Under normal circumstances, an American president running for re-election would do his utmost to avoid a row with the Israeli prime minister. But I wonder whether President Obama really will be damaged by his semi-public clash with Benjamin Netanyahu?
The conventional argument is that the Jewish vote is very important in two vital swing states, Florida and Ohio. The major American-Jewish organisations are passionate in their support for Israel and their concerns about Iran. So being perceived to be tough on Israel and weak on Iran is dangerous for Obama.
On the other hand, there is some evidence that Jewish voters in general are less hawkish, and more liberal, than the major American-Jewish organisations. AIPAC, although officially non-partisan, has taken positions on the Middle East and Iran that are very “neocon” – placing the organisation much closer to the Republicans than the Democrats. The Jewish vote, however, continues to be strongly Democratic.
The Romney camp will hope that an Obama-Bibi clash might change that. But many Jewish voters will know that there are important and respected figures within Israel, for example President Shimon Peres, who oppose Netanyahu’s drive to strike Iran.
Facing down pressure from Netanyahu to strike Iran might also play well with the wider American electorate. America is war weary at the moment - and foreign policy is low down its list of priorities. President Obama seems to have inoculated himself against the charge of weakness in foreign policy through the killing of Osama bin Laden. His opponent Mitt Romney will be tempted to wrap his arms around Netanyahu (an old friend), when
the Israeli visits the US for the UN General Assembly. But that could be a mistake – for both parties.