In what must be described as an upset, but not a surprise, apparently , a non-Jewish Republican defeated an Orthodox Jewish Democrat in a special election in New York City in one of the most heavily Jewish congressional districts in the U.S., the seat formerly held by disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Jewish voters’ attitudes toward Israel and Obama certainly played a role in that election, although the complexity of the Jewish community there (politically conservative Orthodox Jews and Russian-Jewish immigrants, as well as more traditional liberal New York Jews) makes unpacking the vote a challenging task.
Ha’aretz correspondent Chemi Shalev characterized the vote as a “Jewish thumping” of Obama: “Wednesday’s unequivocal repudiation of Obama and the Democrats in one of the America’s most densely-populated Jewish areas will be portrayed, as the outspoken former Mayor Ed Koch put it, as a ‘message to President Obama that he cannot throw Israel under a bus with impunity.’”
The New York Times said : “The emergence of Israel as an issue was a surprise, because Mr. (David) Weprin is an observant Jew and strong supporter of Israel. But Mr. Weprin’s support in the Orthodox community had already been weakened by his vote to legalize same-sex marriage, and several voters interviewed on Tuesday said the Israel issue was a major factor in their decision to support Mr. Turner, who is Roman Catholic. Mr. Turner repeatedly criticized Mr. Obama on Israel."
The paper quoted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Democratic National Committee chairwoman, as saying the district’s Orthodox Jews made it an unusual situation and meant the race had few national ramifications: “In this district, there is a large number of people who went to the polls tonight who didn’t support the president to begin with and don’t support Democrats – and it’s nothing more than that.”
But the Times went on to quote presumably more mainstream voters saying that the economy was their central concern: “I am a registered Democrat, I have always been a registered Democrat, I come from a family of Democrats – and I hate to say this, I voted Republican,” said Linda Goldberg, 61. “I need to send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job. Our economy is horrible. People are scared.”
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