Specter's Switch and the GOP's Huge Disadvantage Among American Jews

Despite their support for Israel, Republicans have little Jewish support and only one Jew in Congress.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The American right, particularly the religious right, has dramatically stepped up its support for Israel in recent years.

President George H. W. Bush criticized Israel for allowing settlers to build in the Palestinian territories, but you'd be hard pressed to find a statement from George W. Bush offering anything less than full-throated support for an action taken by the Jewish state.

In 2006, John Hagee founded Christians United for Israel to congeal the burgeoning Christian Zionist movement into a national organization.

One of the most memorable lines from last year's vice presidential debate was Sarah Palin's praise for Joe Biden's response to a question on Israel: "I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that."

The first Jewish vice presidential candidate in American history, then Democrat Joe Lieberman, was a prime-time speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

And yet for all the apparent strengthening of the alliance between the GOP and Israel, the huge historical advantage of the Democratic Party among Jewish Americans shows no signs of weakening. President Obama got 78 percent of the Jewish vote last year. That's a greater share of votes than John McCain got among white evangelicals, the strongest pro-GOP constituency.

Which brings us to this week's party switch by Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. It gives Senate Democrats their 12th Jewish member and deprives Republicans of their sole Jewish senator. If Al Franken wins his legal battle to represent Minnesota, as expected, he will become the 13th Jewish senator, making roughly 1 in 5 Democratic senators a Jew.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have a lone Jewish member in Congress: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. For all its bridge building to the Jewish world, what does the GOP have to show for its efforts, politically speaking?

Here's how the National Jewish Democratic Council put it in an E-mail this week to supporters:

The Republican Party's continued shift to the right has had negative implications for GOP support in the Jewish community. Despite the fact that in every election cycle conservative Jewish activists claim that Jews are becoming more Republican, the Jewish vote f or Republicans at the national level is stuck at about 20%. Moreover, over the last decade there are fewer and fewer Republican Jewish office holders at the national level.