Jewish Democrats Split with Obama Over Israel: An Interview with Jim Lafferty of the TVC

by Jerry Gordon (September 2009) 

In late July Rabbi 
Jon Hausman went to a Dick Morris presentation in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Morris, a nationally syndicated columnist, indicated that a survey of American Jewish opinion about Israel and President Obama was in the works.  On August 7th, the New York Post published a column by Morris and Eileen McGann “Where Bam Breaks with Jewish Dems.”  The Morris McGann piece detailed findings of a fascinating poll sponsored the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) conducted during late July. The Morris McCann column highlighted the stunning disagreement between American Jewish Democrats over Obama’s policies towards Israel. American Jews had overwhelmingly voted (78%) for Obama in the Presidential elections last November.

Jewish Democrats strongly agree with the Israeli position and disagree with President Obama’s on issues such as a Palestinian state, settlement construction and trading land for peace. Does the president realize he’s at risk of a break with an important part of his base?

A phone survey (sponsored by TVC and conducted by Global Marketing Research Services on July 22-24) of 500 American Jews who self-identified as Democrats exposes broad disagreement with Obama’s Middle East policies.

The TVC basic finding of a break  between likely American Jewish Democratic voters and Obama over his Middle East policies towards Israel resonated in Israel, as well. A
recent Smith poll conducted in Israel revealed that “ 4% of Jewish Israelis” thought that Obama, was pro-Israel.

According to the
Jerusalem Post report on the Smith poll further revealed:

… 50 percent oppose a temporary freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a poll out on Friday showed.

The percentage of Jewish Israelis who consider Obama as pro-Israel was down to four percent from six percent in the June 19 poll. By comparison, 88 percent of those interviewed for the June survey thought former US president George W. Bush was pro-Israel.

There have been indications that President Obama may be unveiling a
purported American Peace Plan for the Middle East perhaps during the upcoming UN General Assembly Session in New York in mid-September. The TVC and Smith polls may have sent an important message to the Obama White House that pushing for a ‘freeze’ on settlement construction in the disputed territories of the West Bank, dividing Jerusalem and promoting a two – state solution with the Palestinian Authority, itself in disarray, could result in disaffection of a loyal domestic voting bloc and disruption of the so-called ‘special relationship’ with Israel.

The TVC poll has come under criticism from the liberal Jewish press in the US, as well as alleged “pro-Peace, pro-Israel” left liberal groups like
J Street and Americans for Peace Now. They were among American Jewish NGOs invited to a  meeting with President Obama at the White House in mid-July. Not included in that gathering were pro-Israel ZOA and CAMERA– the Middle East media watchdog. 

J Street has
announced a conference of left liberal Jewish NGOs in Washington in late October. Examination of J Street’s funding has raised questions about possible conflicts with its announced positions and contributions from Arab and pro-Palestinian sources.
Eric Fingerhut of the liberal Jewish Telegraph Association (JTA) commented in a Capital J blog post on August 9th, “Who’s polling Jewish Democrats?”:

A TVC meeting is just about the last place you’d go if you were looking to find Jewish Democrats. So why is TVC doing a poll of 500 self-identified Jewish Democrats?  The organization’s spokesman, Jim Lafferty, said his group has been “active in the evangelical-Jewish coalition” and “strongly supports Israel” and was curious to see whether the Jewish electorate “sides with Mr. Obama or Mr. Netanyahu.”
Morris spins the results as boding ill for Obama because it appears Jewish Democrats aren’t particularly supportive of Obama’s peace efforts in the Middle East. For instance, 44 percent said “Obama is naïve in thinking he can make peace with the Arabs,” compared to 37 percent who disagree with that statement. And just 20 percent agreed with the statement that “if Israel could settle its dispute with the Palestinian refugees and give them a nation of their own, that the Arabs would live in peace with Israel” while 52 percent chose “the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel and that giving them a nation of their own will just make them stronger.”

Yet there are results which also reveal that Obama is extremely popular, and that American Jews are generally positive about the peace push. Morris writes that Jewish Dems give Obama a 92 percent approval rating; and that by a 58-16 margin they believe that “Obama is doing a good job of promoting peace in the Middle East.”

So depending on the question, the poll seems to back up both Obama supporters and critics. More to come after the results and methodology are released.

In a follow up article on August 19th,
“Jewish Democrats still in love with Obama” concerning the detailed findings of the TVC poll by Fingerhut, he cited the comments of TVC head, Pastor Sheldon and rebuttal by David A. Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council:

“Support among Jewish Americans is a mile wide, but when specific issues about Israel’s defense are raised it is about halved and looks ‘an inch deep,’ ” the coalition’s founder and chairman, the Rev. Louis Sheldon, said in a statement titled “TVC Poll Finds American Jews Conflicted Over Israel and Obama.”

“Based on the phraseology of the questions, they are misrepresenting the position of the Israeli government and the Obama administration,” said David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

“Whenever anyone shows me a poll from any interested party, from one side or another, I have questions about the veracity of that poll,” he said.

Jim and Andrea Lafferty at the center of the TVC poll controversy have also been in the forefront of the Anti-Jihad movement. They were able colleagues in organizing last year’s protest at the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) in Alexandria, Virginia. That protest was over revelations about Saudi Education Ministry hate texts used at the ISA. These controversial texts have been evaluated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom spearheaded by Nina Shea, a Commissioner and senior staff member of the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. More recently, Jim Lafferty was the official spokesperson and organizer of the protest over expansion of the ISA in the Pope’s Head section of Fairfax County, Virginia and the contested vote by the County Board of Supervisors.  He led a coalition called Virginians Against Sharia Task Force (VAST) that aroused the community to action.

I have spoken with Jim and Andrea Lafferty about possible collaboration with a new pro-Israel group,
Z Street.  The Laffertys are self-identified Christian Zionists and experienced Washington hands. They  are enthused about a working coalition of Evangelicals and Jewish Zionists because their national network of pastors have concerns that the alienation of Israel could also mean problems for the future of America.  There could be a useful overlap between these two groups, Christian and Jewish Zionists, who have already signed up for Z Street. 

Jim Lafferty noted what motivated the commission of the poll and the sentiments of Morris:

Several months ago I took part in a panel discussion on “The Threat of Radical Islam” and discovered that in a very crowded synagogue in Maryland I (an Irish Catholic) was the only Zionist.

We see the Evangelical/Jewish coalition as absolutely essential in the war against radical Islam. We wanted to take a long look at Jewish American attitudes and then begin an initiative to strengthen and expand the coalition.

We talked with Dick Morris (a key player in this poll) and others who recognize the political utility of a strong coalition like this.

With this background, we asked Jim Lafferty’s consent for this interview.

Gordon: What is the background of Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), its formation and the principal issues the group has espoused?

The TVC was founded by Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, an ordained Presbyterian minister and Andrea’s father, in the early 80’s. It is a coalition of about 43,000 Evangelical churches across America and in Puerto Rico. It has been concerned with the issues which have dominated the “cultural war.”  The Coalition has also been involved in foreign policy matters as a strong supporter of Israel and Zionism. Rev. Sheldon headed a delegation of American clergy who attempted to conduct peace talks between the government and rebel forces in the African nation, Cote d’Ivoire. Andrea is currently the Executive Director and Legislative Director for TVC, a post she assumed after serving in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations. I serve as communications consultant to TVC.

Gordon: What is the background and experience that you and your wife Andrea Lafferty brought to the organization of TVC?


Lafferty: I worked as a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia and then in public relations in New York and Washington, DC.   I was appointed by President Reagan to serve at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management  (OPM) and by President George H.W. Bush as Director of Communications and Legislation at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then as Deputy Assistant Secretary to HUD Secretary Jack Kemp. My Capitol Hill experience included Spokesman and Press Secretary for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress in the early 80’s, Researcher/Investigator for the House Republican Study Committee and Spokesman/Press Secretary to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in 1994.


Andrea worked as a Special Assistant to the Director of OPM which is where we first met.

She was appointed by President Reagan as Special Assistant for Congressional Affairs at the Small Business Administration and she served as Special Assistant for Congressional Affairs for the G-7 Economic Summit in 1990.


Gordon: What is the composition and size of the TVC membership network across America?


Lafferty: TVC has over 43,000 member-churches across America and Puerto Rico.


Gordon: Tell us about the TVC’s Zionist roots?


Lafferty: TVC’s founder Rev. Sheldon’s mother was Jewish and he has always had a special relationship and affinity for Israel and the Jewish people. Rev. Sheldon has led numerous tours to Israel and  actively lobbied for  loan guarantees to Israel and other Zionist legislative initiatives. 


Gordon: Why did TVC sponsor the recent poll of Most Likely Democratic Jewish Voters?


Lafferty: TVC has had a strong and long-standing working relationship with Jewish Americans who share our concern about America’s deteriorating culture and about Israel’s survival. TVC was interested in determining if there was opposition to Obama Administration policies which may not favor the continued existence of the State of Israel.


Gordon: We noticed that nationally syndicated columnists Dick Morris and Eileen McGann wrote one of the first articles about the TVC poll. How were they involved in the development of the TVC commissioned poll?


Lafferty: Dick had talked with me about the reasons for and depth of support for President Obama in the American Jewish community. Dick raised the possibility of a poll  to measure Jewish American support for Obama and Jewish support for Obama policies on Israel and the threat of Radical Islam. TVC sponsored the poll and Dick was the logical journalist to first report on the results.


Gordon: How did you select the polling organization?


Lafferty: We believed it should be, of course, a credible firm with a strong track record of political polling. The Florida-based firm which conducted the telephone survey did an excellent job and the data generated has helped fuel and continue the debate over Israel.


Gordon: Had you worked with this group before and on what kinds of projects?


Lafferty: We had not worked with that particular polling firm before but we were aware of their good reputation.


Gordon: Who assisted TVC in developing the survey script and selecting the sample of most likely Jewish democratic voters?


Lafferty: Dick Morris was an important source for much of the focus and important wording of the survey. We had specific areas that interested us, as well.


Gordon: To what do you attribute the high response rate in the TVC poll?


Lafferty: Jewish Americans, like any other ethnic group in America, have a strong investment in the continued safety and existence of their homeland. As you can see from the data there were not many undecideds in that survey. 


Gordon: How do you interpret the seeming disconnect between respondents’ concerns about the Obama Administration’s  Israel policies versus their highly favorable rating of Obama?


Lafferty: In our discussions with pollsters and pundits, we have come to the conclusion that President Obama’s “honeymoon period” has been extended  by his continuing campaign  filled with little more than platitudes and vague descriptions of his intended policies and actions. As the President has fleshed out the rhetoric with actions, he has suffered a significant drop in public support. With Jewish Americans, we believe President Obama’s support may appear to be wide but it is superficial and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The President loses support as he defines policies or takes actions.


Gordon: How much support was there among Jewish respondents for Israel’s ancient Biblical rights to the land?


Lafferty: About half of those who responded indicated that Biblical imperatives played a major role in their strong support for the State of Israel. We felt that was significant and represented important common ground for the Evangelical/Jewish coalition in America.


Gordon: Had you thought of including questions on the History of Israel’s legal rights to the land?


Lafferty: We had a limited number of questions and we wanted to keep the focus on the contrast between President Obama’s vague policy statements on Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s well-defined and historically-grounded policies. Forced to make a choice we suspected that not only the Jewish Americans we polled but most Americans would side with Mr. Netanyahu when it came to Israel and Middle East policy priorities.


Gordon: What other poll results do you deem of interest?


Lafferty: We are satisfied with the data we obtained in this benchmark poll. We suspect that Jewish American support for the President will continue to drop once he is forced to further define his vague policy statements by taking action should Israel be attacked or by his legislative initiatives. We also suspect that Jewish American voters have a lot in common with Christian voters on other related issues.


Gordon: What have been the reactions of American Jewish NGOs to the TVC poll findings?


Lafferty: It has been very predictable. Those who agree with the poll’s conclusions have praised it and those whose support for Israel is conditional have criticized us and the poll. Liberal Jewish organizations have personally attacked TVC rather than attempting to challenge the data. 


Gordon: Eric Fingerhut of the JTA and others have written critically about the TVC poll, what comments do you have in response?


Lafferty: These are people who didn’t like the conclusions so they point to the overarching data that most Jewish Americans are members of the Democratic Party and they supported that party’s successful candidate for President. But they gloss over the fact that Jewish American support for President Obama is conditional. Even Jewish Americans of his own party will desert the President based on his action or (we believe) inaction to threats to Israel and its future.


Gordon: On balance, do you feel that the media coverage of the TVC poll results were fair?


Lafferty:  We wish there had been broader coverage but we think Jewish Americans like other Americans can sort this out pretty well. Who knows better what to do to protect Israel, our only democratic ally in the Middle East – Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel or Benjamin Netanyahu and the people of Israel? The more current events define Barack Obama and force him to act, the greater the decline in his public political support among Jewish and other Americans. The President and his advisors understand this, which is why they continue to campaign and to emphasize form over substance in their policy statements.


Gordon: TVC and an affiliated organization, VAST, have been involved in protests against Islamization and adoption of Sharia in America. Could you briefly describe why you deem this important and what grass roots actions you have undertaken on this issue?


Lafferty: VAST is an outgrowth of TVC’s early involvement in the fight against the radical Saudi government owned and operated  ISA in Northern Virginia. The greatest threat to America right now lies in the infiltration of our communities and institutions by radical Islamists. This is not about the “theology” of Islam or about being anti-immigrant. This is about the anti-Constitutional nature of barbaric Shariah law. Shariah determines rights according to gender and religion. If you are male and subscribe to its very radical strain of Islam you have rights. If you are a woman and if you don’t subscribe to radical Islam, you have few to no rights. It is basically that simple.


Shariah is anti-Semitic, Anti-Christian, anti-American and anti-everything which stands in the way of domination by radical Islam. Unlike others who have come to America, Shariah jihadists come to America to subjugate every American to Shariah’s tyrannical and anti-Constitutional code of “law.”

Fairfax County, Virginia is a prime example of the systematic establishment of a Shariah enclave. From the police department to the Board of County Supervisors, Shariah extremists have intimidated and dominated county government agencies and elected officials through large political donations or carefully targeted pressure. There are allegations that a County agency uses tax funds to proselytize for this radical form of Islam.


VAST is an organization of Virginians who are pushing back at the extremists and the corrupt politicians they have bought or intimidated. It uses political education and action, even borrowing “liberally” from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” to advocate for Virginia’s long tradition of religious and individual liberty against the tyrannical Shariah extremists who seek to establish an enclave here.


Gordon: Are there any connections between TVC anti-Sharia efforts and the findings of the recent poll?


Lafferty: The same people who are teaching hate at the ISA in Virginia are Wahhabist acolytes of the Saudi government.  Saudi nationals, including ISA graduates, have been dispatched as homicide bombers against our brothers and sisters in Israel just as they were against Americans in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on 9/11. Free and civilized people around the world are being united by this tyrannical dark force which seeks to destroy liberty and  kill or subjugate all unbelievers.


Gordon: What are the implications of the TVC poll results for American Zionists?


Lafferty: We are encouraged that  In spite of their other political views, Christian and Jewish Zionists stand together for the State of Israel and against tyranny. Many Zionists were lulled into complacency by the pro-Israel appearances of President Bush. That has changed  with President Obama  who is artfully avoiding any statements of principle which would provide clues to his future actions.


Given the vacuum caused by President Obama’s apparent lack of core principles, we think this is a time for Zionists to unite and raise their voices in support of Israel and against both the foreign and domestic threat of the emboldened radical Islam. I am an American therefore I am a Zionist.


Gordon: What issues do you see as divisive in the discussion about US Policies towards Israel under the Obama Administration?


Lafferty: The whole notion that previous US administrations  were pro-Israel and were not open to working with other countries in the Middle East empowered Israel to “bully” these countries.


Israel is not a bully, she fights for her continued existence by hours, days and inches, an underdog against all reasonable odds. Israel is the “Rocky” on the world stage and most Americans respect that.


Gordon: The Obama Administration has announced the launch of a campaign for a Comprehensive Middle East Peace plan. What might be the reactions of the TVC poll respondents?


Lafferty: With reference to the Obama Middle East Peace Plan you only have to look at his conduct on health care reform. The Obama approach to health care reform has been painfully confusing. The Administration refuses to take ownership of any piece of legislation while regularly pronouncing what is in or not in “the bill.” The President even changes the name of his initiative when a poll tells him to attack the insurance industry.


“Avoid specifics and when you have to make a decision – take a poll and do another town meeting” seems to be the guiding and only principle of President Obama and his Administration.


Gordon: Given TVC’s pro-Zionist base, do you see any prospects for forming alliances with a predominately liberal American Jewish polity?


Lafferty: We do this regularly in our initiatives on Capitol Hill and we see opportunities expanding for this Jewish/Christian coalition.


Gordon: Given you considerable Congressional experience in Washington, how effective have American Jewish NGO’s been in making the case for Israel and supporting Zionism?


Lafferty: Many of the Jewish lobbying groups have been very effective and we wish them well. But some spend more time attacking Israel or dictating conditions for their support. Has Israel made mistakes? Sure, but Israel’s only motive was self-protection. Too many of Israel’s enemies do evil in pursuit of committing great wrongs against Israel, America and other free nations.


Gordon: Do you see any emerging Jewish Zionist groups in America that TVC might ally itself with?


Lafferty: We do watch with great interest the emergence of Z Street which we have found to offer spunky, thoughtful analysis of policy developments in Israel and America. This is an important counterbalance to J Street, the “Blame Israel First and if Israel isn’t Handy then Blame America” crowd. If countries could have a mother-in-law, Israel’s would be J Street and its leftist allies.


Gordon: What kind of follow up is TVC considering in the wake of this pioneering poll of most likely American Jewish voters?


Lafferty: We will watch this carefully and monitor polls done by other interested groups. We would like to do a regular poll which measures the changing Jewish American attitudes toward President Obama and his policies but polling is expensive. And, of course, we will do the same follow-up we do for every other TVC initiative – we will pray.


Jim Lafferty thank you for this interview on the TVC poll and its implications for the future of Zionism in America and US relations with Israel.

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