My speaking trips around the world have left me with many friends in both the Islamic and Jewish cultures. It is no secret that Muslims are almost unanimously rooting for Barack Obama in the upcoming U.S. elections, and that a majority of American Jews, led by the intrepid George Soros and Steven Spielberg, are too. But the more savvy among my American Jewish friends and most of my Israeli Jewish contacts, are deeply concerned about the possibility of an Obama presidency and what it will mean for them and the danger for Israel.
It may be yet another small piece of the puzzle of why this presidential race, with an incumbent Republican administration on the edge of an economic recession, is still as close as it is. For, if they are small in numbers, the Jews in America are influential and beloved by many others beyond their own. Among America’s many self appointed moral tasks, is our decision to protect the Jews from another holocaust.
So where does the anti-Obama hostility emanate? And what is its basis? And how will it impact the coming election? Will Joe Biden on the ticket help?
For the most part the media has treated this as a “politically incorrect” story. Meaning, they have ignored it, as if it doesn’t exist, or the public cannot be trusted to understand it. They finally waded in when the word of mouth discussion reached a crescendo. In January, 2008, the Jewish community was alive with E-mails passing back and forth with false accusations. Barack Obama was secretly Muslim, they said. Or he had studied in an Indonesian madrassa. He had refused to honor the pledge allegiance.
At the urging of friends within the Jewish community, Obama held a telephone conference call on January 28, to correct the false rumors and reassure the Jewish leaders. Obama declared his support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” spoke out against the continued rocket attacks from Gaza and opposed negotiations with Hamas as long as they deny Israel’s right to exist. He also corrected earlier comments, making it clear that the Palestinian slogan of its “right of return” should not be accepted literally.
The media reported the false e-mails and Obama’s corrections without mentioning the Jews. But many in that community remained nervous. They were alarmed by the link between the Islamic, anti-Semitic, Louis Farrakhan and the church that Obama attended for twenty years. What did that mean? The story would flare out into the open months later. And there were other internet stories that the Obama campaign and a sympathetic media were not answering.
One of the more telling moments for Barack Obama, and one of the reasons some prominent Jews have dug in their heels in opposing his election, was his rejection of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of a weekly newspaper in Bangladesh. Choudhury, a Muslim, became an outspoken advocate of Muslims and Jews living together in peace. When he was invited to speak in Israel he was arrested on charges of blasphemy and hauled before an Islamist judge. According to A Moslem Hero, a story written by journalist Rael Jean Issac, Choudhury was “imprisoned and tortured for ten days as the authorities vainly tried to make him confess he was an Israeli spy. He spent the next 17 months in solitary confinement, his cell the size of a table, the diet miserably inadequate, denied medical treatment.”
When Chicago Jews, led by Dr. Richard Benkin, repeatedly asked for help from Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s office they were brushed aside. Susan Rosenbluth, editor of The Jewish Voice and Opinion, took up the cause and within months the U. S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Resolution 2006 calling on the Bangladeshi government to drop all charges against Choudhury. It passed in March 2007. Choudhury is still imprisoned. Obama’s campaign and the national media are silent.
Barack Obama’s new rhetoric is decidedly favorable to Israel. But it is held suspect by many. You will never hear this on MSNBC or CNN but before he was a presidential candidate, Obama was on record calling for an “even handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And this after the Palestinians had began their Second Intifada. There is Obama’s famous comments in 2004 to Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada. Obama was in the middle of his run for the U.S. Senate. “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” (For an excellent account of this read Eric Trager, Obama and the American Jews, 1/29/08.)
What is known about the Senator’s own staff is even more troubling to Jews and heartening to Muslims. If “people are policy” as the old Washington saying goes, then the American Jews are in for a tumultuous period ahead for Obama’s staff give clear evidence of a shift away from Israel.
Onboard the Obama foreign policy team is Jimmy Carter’s brilliant national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who once famously declared that “Israel is an apartheid state” and whose views greatly worry the Jewish community.
There is Robert Malley who according to the Jerusalem Post, is “an unabashed advocate for the Palestinians, co-authoring a spate of anti-Israel propaganda with former Arafat advisor, Hussein Agha.” (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 21, 2008.)
There is Susan Rice, who as an advisor to John Kerry once suggested sending Jimmy Carter and James Baker, to the Middle East to find a solution.
There is General Merrill McPeak, Obama’s chief military adviser and national-campaign co-chairman. McPeak has criticized Israel for not returning to its 1967 borders and handing the Golan Heights back to Syria. He has accused Jewish and evangelical voters of placing their interest in Israel above the nation, telling the Oregonian that world peace was held back by “New York City. Miami. We have a large vote …. here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it.”
And while most of the Obama team is smart enough to keep their heads down, there are others who cannot resist leaking their views. Obama advisor, Samantha Power, warns obliquely that the Senator’s M iddle East policy could result in “alienating a domestic constituency.” (Ibid. Trager.)
Obama has disavowed some of the statements of his team but all are still onboard. None have been fired. Some see his announcement of Senator Joe Biden, a friend of Israel, as an attempt to counter this appearance.
Jewish strategic analyst, Joel Watterman, worries that “Obama’s personal record offers us only paper thin legs in which to engage him.” Still some of his statements, votes or curious absences from the Senate, offer nuanced clues.
Obama has declared that “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people.”
He insists that we should reach out to Iran even though its leaders have recently referred to Israel as a “filthy bacteria” and have repeatedly called for the annihilation of the Jewish State, including recent hints that this will be accomplished by a nuclear attack. (Ibid, Jerusalem Post.)
He has said that the “creation of a wall dividing the two nations is yet another example of the neglect of this Administration in brokering peace.” (Ibid.)
He has praised Al Sharpton and the National Action Network as “a voice for the dispossessed.” This organization led protests against the Jewish owner of Freddy’s Fashion Mart in New York in which picketers, sometimes joined by Sharpton himself, repeatedly screamed epithets about “bloodsucking Jews” and “Jew bastards.” (Ibid.)
Mark Hemingway points out that Obama announced he would vote against an amendment in the Senate declaring Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — which has long supported Hezbollah terrorists and otherwise abetted the murder of Israelis — a terrorist group. The resolution passed anyway, 76–22, with the support of Hillary Clinton. Obama missed the vote while campaigning in New Hampshire, but he attacked Clinton on the issue, saying “the non-binding amendment might exacerbate tensions with Iran.”
In the past, most American politicians who spoke boldly to international audiences about returning the West Bank to the Palestinians changed their minds when they actually visited Israel and saw how the land in question could be used by terrorists to launch attacks to the whole country. Israel’s vulnerability is hard to miss when you experience it yourself, riding in a car caravan along those highways. So many were surprised that Osama’s visit to Israel in July brought no such epiphany.
After the visit, the Middle-Eastern scholar and author, Professor Paul Eidelberg, who heads a Jerusalem think tank, offered the strongest statement to date. “Never in my lifetime has there been a Presidential candidate so utterly clueless about the importance of the State of Israel and the need for the U.S. to stand with her.” (Ibid.)
Ted Belman, Jewish pundit, wonders how a person can vote for Obama and be pro-Israel at the same time? Pointing out that Obama is the first presidential candidate to receive the endorsement of Hamas. And Belman offers the numbers to show that it is happening. While Hillary Clinton beat Obama with the Jewish vote, 62% – 38%, in one of her last polls, Obama is beating McCain 62%-32%. To offer some context, in 1980, Reagan won 39% of the Jewish vote agains t Jimmy Carter.
Still, as one involved in several presidential campaigns I can tell you that this represents a critical shift away from the Democrat Party. The addition of Joe Biden as the Vice Presidential running mate helps immensely, with Jews, Catholics and Evangelicals. But McCain, who keeps Jewish Senator, Joe Leiberman, as his shadow knows that the shift is happening. One comment on the internet suggests that most American Jews are liberal Democrats first and only Jews second. Another suggests that they would vote for anybody with a D next to the name. So McCain’s 32%, against the headwind of a failing economy, is significant.
Gentiles have a hard time understanding this. Any casual reader of the Holocaust sees the danger of policy drift, and threatening public words, and bureaucracy empowered. Israel should represent the canary in the coal mine. If it is thr eatened then is not the whole world Jewish community threatened as well? Are we as Gentiles, seeing something that they are missing? Doesn’t survival trump any other policy?
But Obama’s appeal to Jewish voters, as his appeal to Evangelical Christian voters, still works because regardless of his comments or his record, or his team, he passionately courts both voter blocs. Jews, Evangelicals, indeed, all Americans like the idea of a Black president, putting a very big nail in the coffin of racism in America. Ron Kampeas of JTA, points out that Obama has always sought out Jewish political support, from his first Senate campaign to his presidential run. Thomas Friedman offers just as many pro Palestinian quotes from George W. Bush, arguing that whoever becomes president, the policies in the Middle East will have to involve all sides.
So the issue of Barack Obama and the Jews wil l not likely be resolved before November. The Illinois Senator, who is a superb politician, will be much too canny for any more revelations. And if what is already known about Obama is not sufficiently significant, then it is not likely that anything more – outside the nomination of Joe Lieberman as McCain’s running mate – will make a difference.
Says the Canadian gadfly and former Member of Parliament, Simma Holt, “We Jews, who look on from outside America, are a little nervous. We like McCain but fear Obama may win. We can only hope that Obama really means what he is now saying. If America falls into the hands of an ascendant Islamic influence, with its growing oil money, what’s left? Israel is alone.”