I know some Jewish voters who plan to vote for Barack Obama. I know some who plan to vote for Hillary Clinton. I even know two who will vote for the Republican nominee regardless of who it is. In other words, I don’t see any particular leaning toward or away from any candidate among my group of friends and acquaintances.
Last week, the Obama campaign called together a press conference as part of a new move to inform the Jewish public that negative attacks about Obama are unfounded. Some of these attacks suggest that he’s a secret Muslim, others that he’s anti-Israel and others specify that he belongs to a church where the leadership has said some harsh things about Jews. We’ve seen some of these comments appear on Jewlicious, although infrequently, but typically I see them on sites like Little Green Footballs more than on Jewish sites.
In fact, I don’t often see attacks on Obama from this perspective on Jewish sites. Maybe a mention here and there – something I’ve done myself – but rarely opposition to him as a politician because of this background about him.
Today, the Forward, in their editorial, saw fit to tackle this topic. They point out that the Obama campaign has moved to mobilize Jewish leaders (whatever those are, since I don’t recall voting for any Jewish leaders) and leading Jewish politicians so they would reach out to Jewish voters and inform them that Obama is not Muslim, not anti-Israel and not involved with any leanings against Jews his church might have. At around the same time, although unmentioned by The Forward, Obama gave a press interview where he defended Israel’s right to exist, supported America’s support of Israel and was unequivocal in denying that the so called Palestinian “right of return” was a right at all.
In Florida, Hillary polls at above 50% of Jewish voters and according to the AJC’s poll, she wins the Jewish vote nationwide. The AJC claims that Jews don’t believe that Obama cares about Jewish issues and that is very possibly what drives many Jewish voters. I suspect, however, that as long-time majority Democratic voters, most Jews simply prefer the Clintons and also respect Bill Clinton’s approach to Israel which some assume Hillary shares with him.
What I don’t see out there is this supposed groundswell of anger or dislike for Obama and certainly not because of these supposed rumors flying about. This is where The Forward comes in with some dubious suggestions:
Published reports and word-of-mouth from New York to Miami suggest that considerable numbers of Jewish voters will not back Obama, because they’re not sure he’s not their enemy. The rumors may be true or false, they reason; Obama may or may not be a secret Muslim radical. But why risk it? If there’s any danger of antisemitism, the thinking goes, you err on the side of caution. You don’t take chances.
One prominent Orthodox activist, founder of a pro-Israel PAC and a former president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, bluntly told a local weekly last week that he wouldn’t vote for Obama and couldn’t imagine anything that would change his mind. A news report on the controversy, published on the now-defunct English-language Web site of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, drew dozens of online comments from readers who insisted that Obama must be a secret Islamist, regardless of what anyone says. Some, secure in their anonymity, argued that he must be a Jew-basher because most African Americans are.
As we know from this site and others, vocal commenters are not representative of the general population. They are simply those who feel passionately about issues or like to communicate with others to a greater degree than most. Emails sent around are also not indicative of anything and it’s usually hard to know their source. If The Forward is going to go by word of mouth and a “sense” of what is happening out there, they might as well talk to my circle of friends who simply prefer Hillary to Obama – while they still like and respect him. None of our friends have mentioned a fear of Obama, or caution about his relationship with the Jewish community or with Israel. I don’t see how my sample is any less representative of any sample The Forward might have taken.
The Forward states:
Many of the e-mails are launched by Jews worried that an Obama administration will undermine Israel. Other messages travel through Christian networks. One massive blast targeted Christians in South Carolina on the eve of last month’s primary. News reports indicate that they were widely read and believed, despite all the public denials.
Why did it take the Obama campaign a full year to mount a serious response? In part, it might have been timing, since the first balloting was months away. In part, the candidate might have been reluctant to respond to the smears in a way that implied that calling him Muslim was an insult.
But the biggest factor was the unwillingness of Jewish liberals â€” Obama backers and others â€” to take the e-mails seriously. For years, liberals have dismissed Jewish conservatives and pro-settler hawks as insignificant, too few in number to make a difference. Consistently, liberals have failed to appreciate the conservatives’ secret weapon.
Accusations of antisemitism take on a life of their own. Once the A-word is in play, the defenses go up, and they don’t come down until it’s proved that there’s no danger. Moderate and liberal Jews who don’t share the conservatives’ agenda will give the benefit of doubt to the accusers. Thus the Jewish hawks have the final say, and the burden is on the candidate to avoid falling afoul of them.
Many of the emails are launched by Jews? How do they know? How many? Who are these Jews? How often is the charge of antisemitism leveled against Obama? I am pretty up to date on the Jewish blogosphere and don’t see this suggestion out there except by the occasional staunch Republican supporter. Who says that other Jews are giving these writers the benefit of the doubt?
Most important, why doesn’t The Forward address the single most important reason that Obama isn’t getting as many Jewish voters as he’d like: Hillary Clinton is preferred by the majority of Jews and its predominantly because of her record and that of her husband. She’s also probably polling well among Jewish women because she’s a woman. These voters are not thinking about the negative attacks on Obama or the supposed attacks on Obama. Rather, they have a preferred candidate for the right reasons.
Just because the Obama campaign has made it their mission to inform the Jewish population that not voting for him is the result of unfair interference, that doesn’t mean that we should buy this line of thinking. I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny. Perhaps they don’t see why Obama isn’t getting the majority of the Jewish vote, and that’s a legitimate question to ask, but it may not be appropriate to suggest that there’s some evil, behind-the-scenes machinations that have brought about the preference to Hillary. Sometimes, the answer to a question is simple and in this case it’s because Jewish voters feel more comfortable with the candidate they know and based on her husband’s administration, comfortable with the assumed policies that will dominate her administration.