The Jewish "Obama Gap"?
Columnist/blogger Andrew Sullivan from The Atlantic’s “Daily Dish” received a letter from a reader commenting on Richard Cohen’s Washington Post column, “Obama’s Farrakhan Test” written in the aftermath of the backlash from the anti-Muslim emails sent out to potential Jewish voters these past couple weeks. Cohen’s column calls Obama into question for not having spoken out against his church’s having awarded one of its most prestigious awards to Louis Farrakhan.
Sullivan writes about how perturbed he is about the Cohen piece, saying that he has long advocated the viability of a black presidential candidate, and adding that:
And so…some Jewish-Americans, seeing a black man with real power emerging on the national scene, immediately panic that it’s Farrakhan in disguise.
This Daily Dish reader apparently thought of the column as representative and symptomatic of a far deeper, more insidious problem of general distrust among Jewish voters and a cynical eye being cast towards Obama:
[U]nfortunately I think Obama faces a lot of obstacles with the Jews–especially older ones who’ve grown leery of the black community. The anti-semitism there is real, and not just with Farrakhan, but with Jesse Jackson referring to New York as “Hymie Town” to and Al Sharpton calling Jews “diamond merchants” and Andrew Young’s more recent comments about Jewish store-keepers. And these aren’t isolated incidents – the hate pops out of the mouths of rappers and athletes. This is especially hurtful to a group that has traditionally espoused black civil rights.
Sadly even my mother, who lives in Florida, says about Obama, “I just don’t trust him.” She can’t give any reasons, though she will usually mutter something about Israel.
My mother’s fear is that he’ll cut ties to Israel. She’s typical of the older generation and their belief that in every black person’s heart, there is hatred toward the Jews….Cohen’s column is a disgrace. There is something of the “loyalty oath” about it. But, unfortunately, it’s more deeply reflective of Jewish opinion than any of us rabid Obama supporters would like to admit. I don’t know much about what Obama is doing to reach out to Jews, but he should probably be doing more of it.
I definitely agree with the reader that Obama needs to be doing far more outreach to Jews — the reality of Obama’s “impeccable” voting record on Israel issues has simply not reached enough people “on the ground”.
My major fear is, will his publicists be working in vain pushing subjectively irrelevant information to a population whose collective mind is already made up? One finds no shortage of young Jewish Obama supporters (some of whom said his “views on Israel…put their minds at ease”, but is the older generation so set in its ways that it can not warm up to the idea of a pro-Israel black liberal president? Is it to this end that the Forward notes that Jewish South Carolinians historically sought “to balance their Jewish identity with acceptance into the larger white community” even until the tolerance of slavery — did some unfortunate Jews of old lie down with the antebellum pro-slavery dogs of South Carolina’s yesteryear and are their descendents waking up with post-Jim Crow fleas in this campaign?
In reaction to Cohen’s column, Obama issued a statement saying:
“I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan,” Obama said in the statement. “I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.”
(Part of me also wants to say that this reader’s mother is driven by a mutated version of the left’s anti-Semitism, but from a defensive. Threat-based racism (“all members of group X want to kill me and I can’t let that happen”), or any other prejudice-based reason for not voting for a candidate will easily find themselves well covered over by a claim of “oh s/he won’t support Israel.”)
Is today’s under-40 Jewish voter so much more intrinsically enlightened than those of the prior generation? I think that those of us for whom Web 2.0 is not something we encountered in middle age, and for whom multicultural interaction was a quite un-revolutionary norm from infancy, have had our brains primed for Obama in a way previous generations have not. We have seen alliances rise and fall in unprecedented ways, and life under the yoke of the anti-Semitism previous generations lived under will make one wary of even the most benevolent.
But I think it behooves us, those of us with parents in that generation, to stop them from contributing to the ruination of the election for us — and chas v’shalom voting for a right-wing candidate, running after a blue-and-white mirage of “doing something good for Israel”.