What’s most detestable about Mike Huckabee’s Holocaust hyperbole – his claim that President Obama’s Iran nuke deal will march Jews “to the door of the oven” – is the presumption that he somehow knows what’s best for all Jews. And that he somehow has standing to speak for all Jews.
I do understand his political problem. Debate season is nearing, the primaries are looming, and in an overcrowded field dominated by Donald Trump, the right-wing preacher is desperate to connect with the religious conservative voters who can keep him alive past Iowa. So playing the Obama=Hitler card is a handy way to gin up some buzz.
But, just like Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who also presumes to speak for all Jews; heck, he doesn’t even speak for all Israelis), Huckabee ignores this fundamental fact: American Jews don’t march in lockstep with Israeli hawks. The reality is that a solid plurality of American Jews broadly support the Iran nuke deal.
That’s no surprise, for reasons we’ll soon explore. According to a new national poll conducted by the independent, nonprofit L.A. Jewish Journal, 49 percent of American Jews are thumbs-up for the deal, and only 31 percent are thumbs-down. They’re way more supportive than the general population – which is 28 percent thumbs-up, 24 percent thumbs-down, and 48 percent “don’t know enough to say.” American Jews, by a margin of 53-35 percent, want Congress to OK the deal; the general population wants the deal approved, but by a much smaller margin, 41-38 percent. And even though American Jews aren’t necessarily convinced that Iran can be trusted, they overwhelmingly believe – by a margin of 59-19 percent – that negotiating with Iran was a good idea.
These polling stats – which mirror other recent samplings of American Jewish opinion – are politically important, because the battle for hearts and minds on Capitol Hill has just began. Fence-sitting lawmakers are reportedly waiting on Chuck Schumer, the Jewish Democratic senator who has yet to say how he’ll vote on the deal in September. Schumer and other key players will be lobbied relentlessly by Jewish interest groups – which are by no means monolithic.
The heaviest hawkish hitters are the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Netanyahu’s visiting retenue. AIPAC has created an “issues” group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, to run $40 million worth of ads in as many as 40 states, in the hopes of putting public pressure on swayable lawmakers. The Republican Jewish Coalition (which hews to its perpetually delusional belief that Jewish voters will break heavily for the GOP) is weighing in as well.
Liberal Jewish groups, like J Street, support the nuke deal. Their problem is, they lack AIPAC’s financial clout and the Israeli hawks’ megaphone. We won’t know for a while whether this lobbying imbalance is fatal, but J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami is correct when he tells the press, “I think it’s going to be a real epic fight. The foreign policy fight of a generation.”
Their strength, however, is that they’re broadly in sync with most American Jews. That’s no surprise, because Jews are more liberal than the general population, more supportive of Obama than the general population, and vote Democratic more heavily than the general population (every four years, roughly 70 percent support the Democratic presidential candidate). They know that the Republican party detests the nuke deal, and it just so happens that most American Jews detest the Republican party.
And if a pollster were to ask them about Mike Huckabee, most would agree that his oven remark was repugnant. I get that the guy is worried about making the cut for the first Republican debate, but surely there must be a way to grab a clown car seat without presuming to speak for the fate of the Jews.
By the way, Huckabee would undoubtedly assail this argument as bad for the Jews: “Another way to contain Iran is through diplomacy….Sun-tzu’s ancient wisdom is relevant today – ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Yet we have not had diplomatic relations with Iran in almost 30 years….When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward. The same is true for countries….Whereas there can be no rational dealings with al Qaeda, Iran is a nation-state seeking regional clout and playing the game of power politics we understand and can skillfully pursue. We cannot live with al Qaeda, but we might be able to live with a contained Iran.”
Sounds like a march to the ovens, right? Ah, nope. That was Mike Huckabee, making the case for negotiations, in 2008.