Voting My Issue

Zoe Jick
January 30, 2012
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When George W. Bush was up for re-election, and I was certain that a president so universally mocked could never earn a second term, I saw a t-shirt that changed my mind. This shirt had big bubble letters across its front that read “Vote Your Issue.” The bubble letters were colored blue and white. The obvious message of this t-shirt campaign was “vote for the candidate that will best support Israel,” its subtext reading, “even if that means re-instating Bush.”

I remember feeling conflicted—perhaps I should vote for Bush! He supports Israel! –  but was relieved of my ambivalence by not being old enough to vote. In 2008, for my first opportunity to vote, the issue was irrelevant: there was no question that I would vote for Obama. Even when some of my Republican-leaning Jewish friends voted for McCain—for the same Israel-centric voting strategy as I mentioned above—I knew I couldn’t abandon the “Yes We Can” fervor of my generation. I proudly voted for Obama for many reasons, his promises about Israel included, and never harbored doubt that his policies would keep Israel safe.

Now it’s time for Obama’s re-election campaign, and the future seems un certain for our charismatic leader.  My friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, are divided. My boyfriend plans to vote Republican, keeping in line with the “vote your issue” strategy, and deciding that the economy and jobs must be “his issues” this election season. “My issues” usually favor social policies- abortion, gay marriage, death penalty- and on these issues, my vote will always stay with the Democrats. However, many of my Jewish friends tell me that, now more than ever, I must prioritize Israel in my voting strategy. I should vote Republican because keeping Obama in office will disrupt the delicate American-Israel alliance, and isolate the Israeli government in its pursuit of democratic ideals and peace. They want to convince me to place my Jewish priorities above my domestic liberal values because Israel is in peril.

The Republican candidates know that the rumor of “Obama being dangerous for Israel” is spreading throughout the Jewish voter bloc, and they are capitalizing on the potential for Jewish swing voters. Romney swears that Israel will be the first place he visits as President, and Gingrich went so far as to posit Palestinian identity as invented. While a strong commitment to protecting and supporting Israel is certainly a policy I value in my president, I feel repulsed by the candidates’ desperate grasp at the Jewish vote. Using Israel to snatch my vote, and expecting to me ignore the rest of your policies, belittles me as a responsible voter.

Moreover, I refuse to believe that Obama is dangerous for Israel.  His tumultuous personal relationship to Netanyahu aside, I recognize that Obama has been more vocally critical of Israeli policies (especially settlement building) than many preceding presidents. Yet I can’t condemn Obama for his naturally conflicted responses to the complicated realities of current Israeli politics. Maintaining the fragile balance between criticism and support is tenuous, but I have to trust that the Obama administration is capable of remaining Israel’s strongest ally even despite moments where the countries’ leaders disagree.  Look to September for an example: judging from the UDI veto, I see that Obama is able to successfully put aside his criticisms in pursuit of Israel’s greater protection.

Israeli politics might continue to be a focal point for the upcoming debates as the candidates attempt to capture the Jewish vote. But they can stop trying to convince me. With continued faith in the Obama’s unfaltering American–Israel alliance, my Jewish vote does not need to rest in just one blue-and-white issue.

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