President Barack Obama is playing a perilous political game with some of his core constituencies, pursuing policies that threaten to diminish the enthusiasm of groups that helped put him into office.
In his first nine months, Obama has followed an agenda that raised concerns among unions, Jews, gays and Latinos groups that backed him overwhelmingly and without which he cannot be re-elected. The complaints for now are mostly muted, and any damage done can be reversed. But all have high expectations for the president, and a few particularly labor leaders and gays view his presidency as the first, and perhaps the last chance for some time, to achieve long-coveted goals.
The presidents path among Jews is particularly tricky. Some 78 percent of Jewish voters backed Obama over McCain. They make up sizable voting blocs in swing states like Florida and Ohio, which Obama needs in his column. The presidents approval rating among Jews was at 64 percent in a recent Gallup poll though the decline tracks that of other groups. An August poll of Israeli Jews, done for the Jerusalem Post, found that only 4 percent believe Obamas policies are pro-Israel.
Statements by Obama and other leading administration figures in the early months of his presidency impressed many Jewish leaders as amounting to heavy-handed pressure against Israel. Obama appeared to be leaning on Israel to rein in its settlements on land captured from the Arabs while asking little of the Palestinians. At a June 4 speech in Cairo, Obama offered too much equivalency between the Jewish and Palestinian causes for some Jews.
A top U.S. Jewish leader noted that in recent weeks, Obama has smartly taken his effort to mediate Jewish-Palestinian relations behind closed doors, reducing the perception that he is hectoring Israel. He noted that, in the wake of the intifada, Jewish faith in the peace process has diminished, and Obama is not as free as President Bill Clinton was in the 1990s to try to pressure Israel to move the process along.
If there are political consequences, they will come from the extent to which Obama tries to push Israel to do something thats not in her interests, the Jewish leader said.
Jews may also look toward the GOP in 2012 if Obama is not seen as acting forcefully to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion by the American Jewish Committee last month found that 66 percent would support an attack by Israel on Iran. But for now, according to United Jewish Communities Vice President for Public Policy William Daroff, Obamas approach of having negotiations with the threat of tough sanctions sits well with most Jews.