It's the old cliché: "but is it good for the Jews?" Jews in the diaspora are used to seeing their situation - as Jews - change when regimes change. Katarina "the Great" was bad for Jews. Maria Theresa was much better.
Since nobody's expecting either Kerry or Bush to institute pogroms or a Pale of Settlement in the next four years, a lot of Jews are instead asking the question "which administration would be better for Israel?"
The reflexive response is "Bush." As the US president of recent memory who has been the most principled in opposing terrorism and least concerned about appearing "even-handed," he has largely left Sharon alone to deal (quite effectively) with terrorism directed at Israel. And it actually helps Bush gain the Jewish vote when so many left-wing anti-Zionists argue that Bush perpetuates terrorism by supporting Israel.
But for the traditionally liberal Jewish community, it's difficult to vote for Bush on this single issue when so much of Bush's other policies - ranging from the war in Iraq to the environment to economic policy, etc., run counter to their convictions. Jews, the saying goes, "live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans."
So, what to do?
Now, both candidates pledge their support for Israel on their respective platforms. Cynics on either side snear at such election-year promises and point to evidence that either one of them has a hidden agenda that would leave Israel out to dry if push came to shove.
What push would come to what shove is what we have to worry about.
There are the left-wing nutcases who seem to think that Israel is causing its own troubles by defending itself. And among these nutcases you will find heads of state in most if not all European governments. These are likely to insist that the US has to put pressure on Israel to make "concessions" (read: let some of its citizens be murdered) so that there can be a basis for "real negotiations" (read: Arafat lying in public).
There are right-wing nutcases who have been rumored to say "F*** the Jews; they don't vote for us anyway" and would sell Israel down the river for lower oil prices at short notice. The distrust that applies to all of Bush's foreign policy would naturally extend to his stand toward Israel as well.
The larger issue may be whether Kerry or Bush is likely to stabilize foreign affairs among democratic nations to the extent that policies toward Israel is something they can reason about. That may be too much to hope for, considering Europe's largely hostile attitude toward Israel in the last many decades, but it's also true that they've only behaved worse under stress.
Bush's biggest foreign policy failure is that he has given cowardly European regimes too much of an excuse to bow out of the war on terrorism. It's entirely possible that Kerry will overcompensate for this, making consensus a goal in itself.
But I think one thing will differentiate Kerry from Bush: Kerry will have no illusions that winning this election gives him a sweeping mandate to follow his own instincts. He will have to answer to the many Americans who admired Bush for his stubborn ways, and he'll have to quickly tell France and Sweden that president Kerry will be no softer on terrorism than president Bush.
Bush, on the other hand, has shown that he is not a uniter but a divider, even under the best circumstances for unification. A second Bush administration will be a lame duck when it comes to forging diplomatic harmony against terrorists in particular and radical Arabists in general. Israel is right to reject any pressure to appease terrorism, but it's also true that Israel would like better relations with the rest of the world.
I don't for a minute believe that either Bush or Kerry would risk vital American interests to protect Israel. I do think that Kerry would agonize longer than Bush about sacrificing Israeli lives, and that's always worth something.
But what the US needs is a president that is clever and cunning enough to embarrass European governments into doing the right thing. Bush isn't the guy to do this, and there's little evidence that Kerry is either. But there's something to be said for giving Kerry the benefit of the doubt. Even if you adore Bush, you'll have to admit that prior to becoming president, he was a mediocre and rather passive governor in a state with peculiar needs and interests.