Hey, remember the Polish Presidential elections back in 1990? Lech Walesa was running against Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and this Canadian emigrÃ© Stanislaw Tyminski. The election was notable in that it was Poland’s first free election in 68 years. Also notable was the fact that attempts were made to discredit candidates by accusing them of being Jewish. Thus we were witness to the spectacle of great men like Walesa, and others vying to lead Poland in the post-Communist era, having to declare that they were in fact not Jewish – as if Judaism was some kind of distasteful stain that obviously rendered someone, ipso facto, unfit for office. I felt this was very distasteful at the time and reminded me that anti-Semitism was still a fact of life in Poland, despite only a handful of Jews remaining in the country after the Holocaust.
I felt the same unease the other day when I read Barack Obama’s declaration, “I am a Christian” in response to a persistent email campaign accusing him of being a Muslim. I was further horrified after reading of a letter penned by a slew of Jewish leaders (William Daroff, vice president of United Jewish Communities; Nathan J. Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Richard S. Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Phyllis Snyder, president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs) urging their “constituents” to ignore the slanderous accusations contained in the emails.
Look, I know everyone means well. Obama wanted to correct inaccurate biographical information. The aforementioned self-appointed Jewish leaders (none of whom I ever voted for) want to make sure that Jewish people make election decisions based on accurate information. But seriously though… what the fuck? For starters, the United States is supposed to be a country wherein there is a separation of Church and State. A candidate’s religion ought to be irrelevant. More pernicious though is the implication that Islam in the US in 2008 is a stain, like Judaism was in Poland in 1990, that will automatically render a candidate unfit for office. The involvement of our unelected Jewish leaders in the strident denial of Obama’s crypto-Islamism also implies that Jews are particularly susceptible to this sort of prejudicial thinking.
I’m not going to ever support any Republican candidate just because she may be Jewish. No matter how many Jewish advisers and MPs Canadian Conservative PM Stephen Harper surrounds himself with, I’d still never vote Conservative. A candidate for political office’s religious orientation ought to be irrelevant in and of itself unless said candidate was running on a religious platform. Obama should have bravely declared that his religious beliefs are irrelevant and that even if he were a Muslim, this ought not impact on people’s decisions. Whatever. I’m not voting for him anyway.