Resonant falsehoods

Voters have the right to expect accurate information and responsible commentary to reach conclusions.

obama 298.88 (photo credit: )
obama 298.88
(photo credit: )
The debate about Sen. Barack Obama's policies on Israel is intensifying. Some opponents have distributed venomous e-mails and articles claiming he is anti-Israel and a closet Muslim, while his supporters insist that he is a staunch ally of the Jewish state. A recent jab against the Illinois senator came in the form of a photograph of him donning a turban during a trip to Kenya in 2006, purportedly revealing his true colors as a Muslim. The picture contrasts sharply with one published in The Jerusalem Post last Friday, showing a dapper Obama touring a Christian village during an unhyped visit to Israel two years ago. US rabbi and political writer Kurt F. Stone talks about being inundated with the "IT" e-mail from friends, congregants and students. "The 'IT' to which they are all referring is the widely-reported, highly-documented 'fact' that Obama is a not-so-closeted anti-Semite who would be an unmitigated disaster for Israel." Stone dismisses the supporting allegations - from Obama's purportedly dismal voting record on Israel and his choice of ostensibly Israel-hating advisers such as Zbigniew Brzezinski to his membership of a Chicago church whose pastor supports extremist Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan - as "patently false, bogus, mendacious..." Some of the critiques are indeed false. Some of the legitimate concerns are being directly addressed by the candidate. During this week's Democratic debate in Cleveland, for instance, moderator Tim Russert asked Obama whether he would renounce his support for Farrakhan, who once called Judaism a "gutter religion" and who recently praised his candidacy. Obama hesitated at first about whether he would reject "Minister Farrakhan," but went on to denounce his "unacceptable and reprehensible" tirades against Jews and Israel. When Sen. Hillary Clinton interrupted, saying she would reject Farrakhan's support, Obama relented, drawing laughter from the audience by saying: "If the word 'reject' Sen. Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce." Following the debate, Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman said his fears had been allayed by Obama's comments against Farrakhan's ideology. "He was very clear," Foxman said. "He distanced himself and condemned it and rejected it. What more do we want? On that issue we should move on." Obama claimed extensive backing from the Chicago Jewish community (including people like Jan Shakowsky, Penny Pritzker and Lester Crown), and he offered his "stalwart support" for Israel. "I think they [Israel] are one of our most important allies in the region, and I think that their security is sacrosanct," he declared. In a written interview this week with Yediot Aharonot, Obama promised that as a committed Christian, "I will carry with me to the White House an unshakeable commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between the United States and Israel." Alan Solow, a Jewish leader from Chicago who backs Obama, told the Post this week that "I traveled with him to Israel... There's no question in my mind that he's a strong supporter of Israel." Another highly respected American Jewish leader from Chicago visiting Israel for this week's Jewish Agency Assembly, Michael Kotzin, asserted that all the presidential candidates are strong supporters of Israel. "One of the things we feel good about is that all the candidates seem to have a serious and sympathetic understanding of Israel's situation, and of the need for a strong Israeli-American relationship," Kotzin said. American voters are closely evaluating their candidates for president. Those who care passionately about Israel will try to gauge whether Obama - and his rivals - will take positions likely to safeguard the well-being of our state. They will look at the candidates' records, listen to their speeches, read the newspaper profiles, compare impressions with friends. Conventional wisdoms may prove well-founded or way out of line. Few observers, to take only the most recent example, would have anticipated the incumbent being regarded by the Israeli mainstream as an exemplary president given the frictions that scarred Washington-Jerusalem relations under his father. Voters have the right to expect accurate information and responsible commentary in order to reach their conclusions. Legitimate concerns should be explored, worrying trails investigated. But voters should not be fed incitement. At the feverish height of a close-fought campaign, those who take on the responsibility of authoring and spreading news and analysis about Obama, and about his rivals, should redouble their guard against disseminating resonant falsehoods.