loves were always Jews and Cuban food (blows a kiss).

Then there is this Jon Stewart Daily Show riff that was televised during the AIPAC Convention. Stewart showed real clips of the candidates speaking at AIPAC along with his commentary.

Indecision 5768 Obama, Clinton and McCain all address AIPAC -- the leading pro-Israel lobbying group -- and Jon Stewart scores them on the kosh-o-meter.

Obama at AIPAC: “I have long understood Israel’s quest for peace and need for security. . . . Two years ago, when I went to Israel . . .”

Stewart: “Ooooh. A personal visit. That’s a check for him in the gimel column. Senator Clinton?”

Clinton at AIPAC: “From my first trip to Israel in 1982 to my most recent, I have seen first hand what Israel has achieved.”

Stewart: “She flies there so much she’s in the Mile Chai club. McCain might have a hard time beating that.”

McCain at AIPAC: “When I was in Jerusalem with Senator Lieberman . . .”

Stewart: “You win Senator, but you know when you go to Israel you don’t have to bring your own Jew. There’s a wide variety of Jews there. A veritable Whitman’s sampler of Jews. It’s a nice touch you have a great friend who’s Jewish. Clinton?”

Clinton: “Being here today I am reminded of a passage from Isaiah.”

Stewart: “Ooh, she knew the Jews from the Bible. Obama?”

Obama: “I had a camp counselor who was an American Jew who lived in Israel for a time.”

Stewart: “Sorry. If the best thing you can say is that you had a camp counselor who is a Jew, that’s like saying you once rented Yentl.”

Stewart concluded: “But there is one thing that does make you a good friend of Israel. That is offering constructive criticism of any of its policies that may not be in its interest or the best interest of the world. So, let’s look at the critiques of current Israeli policy.”

Clips of all three candidates at AIPAC standing mute.

Stewart: “Oh, I forgot you can’t criticize Israel and be elected president of the United States.

“You know what’s funny.

“There is a place where you can criticize Israel. It’s called Israel.”

It’s time to exercise that right here too, without being denounced as a traitor to all that is holy.

One more thing. Most of us who do care deeply about Israel do not share the views of the right-wing Jewish organizations that claim to speak for us. The majority of us support negotiations, the two-state solution, and justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians. And we are not impressed with candidates who don’t.

MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.

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