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Why Israel is red and American Jews are blue

Israel would have voted for Mitt Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, but American Jews voted for President Obama by almost the same margin.

By Correspondent / November 8, 2012

A woman wears Obama campaign buttons, in both English and Hebrew, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks to a group of women at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach, Fla., Sept. 13, as she campaigned for President Obama.

J Pat Carter/AP

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Tel Aviv

Exit polls from the US presidential elections highlight a gap between American and Israeli Jews.

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At the conclusion of a campaign in which loyalty to Israel played an outsized role in the debate because of Republican claims that the administration had neglected the alliance, voter surveys indicated that American Jews maintained their decades-old support for the Democratic Party. Some 70 percent voted for President Obama – a proportion that was nearly the mirror image of public opinion polls indicating that Israelis backed Mitt Romney by a 2-to-1 margin.

"It’s true that Israel is a red state and that American Jewry is a blue state," says Yossi Klein Halevy, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Though that seems to indicate a rightward shift in Israel away from America’s liberal Jewish population, Mr. Halevy and other experts say it’s not that simple. Some even caution the very comparison is awkward because Israelis aren’t citizens.

That said, surveys indicate that American Jews vote primarily on economic and social issues, while considerations about Israel and foreign policy are secondary. By contrast, Israelis focus on a more narrow view of candidates' approach to the Middle East and don’t focus on domestic policy, which they think has no impact on them.   

"American Jews are overwhelmingly democratic because of social issues, not because of foreign policy," says Shaul Kelner, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University who focuses on ties between American Jews and Israel. "It’s easy for Israelis to be hawkish about American foreign policy when they don’t have to live here and deal with consequences of the social policy."

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