The Republican upset victory in the Brooklyn-Queens special election to replace ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner is obviously bad news for Democrats. But it has more far-reaching ramifications, most of them bad, according to this take by Haaretz’s new New York bureau chief, former CNN commentator and onetime Forward Jerusalem correspondent Chemi Shalev.
Shalev thinks there are plenty of reasons for Democrat David Weprin’s loss, including anger at Obama over the miserable economy and especially the influence of social issues among the district’s many conservative Catholics and Orthodox Jews. But Republicans are certain to package it big time the way former mayor Ed Koch pitched it, as a “message” to President Obama about his policies toward Israel. (Here’s what the Republican Jewish Coalition is saying the morning after.) And that could cause a heap of very real collateral trouble, Shalev says.
For one thing, there’s going to be a negative impact on Jews and pro-Israel advocacy within the larger American body politic.
Emboldened by their astonishing achievement in a district held by the rival Democrats throughout the past 88 years, the Republicans are bound to try and exploit their newly-found “wedge issue” in order to pry the proverbial “Jewish vote” away from its historic Democratic tilt. In the process, many Jewish leaders fear, the Republicans may irreparably erode the bedrock of bipartisanship that has characterized U.S. support for Israel for many decades. And by appealing to the Jews to “vote Israel” at the expense of all other considerations, they maintain, the Republicans may also be lending credence, albeit inadvertently, to the age-old canard of “dual loyalty” leveled at American Jews by their detractors.
Beyond that, it’s likely to increase tensions in the Middle East. Here’s where Shalev, for years one of Israel’s most respected diplomatic writers, gets most subtle and alarming:
The attempt to “mend fences” with Israel, already apparent in the Administration’s all-out effort against the Palestinian drive to achieve statehood at the United Nations and in its unabashed touting of its assistance to Israel in last week’s crisis in Cairo, is likely to intensify and thus to exacerbate Washington’s already strained relations with the Arab world. There couldn’t be better news, of course, for Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s ongoing efforts to capture Arab hearts and minds and, in that regard, the shot across Obama’s bow from the heavily-Jewish boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn may be heard around the world, at least for the 15 months leading up to the 2012 elections.
Here is how the anti-gay Family Research Council has been spinning it: same sex marriage is the “only” reason Turner beat Weprin. Here is a shocked response on the Village Voice blog. Ben Smith at Politico does a good job here of weighing the various factors that played into the vote. Also Julie Bolcer in The Advocate does a good job here of teasing out the various issues, including the fact that the district’s Orthodox community leans more Modern Orthodox than Haredi, which suggests that Israel was a bigger issue than same sex marriage. But there are also secular, Conservative and Reform Jews, especially in Queens, and we don’t know how they voted. I’m told there were no exit polls, which means we may never know. That will leave the spinmeisters free to create whatever reality they want.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).