It is certainly possible to read too much into the results of a special election. Voters, after all, don’t come out in droves. Parties have trouble cranking up their get-out-the-vote apparatus. Even dependable volunteers often take a pass.
In the case of Bob Turner’s recent victory over heavily favored David Weprin in the campaign to replace the disgraced Anthony Weiner, however, pundits are correct when they insist that the results show that President Obama has a big problem on his hands. Mr. Turner turned the campaign into a referendum on Mr. Obama’s leadership, and some Jewish leaders, including former Mayor Edward Koch, implored Jewish voters to support Mr. Turner, a Republican, to show their opposition to the president’s treatment of Israel.
There were other factors at work in the ninth congressional district besides U.S. policy in the Middle East. Mr. Weprin was hardly a dynamic candidate. The election came after several weeks of more bad economic news. And Mr. Weiner’s scandalous behavior no doubt led some voters to abandon Mr. Weprin in favor of Mr. Turner.
Still, the Obama administration’s Middle East policy clearly was an important factor in the election, which should give the administration pause as it prepares for next year’s campaign. Democratic candidates over the past three decades have been able to count on the overwhelming support of Jewish voters. That clearly will not be the case in 2012. If Mr. Obama wants Jewish support, he will have to work for it.
The key for Mr. Obama will be actions, not words. He has said all of the things one would expect a U.S. president to say. He supports Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself from terrorists who, let’s remember, would like nothing more than to destroy Israel and cripple the U.S. The enemies of Israel are the enemies of the United States. That simple fact seems, at times, to have eluded the president’s foreign-policy team.
The Jewish community, however, requires more than words of support. It wants action, and it deserves nothing less. Israel’s strategic position is more perilous today than it was a year ago. The revolution in Egypt has led to a rise in anti-Israel sentiment in that country. Upheavals elsewhere could lead to further tensions in the region as demagogues try to rally support by whipping up sentiment against the Jewish state.
Mr. Obama needs to reach out to the American Jewish community to hear its concerns and to respond accordingly with strong, decisive action. Israel is an unabashed, unapologetic ally of the United States in a region not known for its friendly attitude toward Washington. Yes, Mr. Obama—and any American president—should have the credibility and power to bring all sides together to negotiate a permanent peace in the region. But the U.S. also must remain firm in its support for an ally and a friend.
In a way, the Jewish voters of the ninth district may have done the president an enormous favor. In sending their message to Washington, they may have awakened the White House to the extent of Jewish discontent. It remains to be seen if that message is answered with rhetoric, or with action.