Obama and the Jews Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Jews and blacks have a long history of both love and hate. It has not been a pretty story, at least not since the early days of the civil rights movement, when Jewish civil rights activists Schwerner and Goodman were murdered in Mississippi and Heschel and other rabbis marched with Martin Luther King. After that relations between Jews and blacks deteriorated, with parts of the black community indulging in nasty anti-Semitic rhetoric and parts of the Jewish community writing off blacks as anti-Israel. Some Jews drifted over to the political right where there is little love for the poor and the uninsured and the disenfranchised of any race or religion. The rhetoric of a Louis Farrakhan and the social slurs of a Jesse Jackson made Jews wary and angry, and separated them from their former allies in the fight against injustice. The left-wing support of a state for Palestinians made other Jews believe that blacks in positions of political power would harm Israel as surely as night turns into day. And so, in running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama is wading through an alligator-filled swamp as far as the Jewish community is concerned. Phone calls and e-mails have gone out saying that Obama is a Muslim and an anti-Semite. This is a big lie, but it is spreading through a community that is already wary of a black man. Some Jews, however, have taken action to combat these misrepresentations. On January 15, Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, along with other Jewish organizational leaders, sent an open letter to the Jewish community saying, "We feel compelled to speak out against certain rhetoric that we find abhorrent," and calling the smearing of Obama despicable. These Jewish leaders stood up for decency in a way that I like to think is Jewish through and through. Although he had a non-denominational upbringing, Obama was baptized in his 20s. He has said, "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan." He has also declared that he profoundly supports Israel and has called for continuing American-Israeli cooperation on the development of missile defense systems. During the 2006 Lebanon war, he stood up for Israel's right to defend itself against Hizballah rocket attacks. He insisted that Israel not be pressured into a premature cease-fire that would leave it vulnerable to Hizballah assault. Obama wants to end the war in Iraq, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't defend a threatened Israel. He is not trigger happy and his caution may protect Israel far better than the backroom plans of some of our more belligerent friends. Yet it seems eminently possible that our history as victims of betrayal and our fear of anti-Semitism may send the American Jewish community into an irrational frenzy against a real ally. It would be a great setback for American democracy if that happens. If we can't look past a man's skin color and listen to his actual words and respond to his actual record, then we become mere fodder for demagogues. If in the polling booth we allow ourselves to be frightened by imaginary demons, we will ultimately be consumed by real ones. Contributing editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York. Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 18, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.