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”.

18 thoughts on “The Jewish "Obama Gap"?

  1. I guess that I’ve somehow now entered the twilight of existence according to your accounting of the ages of the enlightened vs. non-enlightened Jews (since I’m 51) – but I’m very excited by Obama’s candidacy and I’m not at all inclined to believe the slurs directed against him. I don’t think advanced age necessarily determines one’s political beliefs – nor do I think that people’s minds are made up at this point. Nor do I think that all Jews vote based only on how slavishly a candidate follows the current AIPAC line. I, for one, was heartened to hear of Obama’s concern for Palestinians as well as Israelis.

  2. this whole debate makes so nautious. on the one hand, we have to defend Obama’s “pro-Israel” cred so that Jews will get past their fears of a black president with a Muslim middle name. On the other hand, I actually believe that Obama gets the Israel-Palestinian conflict better than any of the other candidates based on his generally enlightened and open-minded foreign policy centered around diplomatic engagement with the world. I want to shout from the rafters that Obama is the right kind of “pro-Israel”, the kind that knows that the best thing for Israel is the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Yet, I can’t, because I don’t want to give any Jew yet another reason (real or imagined) not to vote for him. ugh…

  3. In the mainstream Ortho communities I deal with, this is a daily thing. People are fundamentally uncomfortable with Obama, and it bothers the hell out of me.

  4. Rebecca, first of all, since 40 is the new 20, you’re really only 31 (or according to Jay-Z’s “38 is the new 20” you’d be 33) 🙂
    I’m sorry if I was offensive, I picked one of the usual “ages” for where youth is said to “stop” and non-youth begins, according to demographers, etc.
    I meant under-52 Jewish voter. 😀

  5. FWIW, young Jews are much more likely to be conservative and/or Republican than is the over-50 set. You can look it up.

  6. How surprising – the members of one marginalized group fostering a fear and hatred of another marginalized group. Every marginalized group hates the other because that way they get to be part of the mainstream.

  7. I am not voting for Obama for two reasons. The first and most important is that Clinton’s domestic policies are more liberal than Obama’s. I prefer to look at policies rather than rhetoric.
    The second reason is that I think that a face-to-face meeting with Ahmadinjad will give aid and comfort to Holocaust deniers and antisemites everywhere.
    This is slightly off topic, but the Nevada Caucuses were on Shabbat, and the South Carolina primaries, GOP and Democrat, are both on Shabbat. I am disappointed in everyone involved. It seems that all the talk about diversity never includes Jews.

  8. The scheduling of the SC primaries was insensitive, but not a significant problem in practice since it’s possible to vote absentee (or in the evening, after Shabbat). The Nevada caucuses, on the other hand, were much more problematic, because participation requires being in a specific place at a specific time on Saturday morning. Any Nevada voters here? What did you do?

  9. If you look at the ADL’s surveys of antisemitism, you will find that antisemitism is higher among Black Americans and Hispanic Americans than among White Americans. Although there is hope in the fact that foreign born Hispanics have higher rates of antisemitism than Hispanics born in America. These are facts, not feelings or paranoia.
    It does not excuse support for slavery, but there was a considerable amount of antisemitism in the Abolitionist movement. I was surprised to learn this when an expert on American Jewish history gave a talk at my synagouge.

  10. Obama decried black antisemitism and homophobia in his speech to a mostly-black audience at MLK’s Ebenezer Church this week. It was a very good speech.

  11. Is it not racist itself to demand that every jewish person condones racism, islamophobia etc just because of the bad actions of few jewish people in ME?
    American interest is far more than just a little village in Africa or ME. People should look at the bigger picture and put American interests first.

  12. To Very Confused Obama Supporter,
    If I belonged to a synagogue that had a rabbi who had made racist comments, yes, I would expect that I should be asked to diavow those comments. It is not the same thing at all as asking every Jewish person to condemn the actions of a few bad Jews in the ME.
    People logically assume that individuals join a church, synagogue or mosque because they support the views of its spiritual leaders. I don’t think that Obama is antisemitic, but I don’t think that is racist to expect him to adress his pastor’s comments and condemn them.
    The main reason I am not voting for Obama is because as president of the US, he will meet Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, face-to-face. This will be giving aid and comfort to Holocaust deniers and antisemites everywhere, but especially in the Arab and Muslim world where Holocaust denial is rampant. Completely secular doctors and dentists in Egypt believe the Holocaust never happened. This is larger than Israel or American Jewry. It affects all Jews everywhere. I make no apology for caring about Jews everywhere.

  13. You would think that older Jews, especially those who came of age during the civil rights era, have plenty of reason to feel a strong bond with the black community, as Jews fought (and even died) right alongside the blacks during that era.
    But that said, Jews can be just as racist as anyone else. It’s a shande, to be sure, but we shouldn’t pretend it’s not there.
    Me, I’m for Obama 100%

  14. As a practicing Roman Catholic that has read the Koran and sat on the dais of 5 Bar Mitvahs of my friends, I think I have some insights you would like to hear. Islam teaches the Judaic are sinners and Allah will punished them twice with the years in the desert the first time because they they did not go to the promised land out of fear of giants. If Islam recognizes the holocaust, it also can recognize it as the second punishing of the Judaic. You can’t call for the destruction of Israel if they were punished twice and Israel’s destruction is a major source of their populations support. I believe over time peace can be made between Palestine and Israel. Israel will never give up Jerusalem, but an accomodation to put the Dome of the Rock under Palestinean control and the establishment of Palestine is paramount to achieving peace. The doctrine of hate is taught by both sides from infancy and will take generations before it is abated where both sides can feel reasonably safe from attack. There is a lot to do. P.S. I think Israel should not use sub-munitions when defending itself.

  15. The posting of black and hispanic anti-semitism being higher than whites in America left out 1 simple fact. The education level of whites is much higher. If you would compare college educated people they would have the same amount of anti-semitism. Obama’s Islamic summit could work for or against Israel. The only thing Islam agrees on is hating Israel. Their division makes it easier for Israel to defend itself. By the same summit, Obama as president would control the foreign aid strings and military, persuading Islam to give up its hate would have a lot of weight. The stopping of brainwashing madrassahs would have a lot of weight. In Pakistan this is a major problem that seems to have recently gotten worse with PML(N) conservative and supporting fundamentalism forming a coalition government with PPPP. They have just banned certain American internet access to pacify the fundamentalists. With the Taliban increasing strength due to these brainwashing madrassahs, the Pakistan situation is a major security concern for both Israel and America. I believe a McCain presidency would drive more anti-American support in Pakistan.

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