By Jessica Huseman
Sen. Rand Paul — the same Rand Paul that last year called for the U.S. to end “welfare” to Israel and hung up a vote on sanctions in Iran earlier this year — announced he will travel to Israel in early January, and requested a visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Rand Paul, who is closely associated with Libertarianism and an (almost) isolationist foreign policy, changing his message on Israel is all the evidence you need to figure out that you just can’t go anywhere in the Republican Party without being a “friend to Israel.”
Such devotion might lead the assumption that Jewish voters have influence over the Republican Party’s decisions, or that the Jewish vote hinges on America’s support of Israel. Neither is true, nor has it ever been.
The last Republican president to win even a plurality of the Jewish vote was Warren G. Harding in 1920, likely because Socialist candidate Eugene Debs pulled in 38 percent of the vote and Democrat James Cox ended up with 19 percent. This small plurality becomes even more shocking given that, up to that point, Harding was the most religiously tolerant president. He appointed two Jews to serve in White House positions and even advocated the set up and funding of a Jewish homeland in Israel.
And even though the Jewish voting pattern (since such things were counted) has always glowed brightly blue, intense speculation arises every four years that Jewish voters are on the verge of casting aside their Democratic allegiance and veering right. That’s in spite of solid statistical evidence that Jewish voters are actually becoming more liberal.
And still the right presses on — schmoozing Israel, and even mounting a $6.5 million campaign to attract Jewish voters with
flashy signs and bad (and maybe culturally insensitive?) slogans. In Florida, the third-largest state in terms of Jewish population and where a majority of that money was spent, a series of patriotically colored billboards along Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike read, “Obama…Oy Vey!!” Then asked, “Had enough?”
Because of this ridiculous attempt to grab up as many Jewish votes as possible, one might assume that the Jewish vote is huge. All of these destined-to-fail efforts would make a micro-speck of sense.
As it turns out, no.
Jewish voters actually only make up 2 percent of the U.S. population and 4 percent of voters nationwide.
So, why is this the case? Why is this trend one of the most steady voting patterns in American history?
Well, first things first, it turns out that Israel is an extremely low voting priority for the vast majority of Jewish voters.
Wait, seriously? Because reading the American press would make you think that Israel is the driving force behind Jews voting at all — what do you mean “low priority?” It’s their only priority!
According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 4 percent of Jewish voters ranked Israel as their top priority for the 2012 election. F-O-U-R.
They did, however, care about the economy and how the economy functions. According to the survey, 51 percent of Jewish voters ranked the economy as their top priority. This statistic was used by Republicans to assume that they had a shot at getting the Jewish vote this time around, but they were wrong. Why? Because Jewish voters view the economy — and how to fix it — much differently than Republicans.
The survey said 73 percent of Jewish voters believe “the United States’ economic system unfairly favors the wealthy.” To solve this, 64 percent said they believe the government should “do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor” and a staggering 81 percent said they favor “increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year.”
So, Republicans’ attempt to woo Jewish voters by complaining loudly about the failure of the Obama administration to protect Israel and their inflated rhetoric on fixing the economy was actually the exact opposite of what Jewish voters actually wanted. Oops?
If Jewish voters don’t give a damn about Israel, why is a trip to Israel — like the one Rand Paul is about to embark on — essentially a right of passage to the Republican presidential nomination?
Because evangelical voters care.
Let’s face it: Republicans aren’t stupid. They know that there aren’t that many Jewish voters, and that none of them actually vote based on America’s position on Israel. They keep pushing Israel because evangelical Christians feel a responsibility to protect it. Thus, the politically-oriented trips to the Holy Land and why American Family Association-funded evangelist David Lane is accompanying Rand Paul on his impending tour.
While political polls frequently make note of how many Jews make Israel a voting priority, such numbers don’t exist for Christians. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough proof that this priority is incredibly influential.
The largest pro-Israel group in the United States isn’t the the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or any Israeli or Jewish affiliated group. It is instead Christians United for Israel, a Christian Zionist group whose membership passed the one million mark this Spring. Additionally, a Pew Research Center poll conducted last spring said that a whopping 64 percent of evangelical Christians said “helping to protect Israel should be a very important policy goal for the United States” — almost double the number of non-evangelical Christians and Catholics who said the same.
Why do evangelicals care more about Israel than the descendants of Abraham? For the answer, we’ll turn to the functional leader of the evangelicals: Pat Robertson. Who else?
It turns out Jews are proof of the existence of God. Says Robertson:
“Ladies and Gentleman, evangelical Christians support Israel because we believe that the words of Moses and the ancient prophets of Israel were inspired by God. We believe that the emergence of a Jewish state in the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was ordained by God.
We believe that God has a plan for this nation which He intends to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
Of course, we, like all right-thinking people, support Israel because Israel is an island of democracy, an island of individual freedom, an island of the rule of law, and an island of modernity in the midst of a sea of dictatorial regimes, the suppression of individual liberty, and a fanatical religion intent on returning to the feudalism of 8th Century Arabia.
These facts about modern day Israel are all true. But mere political rhetoric does not account for the profound devotion to Israel that exists in the hearts of tens of millions of evangelical Christians.”
So “tens of millions of evangelical Christians” are the real reason for the profound devotion to Israel that the GOP has stuck to so fervently for the last several decades — not the Jews.
And this makes complete sense. Evangelical Christians make up 26 percent of the voting population, and the vast majority of them vote Republican. And while the Jewish population is becoming more liberal, evangelicals are becoming increasingly more conservative: 78 percent of them voted for Mitt Romney (overlooking his Mormonism), compared to the 74 percent that voted for John McCain in 2008. And these numbers are only expected to grow.
The talk surrounding Israel in every election (White House or otherwise) always returns to the Jewish vote, but don’t let that fool you. The real reason for such devotion is the same as the reason for the GOP’s strong stances on gay marriage and abortion: To keep evangelical Christian voters happy.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — everyone has to keep their base happy (think entitlement spending on the Left) — the problem is that the conversation has drifted too far from what is actually going on (but that’s hardly far from the norm in politics, I suppose).
So when the news comes pouring in at the start of the year about Rand Paul’s trip to Israel, know that it is just a ploy to get on the right side of the tracks for his (inevitable) run at the presidency in 2016 (or at least 2020). Look no further than his comment that the secondary reason for the trip is to get to know his “Judeo-Christian roots” and his “[fascination] with the 1st century,” specifically regarding a reading he’s done on the separation from Christianity from Judaism.
He hasn’t been playing nice enough with Israel — or the evangelicals — so far, and now’s the time to start.