A piece today by the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler on GOP presidential candidate’s rhetoric on Israel starts with a mistaken premise: that the candidates are taking a hard-line pro-Israel position in the hopes of winning Jewish votes. There are very few Jewish Republican primary voters [and especially few in Iowa and New Hampshire]–the only voters who matter right now, and Jewish donors are unlikely to be terribly impressed by a few throwaway lines in campaign speeches.
What Kessler misses is that support for issue has become a defining issue among American conservatives. One can see this in the polls–85% of Republicans support Israel over the Palestinians, compared to 48% of Democrats, 80-90% of Republicans have a favorable views of Israel compared to 40-50% of Democrats–and in subtle and not-so-subtle cues like Sarah Palin, whose support from Jews is miniscule and is almost certain to remain so, wearing a U.S.-Israel friendship pin. I’ve also noticed lately pro-Israel bumper stickers on vehicles that are almost certainly owned by non-Jewish conservatives (pickup trucks with NRA bumper stickers, minivans with Christian fish).
So GOP candidates are bashing Obama on Israel for the same reason they bash him on abortion, health care, spending, and so on–it appeals to their conservative constituents.