In Washington yesterday, Republican presidential contenders trumpeted bold promises to Israel and to American Jewish voters. At a forum organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, Newt Gingrich said one of his first executive orders as president would be moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Michele Bachman echoed that position and said she even has a donor to fund the move. Both were greeted with eager applause.
Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney restated his pledge that Israel would be the first country he would visit as president. Rick Perry clarified his position on aid to Israel, characterizing U.S. money to Israel as requisite "strategic defensive aid." Previously, Perry had called on ending all U.S. foreign aid. All the candidates including Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman (Ron Paul was not invited to the forum) questioned President Obama's allegiance to Israel.
American Jewish voters represented just 2 percent of the electorate in 2008, and Obama drew the vast majority of their support. In courting the Jewish vote, the Republicans always have to reckon with domestic policies that historically hold little appeal to that demographic.
But is this about more than American Jews? Evangelical Christians in key early states would also be rallied by yesterday's speeches. How vulnerable is Obama among Jewish voters? What is the difference between the interests of America in the Middle East and the interests of an American ally there? How will the president pursue American Jews leading up to 2012?
Linda Feldmann, White House Correspondent, Christian Science Monitor