By DeWayne Wickham
Just when it seemed that Republicans had a chance to break the Democratic Party's lopsided hold on the Jewish vote, Republicans started acting like, well, Republicans.
Democrats have been scrambling to shore up support for Barack Obama among Jewish voters whose backing for the president began to slip earlier this year when he said Israel's 1967 borders should be the starting point in peace talks between Palestinians and the Jewish state.
The depth of this slide became apparent in September when a politically unknown GOP businessman, Robert Turner, won a special election in New York's Ninth Congressional District - a seat that had been held by Democrats since 1923. That local contest was billed by Republicans as a referendum on Obama's support of Israel, not a voter backlash against the texting scandal that forced Democrat Anthony Weiner to resign that congressional seat.
Even a reasoned defense of the president in New York magazine, shortly after the special election, that called Obama "The First Jewish President" and Israel's best friend, didn't stop the bleeding. Obama's approval rating among Jewish Americans has slipped to 45%, a 12-point drop from 2010, according to a poll released in late September by the American Jewish Committee, which The New York Times branded "the dean of American Jewish organizations."
But instead of mining this advantage, Republicans trampled upon it. In a largely party-line vote, GOP House members blocked an effort by Democrats to scuttle a bill that would allow a company in Arizona to operate this nation's largest copper mine.
What's the connection between this mining company and the Jewish vote? The firm, Resolution Copper, is partnered with an Iranian government-owned firm that is mining uranium in Namibia. Connecting these dots, the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel - one fed by Tehran's access to enriched uranium - is of grave concern to American Jews. These strange bedfellows should at the very least give American Jews pause.
Republicans said their action is not just good for Resolution Copper; it's also good for this nation's ailing economy. They argue it will create 4,000 jobs and pump billions of dollars into Arizona's economy. They also say Rio Tinto, the London-based company that owns Resolution Copper, has assured them that its Iranian partner is banned from removing uranium from the African mine and says it is in full compliance with all sanctions and laws.
Most of the resistance to the deal, in fact, has been on the environmental front rather than over the Iranian connection.
But critics question why Congress should do anything that strengthens a firm in the uranium business with Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel and widely believed to be trying to obtain nuclear weapons in violation of United Nations sanctions.
Of course, none of this links the uranium mine in Namibia to such an effort. But if you believe Iran has a rogue weapons program, it's hard to imagine it wouldn't treat that uranium mine as low-hanging fruit.
By voting to pass this bill, which the Obama administration opposes and the president would likely veto, House Republicans are putting the economic interests of Arizona ahead of the defense of Israel.
That kind of shortsightedness not only puts Israel at risk, it almost certainly will cause a lot of Jews in this country to hew more closely to the Democratic Party - and to the Democrat who currently occupies the Oval Office.