Obama: Defending Jews means criticizing Israel


Defending Jews from anti-Semitism is necessarily entwined with criticizing some of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, President Barack Obama told a Jewish audience.

“The rights I insist upon and fight for for all people in the United States compels me to look out for the rights of the Jewish people, and the rights of the Jewish people lead me to think about the child in Ramallah who feels trapped,” Obama said Friday, addressing the Adas Israel congregation in Washington D.C. “That’s what Jewish values teach me.”

Obama and his officials are making clear they will not back down from making public criticism of Israel when they feel it is warranted. He made a similar pledge this week to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is an Adas congregant.

Tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified in March, when Netanyahu spoke to Congress and slammed Obama’s Iran policies in a speech that was organized with the congressional Republican leadership and without consultation with the White House.

Netanyahu’s comments ahead of Israeli elections the same month, urging followers to vote because “hordes of Arab voters” were being bused to polls, and appearing to back away from a two-state solution made matters worse, although Netanyahu after his reelection walked back both statements.

The White House invited Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador who helped organize the speech to Congress, to attend, but Dermer declined, saying he was out of town at a scheduled event.

Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel and said he was committed to combating what he called the “scourge” of anti-Semitism and its resurgence in Europe. “When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed.”

His speech, marking Jewish American Heritage Month, drew a mixed response, with some in the packed sanctuary applauding loudly when he reserved the right to criticize Israel when necessary and others staying silent.

“When I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support for Israel I must object,” was a line that drew extended applause and loud cheers – but not from all members of the audience.

Rabbis for Romney


Many political organizers talk about themselves as reluctant activists, but when Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg said it wasn’t his intention, initially, to establish the group Rabbis for Romney, it’s hard not to believe him.

“I don’t hate Obama, and I don’t glorify Romney,” said Rosenberg, a 64-year-old Orthodox-ordained rabbi who leads Congregation Beth-El, a conservative synagogue in Edison, N.J. “I just know what I have, and I’m not happy with what I have, so I’m willing to throw the dice with someone new.”

Rosenberg, who said he is a registered Democrat who voted twice for President Bill Clinton, launched Rabbis for Romney in September with little more than an organization name and a solicitation e-mail. Even today, aside from a list that he won’t share of what he says are 100 rabbis’ names, the group doesn’t have much of a presence on the Web or on the campaign trail.

Its entire reason for being, Rosenberg said, is not so much to oppose the re-election of President Barack Obama as to oppose the members of Rabbis for Obama who have endorsed him.

“I don’t think there should be rabbis for anybody,” Rosenberg said. “But then 613 rabbis decided they were going to make a whole to-do in the press, and that’s wrong.”

Those 613 Rabbis for Obama helped reignite a long-running debate about whether Jewish clerics should take positions on political issues.

But unlike those rabbis, who all have made their names public, and who include some pulpit rabbis, next to nothing is known about the majority of the Rabbis for Romney group.

Rosenberg, who said he received hate mail in response to organizing Rabbis for Romney, would not release the names of the rabbis who have contacted him to join the group, but he did disclose that every rabbi on his list of about 100 is male. Eighty percent of the Rabbis for Romney are Orthodox-ordained; the rest are Conservative, he said. Some work for synagogues, others as educators, and still others are retired. None lives on the West Coast, but some live in Israel, Rosenberg said. 

Although the group is called Rabbis for Romney, at least some of its members appear to be inspired more by antipathy for Obama than by love for the Republican nominee.

Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael, an Orthodox synagogue in Queens, N.Y., is co-chairman of Rabbis for Romney. Speaking to The Jewish Star of Long Island, N.Y., Algaze reportedly said the “main purpose [of Rabbis for Romney] is to counter the impression of Rabbis for Obama.”

Calling Obama “one of the most hostile” presidents toward Israel and the Jews, Algaze told The Jewish Star that “Romney will do even better for Israel. We saw his presentation of [God] and values rather than the atheistic and other values of Obama.”

Rosenberg was less sanguine than was Algaze about Romney — “I don’t know the guy, I never went out to dinner with him” — but was no less opposed to Obama’s re-election.

“I don’t trust Obama,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not saying he’s been bad to Israel; I’m not one of those guys. I just don’t like his apologizing to the Arab world. I don’t like him dealing with extremist Muslims. He’s not my cup of tea.”

And though Rosenberg said he hoped Romney, if elected, would take a different tone in his interactions with Israel than Obama has, the rabbi acknowledged that such talk is, at this point, purely speculative. Nevertheless, Rosenberg said the Republican could count on his vote. 

“With me, Romney is going to be a better president because, economically, he knows something about business,” he said. 

Meeting again with Jewish leaders, Abbas broaches substance


For Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Jewish leaders, their second date featured a little more substance and a little less flirtation. And this time the Palestinian Authority president brought a wing man.

Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, met separately Tuesday evening with Jewish leaders in New York —a sign of understanding on the Palestinian side of the importance of Jewish sensibilities, in Israel and the Diaspora, to advancing the peace process.

Abbas at the meeting seemed ready to move forward on some substantive issues, which took place during the launch of the U.N. General Assembly session.

In the first meeting, in June, Abbas had frustrated Jewish leaders by dodging issues of substance—returning to direct talks and incitement—but set a tone unprecedented in Palestinian-Jewish relations by recognizing a Jewish historical presence in the land of Israel.

When a group of Palestinian intellectuals challenged Abbas on the issue a month later, instead of backtracking—typical of the one step forward, two steps back peace process tradition—his envoy in Washington, Ma’en Areikat, repeated and reaffirmed the comments.

In the interim, direct talks have been launched, and Abbas was prepared to move forward on some substantive issues at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I would like for us to engage in a dialogue where we listen to each other and where I can respond to your questions because I trust we have one mutual objective—to achieve peace,” he said, according to notes provided by the Center for Middle East Peace.

The center, a dovish group founded by diet magnate Daniel Abraham, sponsored the Abbas meeting, as it did in June. The Fayyad meeting was sponsored by The Israel Project, which tracks support for Israel in the United States and throughout the world.

Making his clearest statement to date on the matter, Abbas said he would not walk away from negotiations should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to extend a partial 10-month moratorium on settlement building set to lapse next week. The PA leader suggested that a way out might be if Netanyahu does not make a public issue of the end of the moratorium.

“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu is under pressure from the settlement movement not only to end the moratorium, but to resume building at levels unprecedented in his prime ministership. The Israeli leader also is heedful, however, of Obama administration demands that the parties not go out of their way to outrage each other.

Among the Jewish leaders at the Abbas meeting were Malcolm Hoenlein and Alan Solow, the executive vice chairman and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director; and leaders of umbrella groups such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Also on hand were Clinton administration foreign policy mavens such as Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright and Daniel Kurtzer, who maintain close ties with Obama’s foreign policy team.

Abbas also showed that he was attempting to bridge a gap on what until now seemed an intractable issue.

The Palestinians have long accepted the inevitability of a demilitarized state, but they reject a continued Israeli military presence. Netanyahu told Jewish leaders in a conference call Monday that he would trust no one but Israeli troops to preserve Israel’s security on the West Bank’s eastern border. At the meeting, Abbas floated the idea of a non-Israeli force that would include Jewish soldiers.

On other issues, Abbas was less prepared to come forward.

Israel wants a clear commitment from the Palestinians that any discussion of the refugee issue would clearly preclude a flooding of Israel with descendants of refugees of the 1948 war, which Israelis say is a recipe for the peaceful eradication of Israel. Behind closed doors, the Palestinians have said they are ready to provide Israel the assurances it needs, but Abbas said at the meeting only that it is a final-status issue.

Another issue could yet scuttle the talks now that the parties seem ready to put the settlement moratorium behind them.

Netanyahu, having extracted what seems to be an irreversible Palestinian recognition of Israel during his previous turn in the job, in 1998, now wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—a result of the emergence of movements that seek to strip Israel of its Jewish character.

Abbas has resisted, in part because he sees such recognition as cutting off the 20 percent of Israel that is Arab, but also because he seems baffled by the demand. He argues that states are free to define themselves and should not need the approbation of others.

“If the Israeli people want to name themselves whatever they want, they are free to do so,” the PA president said.

In a sign that he also was seeking conciliation on the matter, Abbas said at the meeting that he would accept the designation if it were approved by the Knesset. He repeated his recognition of Israel’s Jewish roots and decried Holocaust denial.

It was not far enough for some of his interlocutors.

Stephen Savitzky, the president of the Orthodox Union, wanted Abbas to recognize not only Jewish ties to the land but with the Temple Mount, the site of the third holiest mosque in Islam.

“President Abbas missed an opportunity this evening to make a key statement that would have created good will in the Jewish community,” Savitzky said in a statement.

Fayyad, less charismatic but deemed more trustworthy than Abbas by the pro-Israel intelligentsia, appeared to fare well in the dinner hosted by The Israel Project, which hews to the centrist-right pro-Israel line of much of the U.S. Jewish establishment. He scored points for admitting that the Palestinian Authority had not done enough to combat incitement.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

“We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas—especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”

Op-Ed: Jews must stay on visionary Obama’s side


When President Obama took office last year, our country seemed to be teetering. Eight years of war, monstrous deficit spending, a breakdown of diplomacy, and a disdain for science and civil liberties welcomed the new president into office.

A mere 15 months later our nation, while by no means completely healed, surely is on its way out of this dark period. The economy is improving and jobs are slowly beginning to return, stabilized by the needed, albeit not popular, stimulus package.

Doing the hard work that is needed in government is often unpopular, but President Obama does it anyway, and his hard work is paying off.

President Obama passed health care reform, possibly the greatest domestic policy achievement in a generation. He is standing up to the greed and self-interest of Wall Street. He supports a women’s right to choose and successfully appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. He is committed to ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He takes global climate change seriously. He values government transparency. He is working to reintroduce America into the world as a partner for peace and justice after eight years of isolation on the world stage.

And then there is Israel. President Obama has committed himself to the Jewish people by committing himself to working for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Has it gone smoothly so far? Certainly not.

However, since all parties to the conflict agree that there is no military solution, President Obama, a statesman capable of understanding nuance and complexity, is precisely the kind of leader we need now. He has surrounded himself with Middle East experts, including many Jews, and is listening to the American-Jewish community, the majority of whom support a two-state solution.

American Jews overwhelmingly supported Obama in the 2008 election, and the majority continues to support him because his vision for our country—a vision of inclusion, strength through diplomacy, peace and providing for the neediest among us—resonates deeply with Jews. The battle for reform and improvement, especially in the face of fear and misinformation, is a long one that requires perseverance. We would be wise to embrace perseverance when considering whether we should abandon the president after only one year.

Ancient Jewish tradition in Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, teaches that “while we are not called upon to finish the job, we are certainly called upon to never cease from trying.” For Jews, this applies to the task of building a nation that lives up to the ideals of both our Jewish sages and our American founders.

There are voices who feel threatened by the accomplishments of the past half century in the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement and the gay rights movement. They decry any effort by government to address serious problems like joblessness, health care and the environment. They seek communities only with those who think and believe as they do. These are the political forces that hope Sarah Palin will run for president.

With the challenges we face, including the threat of Iran to both the United States and Israel, we need an American president who is methodical, smart, courageous and willing to do what is right even if it is not popular.  We need a leader who understands the workings of the world, has the respect of the world and, when needed, can stand up to the world. Being U.S. president is more than ignoring those with whom you disagree and then attacking them if they do not capitulate. Being the president requires vision, courage, perseverance and respect for diversity.

The Jewish community knows that President Obama is this kind of leader, and we should continue to support him in his efforts to better our country and be a true friend to Israel.

(Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and serves on the national advisory board of J Street. The views expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not represent any of the organizations he serves.)

Poll: Obama struggling with Jews, but not on Israel


A new survey shows President Obama struggling with American Jews—but not on Israel-related matters.

The American Jewish Committee poll of U.S. Jews found that Obama’s approval rating is at 57 percent, with 38 percent disapproving. That’s down from the stratospheric 79 percent approval rating among Jews that Obama enjoyed about a year ago, in May 2009. The AJC poll was conducted March 2-23 and surveyed 800 self-identifying Jewish respondents selected from a consumer mail panel.

Obama’s advantage among Jews versus the rest of the population appears to be eroding. The latest Gallup polling shows Obama with a national approval rating of 48, nine points below Jewish polling. Last May, general polling earned him 63 percent approval, 16 points below Jewish polling.

Despite the drop—and weeks of tensions with the Netanyahu government—Obama still polls solidly on foreign policy, with a steady majority backing his handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to the AJC poll.

It is on domestic issues that the president appears to be facing more unhappiness.

Jewish voters are statistically split on how Obama has handled health care reform, with 50 percent approving and 48 disapproving. On the economy he fares slightly better. Jewish voters who favor his policies stand at 55 percent, while 42 percent disapprove.

The last AJC poll on the views of American Jews, released last September, did not address domestic issues, so there’s no measure to assess any change in support on the specific issues of health and the economy. Indeed, this is the first poll in at least 10 years in which the AJC has attempted to assess views on the economy and health care. However, Jewish voters in solid majorities describe themselves as Democrats and as liberal to moderate in their views, and traditionally list the economy and health care as their two top concerns in the voting booth.

Matt Brooks, who directs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the relatively low score on domestic issues underscored what he said was a steady decline in Democratic support among Jewish voters.

“This indicates a serious erosion of support,” he said. “It’s a huge drop. There’s no silver lining” for Democrats.

Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, countered that the poll did not account for Jewish voters who might be disappointed with

Obama from a more liberal perspective—for instance, over his dropping from the reform bill of the so-called public option, which would have allowed for government-run health care.

Additionally, much of the AJC polling took place before Obama’s come-from-behind victory on March 21, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed health care reform, Forman said. Since then, Democrats have said they see a turnaround in the president’s political fortunes. “The narrative was the president was in the tank,” Forman said. “This was when it was thought his initiative was dead.”

Obama fares strongly with Jews on homeland security, with 62 percent approving and 33 percent disapproving—a sign that Republican attempts to cast Obama as weak on protecting the nation have had little impact in the Jewish community.

He also scores 55 percent approval on how he handles U.S.-Israel relations, which is virtually unchanged since last September, when his handling of the relationship scored 54 percent approval. At that juncture, the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem were kept at a low bubble and were confined to U.S. insistence on a total freeze of Israeli settlement, and the Netanyahu administration’s reluctance to concede.

The latest questions, however, coincided almost exactly with the period when U.S. officials accused the Netanyahu government of “insulting” the United States by announcing a new building start in eastern Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, and when the president refused to make public gestures of friendship during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s subsequent visit to Washington.

A question on Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear capability showed a statistical dead heat on the approval side between last September—49 percent—and now, at 47 percent. However, disapproval ratings rose moderately, apparently borrowing from the “uncertain” column: Back in September 35 percent disapproved; now 42 percent give a thumbs down.

The marks compared favorably, however, with Bush administration figures. Bush scored 33 percent approval ratings on Iran in 2006, the most recent year that AJC asked the question.

Support for U.S. and Israeli attacks on Iran to keep it from making a nuclear bomb appeared to drop slightly. Asked about a U.S. strike, 53 percent said they would support one, and 42 percent were opposed, as opposed to 56 percent and 36 percent last September. On an Israeli strike, 62 percent supported and 33 percent opposed, as opposed to 66 and 28 percent in September.

The only other question in the most recent survey directly addressing Obama’s foreign policy also showed strong support for the president: 62 percent of respondents agreed with Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. This contrasts with the consistently negative Jewish assessments of Bush’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, except in the period immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Approval of Obama’s foreign policies contrasts with increasing uneasiness in the Jewish establishment with the administration’s approach. Several influential pro-Israel organizations have spent months, to little avail, pleading with the administration to confine its disagreements to back rooms.

A handful of prominent Jewish backers of candidate Obama also appear to have had second thoughts. Most pointedly, in a New York Daily News column Monday, Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor and a supporter of Obama during the 2008 general election, said he was “weeping” because the president had “abandoned” Israel.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most influential member of the Senate’s Jewish caucus, on Sunday pointedly avoided answering a question on ABC’s “This Week” about whether he agreed with a Netanyahu confidante who said Obama was a “strategic disaster” for Israel.
Brooks predicted a tide of defections. “You’ll have a number of candidates” in areas with a strong Jewish presence “asking him not to campaign for them,” he said.

David Harris, AJC’s executive director, cautioned that low approval ratings did not necessarily translate into electoral losses.

Brooks said that he would advise GOP candidates to hammer Democrats hard on foreign policy, particularly in tight races in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, where Jewish voters trended less liberal than on the coasts. “If Republican candidates are smart, they will make Democratic candidates in these races answerable to whether they support Obama’s policies of pressuring Israel,” the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition said.

Jewish Democrats are already preparing a response strategy of arguing that the relationship remains close on defense cooperation and other matters, despite heightened rhetoric on settlement differences.

Harris suggested that the polling showed that the American Jewish public would prefer to imagine a closeness rather than deal with tensions. Obama and Netanyahu scored similar solid majorities—55 percent and 57 percent, respectively—on how they handled the relationship.

American Jews “don’t want to be forced to choose,” Harris said. “They would rather say a blessing on both your houses than a pox on both your houses.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of Jews think Israel should, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, be willing to remove at least some of the settlements in the West Bank. But 61 percent rejected the idea that Israel should be willing to “compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction.”

The poll had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percentage points. Interviews were conducted by the firm Synovate, formerly Market Facts.

Jews Should Oppose Universal Health Care


In part of an ongoing debate on health care reform, JewishJournal.com is hosting this dialogue on the pros and cons of universal health care.

Related: Why we must support universal health care

From BeliefNet.com:

In the always lively Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes in a cover essay that “support for universal health care is an imperative in Jewish law.” Is it now? On health care reform, Rabbi Dorff has his classical sources all lined up—most having to do with obligations on the community to rescue its needy, the captive, and those otherwise endangered. The communal court system can compel a person to give charity in support of the poor. Proper medical services are a necessity in a Jewish community. And so on. Whether through socialized medicine or government health insurance, something must be done: the fact of there being 40 million uninsured Americans is “intolerable.”

Do you notice how many times the words “community” or “communal” appear in the foregoing paragraph? Rabbi Dorff is chairman of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative (i.e., liberal) Judaism. He knows that Jewish laws of the kind he cites are specifically communal laws. They were never envisioned as applying en masse to a non-Jewish country of 300 million people. Liberal Jewish analysts often lose sight of this simple fact. So too in the abortion debate where, simply put, Jewish law for Jews is more liberal on abortion than Jewish law for Gentiles. We are more protective of the unborn non-Jewish life. In Torah, there are separate legal tracks—the Mosaic and the Noachide, for Jewish and Gentile communities respectively. Yet liberal Jews invariably cite Jewish abortion law, not the Gentile one which makes abortion a death penalty offense. They forget that we live in a non-Jewish country.

Read the full story at BeliefNet.com.

ANALYSIS: Obama worked hard to gain Jewish trust


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (JTA)—A major Republican tack against Barack Obama has a simple theme: By his friends you shall know him.

For the McCain campaign, in recent weeks this has meant repeatedly linking the Democratic presidential nominee to William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground. But Jewish Republicans had been employing the strategy for many months in the run-up to the Nov. 4 vote, with the goal of portraying Obama as soft and unreliable in his support for Israel.

Jewish GOPers point to Obama’s 20-year membership in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his associations—however limited—with Palestinian activists and his consultations with some foreign policy experts seen as critical of either Israel or the pro-Israel lobby.

To buttress this line of attack, they stress Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iranian leaders. Hovering in the background—and at times right up in the voters’ faces—have been Internet campaigns and outright pronouncements by some conservative pundits depicting Obama as an Arab or a practicing Muslim.

Obama has responded by explaining how he has dropped troubling relationships, touting his ties to some Jewish communal leaders in Chicago and pro-Israel lights, casting himself as a lifelong supporter of Israel and presenting himself as a leader who would work to revitalize black-Jewish relations.

He has insisted repeatedly that Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” cited his defense of Israel’s military tactics during the 2006 war in Lebanon and pressed for tighter U.S. sanctions against Iran as part of his pledge to do everything in his power to block Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. senator from Illinois has spoken thoughtfully about Jewish holidays and religious traditions, as well as the early influence of Jewish and Zionist writers on his worldview. And last Martin Luther King Day, Obama used the pulpit of the slain civil rights leader to condemn anti-Semitism in the black community.

“I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time,” Obama told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year, noting “theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.”

“So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

Such policy and ideological pronouncements were enough to secure support during the Democratic primaries from a few pro-Israel stalwarts in the U.S. Congress (most notably Robert Wexler of Florida) and the media (New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz). And even the recently defunct New York Sun—a neoconservative newspaper that had plenty of problems with Obama’s domestic and foreign policies—felt inspired to publish an editorial in his defense on the general question of support for Israel.

“We’re no shills for Mr. Obama, but these Republicans haven’t checked their facts,” the newspaper declared in the January 9, 2008 editorial. “At least by our lights, Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.”

Still, despite such sentiments and Obama’s feverish efforts to allay Jewish concerns, polls showed him having trouble with Jewish voters—first during the primary season, when he reportedly trailed his main party rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and then throughout much of the general election race when surveys showed him failing to match the totals of previous Democratic nominees.

In recent weeks, however, as the Republican ticket has had to cope with the nation’s economic collapse and the declining popularity of vice-presidential choice Sarah Palin, Obama has been able to flood swing states with waves of newfound Jewish surrogates who were either neutral or with Clinton during the primaries but are now speaking out for him.

Their effectiveness was in evidence last week in a Gallup Poll that showed Obama breaking through a plateau that had dogged him for months: The Democratic candidate garnered 74 percent Jewish support, matching past Democratic candidates and bypassing the persistent 60 percent showing since the primaries.

The trend toward Obama was tangible earlier this month at the B’nai Israel synagogue in Rockville, Md., where the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Noah Silverman made the case for GOP nominee John McCain in a debate with Michael Levy of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Unlike the false depictions of Obama as a radical Muslim that have spread through the Internet, Republican Party reminders of Obama’s past associations with alleged radicals “are not smears,” Silverman said.

The packed hall burst into sustained laughter. Such derision, however, has not inhibited the guilt-by-association attacks. John Lehman, a Reagan administration Navy secretary, at this city’s Jewish community center last week cited the usual litany. He even tossed in Wright, though McCain has banned the use of the pastor’s liberation theology as a cudgel.

“You’re known by the company you keep,” Lehman said several times.

He later defended his mention of Wright, who once described Israel as a colonial power and used the phrase “goddamn America” in a sermon about the continued struggle facing blacks.

“It’s an important issue,” Lehman told JTA. “I don’t see how someone could sit in a pew for 20 years and listen to that crap.”

The Youngstown audience wasn’t interested—it peppered Lehman and the Obama surrogate with questions about policy.

That doesn’t mean that some of the attacks are not substantive. In an interview with JTA during the primaries, Obama failed to say how he could not have been aware of Wright’s radical views on Israel over a 20-year relationship with his church.

“It doesn’t excuse the statements that were made, it’s just simply to indicate it’s not as if there was a statement like this coming up every Sunday when I was at church,” Obama said at the time, evading the question, which was how Obama responded to Wright’s radicalism on those occasions, however infrequently he may have encountered it.

A few weeks later, Wright’s public appearances grew intolerable, and the Obamas left the church and cut off the pastor.

On other fronts, Obama has been less decisive in walking back from what many Jewish and pro-Israel activists—including his own supporters—see as obvious blunders.

Obama still won’t acknowledge that his “I would” reply to a debate question in 2007 about whether he would meet unconditionally with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant just that. And his clear declaration of support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital at the AIPAC policy conference in May was followed up by poorly conceived clarifications to the Palestinians, then to the pro-Israel community, then to anyone who was still bothering to ask.

The most effective Republican tack has been his status as a blank slate: Obama is 47 and has barely four years of experience on the national stage.

What has smoothed these concerns has been a strategy of systematically cultivating the Jewish community since his first run for state Senate in 1996. His closeness to scions of Chicago’s most influential Jewish families—including the Pritzkers and the Crowns—propelled a state-by-state outreach that strategically targeted similar dynasties.

For instance, the campaign’s Jewish outreach director in Ohio, Matt Ratner, came on board after a meeting between the candidate and his father, Ron, a leading Cleveland developer. The campaign has set up Jewish leadership councils in major communities and hired Jewish outreach directors in at least six swing states.

Obama used the same strategic outreach in building his policy apparatus. The foreign policy team making the case for an Obama administration that engages in intense Middle East diplomacy features several accomplished Jewish members.

In addition to Wexler, Obama’s circle of advisers on Israel and Iran policy includes familiar veterans of the Clinton administration such as Dennis Ross, once America’s top Middle East negotiator; Dan Shapiro, a lobbyist who once headed the legislative team for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and Mara Rudman, a former national security councilor.

Obama reached out to Wexler, a make-or-break figure among Florida’s Jews, before announcing for president, and since 2005 has been consulting with Ross—the most reputable name among Jews in Middle East peacemaking.

“His vision of direct American engagement” with leaders in Tehran “for the purpose of stopping Iran’s nuclear program was so compelling I wanted to be a part of it,” Wexler told JTA.

“Direct American engagement” with Iran was once inconceivable as a pro-Israel position. Due in part to a concerted effort by Obama and his Jewish friends, however, it has gone mainstream, most recently in a bill co-authored by the Democratic nominee that promoted tightened anti-Iran sanctions as well as the utility of engagement. The bill, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but was killed by Senate Republicans without explanation.

The bill is just one example of how Obama has offered detailed policy proposals that have meshed his emphasis on diplomacy with some of the hallmarks of Israeli and pro-Israeli strategies, especially when it comes to Iran. By the time Obama or his surrogates have rattled off a detailed sanctions plan that includes targeting refined petroleum exporters to Iran, the insurance industry and Iranian banks, listeners at some forums almost appear to have forgotten about Obama’s one-time pledge to meet with Ahmadinejad. It doesn’t hurt that the McCain campaign is short on such specifics.

In a trip to Israel over the summer, Obama impressed his interlocutors by internalizing their concerns over Iran and immediately integrating them into his own vision for the region, Ross said in an interview.

“He told the Israelis during the trip that ‘Iran with nuclear weapons was not only an existential threat to Israel, and I view it that way, but I also would view it as transforming the Middle East into a nuclear region, undermining everything I’d hope to accomplish,’ ” said Ross, who accompanied Obama on the trip.

None of this guarantees a smooth pro-Israel presidency. During the primaries, Obama cautioned Cleveland Jewish leaders that to be “pro-Israel” does not mean being “pro-Likud,” an encomium that could haunt the U.S.-Israel relationship if Obama is elected and the Likud Party—as projected—returns to power in case of early elections in Israel. Still, Obama supporters credit a meeting with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for some of the nominee’s initiatives dealing with the Islamic Republic.

But it is the overemphasis on Obama’s Middle East views and associations—real or imagined—that might prove the critical weakness in Republican efforts to cut down Obama’s support among Jews. It’s not just that it’s true now, as it has been in past campaigns, that Jews are not single-issue voters. It is also that Obama has uncovered an exquisite Jewish spin to his broader appeal to generous notions of America’s liberal past.

In making the case that Obama is an unreliable flip-flopper, Republicans note that one of the biggest applause lines in his AIPAC speech was his Jerusalem pledge. But they don’t mention that the biggest applause line had nothing to do with Israel—especially extraordinary considering the foreign-policy-first crowd.

“In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” Obama said in his conclusion. “They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man—James Chaney—on behalf of freedom and equality. Their legacy is our inheritance.”

In Washington’s culture of sarcastic bon mots, surely there lurks a line about what it takes to make an AIPAC activist cry. Judging by some of the faces in the crowd that day in May, Obama found the soft spot.

Who you calling rebbetzin, why you dissing Palin, what college anti-Semitism?


The Rabbi’s Spouse

In her recent story, Danielle Berrin contemplates the role of the clergy’s spouse (“Who You Calling Rebbetzin?” Sept. 12).

It seems that one of the downsides is being misunderstood.  
 
I repeatedly emphasized to Danielle that my voluntary role in our community is one which I gladly fill both at our synagogue and in our children’s school, because these are the communities where our family belongs, and I feel a personal responsibility to help.  Never at any time did I or will I expect any financial compensation for the work I volunteer to do in my community. 

I created the position that I fill because I care about the community and am proud to help build our congregation along with my husband.  

I wish there would have been some way for that positive message to have been better expressed in the article.

Pnina Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

We would like to thank Danielle Berrin for her article on the contemporary rebbetzin.

We were subjects in this piece, and we could not be more pleased. Within the Jewish world so many of us seek connection — with God, with community, with mitzvot, and yes — with the rabbi’s family!? Through her article Ms. Berrin gave our community a chance to get to know us a little better, with the hope of strengthening those connections — that is indeed a holy pursuit, a true mitzvah.

As rabbis who are also rebbetzins, we are grateful for Ms. Berrin’s attention to the value of the rabbinic spouse.

Rabbis Deborah and Brian Schuldenfrei
via e-mail

The Iranian Vote

Iranian American Jews are mostly wary and distrustful of the Obama-Biden ticket.
In your Aug. 11 Iranian American Jews blog report on my debate with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Judge Bruce Einhorn on the U.S. presidential elections, you mistakenly mentioned that I had emphasized the issue of Sen. John McCain’s experience.

In fact, my main and repeated emphasis was on the lack of understanding by Sen. Barack Obama of the nature and the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the worldwide jihadist movement, as well as Sen. Joe Biden’s long-time record of encouraging appeasement and giving one-sided concessions to the Iranian theocratic dictatorship.

I mentioned that as a Democrat, I would strongly suggest putting aside our differences and voting for McCain, due to the overwhelming urgency of the worldwide threats facing us all.

I, like most Iranian Jews, fear that the Obama-Biden administration will fail to stand up to this worldwide threat.

Frank Nikbakht
Director
Committee for
Religious Minority Rights in Iran

Post-Palin Depression

I wanted you to know that I ran across your piece as I scoured the Internet looking for my minute-by-minute updates on the election (“Post-Palin Depression” Sept. 12).

I am just an average person that fits the person you describe in “Post-Palin Depression.” I do not have a therapist, but I have been in depression for almost two weeks now.

But your article inspired me to go nearly cold turkey on election news (I didn’t think about limiting to C-SPAN and, of course, I just can’t go without “The Daily Show”). One question, before I go into detox, can I finish out my obsession until I fall asleep tonight?

Thanks for the great piece. I can’t wait for my blood pressure to resume to normal levels.

Catherine Devericks
Via e-mail

Fields of Dreams

I would like to thank David Suissa and The Jewish Journal for the moving article comparing/contrasting Trochenbrod and Camp Ramah (“Fields of Dreams,” Sept. 12).

Filmmaker Jeremy Goldscheider is doing a big mitzvah in producing a film that will preserve a part of European Jewish History, which would otherwise be lost forever.

I would like to support this project and would like more information on how to get involved. I am writing as a representative of the Blitstein family of Trochenbrod.

Paula Verbit
Trochenbrod Descendant
Second Generation

Strange Love

In his recent letter to David Suissa, Jeff Kramer stated “The truth is that they (missionaries) don’t want your soul, what they want is to help you draw closer to God and in so doing, enjoy a fuller and more complete life now and in eternity.”

This statement is written more like a true believer in Jesus than a faithful Jew who understands that the roots of Christianity originate from Roman and Hellenistic paganism and belief in the trinity and bodily incarnation of God is considered idolatrous for Jews? (“Strange Love,” Aug. 22).

This is something all denominations of Judaism agree represents the spiritual destruction of the Jewish soul.

So yes, regardless of their intention, the end result is that missionaries, who seek to convert Jews, want our soul and in doing so perpetuate a long history of anti-Judaism that disrespects and invalidates the spiritual integrity of Jews and Judaism.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder and Executive Director
JewsForJudaism.org

Sleight of Hand

The directors of Stand With Us have engaged in a bit of sleight of hand (Letters, Sept. 12).

Rather than confront the fact that anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on college campuses today, they engage in name-calling. We are “elitists,” a common epithet in today’s political discourse.

If by characterizing our response as elitist, Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid mean that we actually know what we are talking about, since we work on various college campuses (not just UCLA), then we plead guilty. Actually knowing what one is talking about is something that is very helpful in political discussions — both this one and larger national ones.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

Sarah Palin

There are issues pertaining to Gov. Sarah Palin’s judgment privately that should be judged publicly (“Sarah Palin and the Jews,” Sept. 5).

First, why is it not immoral to have a baby when you know that the baby has Down syndrome and the baby is your fifth?

Second, why is it not immoral to get pregnant at age 42 with your fifth child when you know or should know that the odds of having a baby with Down syndrome is increased exponentially when a women reaches 40?

According to the March of Dimes Web site, at 25, a woman has about one chance in 1,250 of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 30, a one in 1,000 chance; at age 35, a one in 400 chance; at age 40, a one in 100 chance; at 45, a one in 30 chance.

Lastly, why is it not immoral to have a fifth baby when given our current world environment. Zero population growth should be a goal for all of us? Why not adopt instead?

The above questions should all be asked of this person, but our media just won’t go there.

Martin H. Kodish
Woodland Hills

Yes, it was nice to know that Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has good relationships with Alaska’s Jewish population, although it was hardly surprising that she is strongly pro-Israel, given that she is an evangelical Christian.

However, to describe her simply as a social conservative is a gross understatement. From all we know of her, insufficient as that is as yet, she is a rabid, right-wing ideologue.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, with its clever one- and two-line zingers written by a group of the best-paid communications professionals in the business and rehearsed by Gov. Palin for at least five hours prior to its presentation, with a mixture of homey references to her family and herself, she likened her small-town roots to those of President Harry S. Truman (a senator from Missouri for 10 years before becoming vice president in January 1945).

It remains the challenge of the media to break through the blockade surrounding their access to her — talk about protectionism run amok — to ask penetrating questions about her positions on policy issues, among them: the kinds of justices she would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court; whether she believes in multilateral, rather than unilateral, approaches to international affairs; given her opposition to government intervention into our private lives, why a woman should not have the right to make her own reproductive choices without big brother dictating her decisions.

Also, how she intends to protect the guarantees of our Bill of Rights and their erosion in the name of fighting terror; why, if she is so staunchly pro-life, she does not support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research — using embryos that will be discarded or destroyed — to improve the quality of life of those living with terrible diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, etc.; why she opposes sex education in the schools, including teaching even kindergartners — as Barack Obama has proposed — about what they need to know, at the most primary level, in order to protect themselves from sexual predators.

In addition, where she stands on our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state, in general, and the teaching of creationism, along with the theory of evolution, in particular; regulating gun ownership; outlawing hate crimes; drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on and on.

With less than two months remaining before Election Day on Nov. 4, it is urgent that the media reveal what the new kid on the political block — who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency — believes about many of the most urgent issues facing our country.

Rachel Galperin
Encino

I am not a supporter of the Republican ticket. However, let’s be fair to Sarah Palin on Jewish issues. First of all, most gentiles are probably not familiar with Pat Buchanan’s views on matters of Jewish concern, particularly people such as Palin, who are not known for their deep knowledge of such things. So her wearing of a Buchanan button does not signify anti-Jewish feelings.

Second, whatever one’s views may be on abortion rights, it is not a Jewish issue. The Orthodox Jewish view on abortion is similar to that of most Christian religious groups. The only pertinent Jewish issue in today’s political world is support for Israel.

Marshall Giller
Winnetka

The disclosure that last month Gov. Sarah Palin’s church hosted the executive director of Jews for Jesus, who told congregants that violence against Israeli Jews is God’s punishment for their failure to accept Jesus, is going to be the next club that Palin’s leftist critics pick up against her.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes Palin’s pastor at Wasilla Bible Church, the Rev. Larry Kroon, as saying that he doesn’t believe Jews for Jesus are deceptive.

“Look at Paul and Peter and the others, they were Jews and believed in Jesus as the messiah,” he told JTA. “There’s gentile believers and there’s Jewish believers that acknowledge Jesus as messiah. There’re Swedish believers.”

Mainstream Judaism today rejects the idea that one can believe in Jesus and still be a practicing Jew. Anyone who maintains that the two beliefs are compatible is a pariah in the Jewish community.

But these columns have been cautioning against the idea that politicians need to be held accountable for every thing that is said from the pulpits of their congregations. In an editorial of March 18, 2008, “Obama’s Moment,” we said that religion by its nature calls forth great passion, and that religious institutions, churches, synagogues, mosques, are places where things are often said that strike the congregation in a way that they might not strike the wider public.

None of this is to excuse the errors of Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Kroon. But it is Obama and Palin who are running for office, not the clergymen.

To make a big issue of these kinds of things in respect of the candidates, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, would be to impose a religious test for office of the sort that the framers of the Constitution forbade right in Article VI, when they wrote, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

No, ever, any. They couldn’t have been more emphatic and not even in an amendment but right there in the original body of the Constitution.

Reyna Oro
via e-mail

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews


When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

Your search - palin - did not match any documents.
No pages were found containing "palin".

The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.


Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and JewishJournal.com.




Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

VIDEO: Blacks and Jews are back together and working side by side for an Obama victory


JTA’s Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas on Thursday’s events at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.  With a focus on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, they explore a new emphasis on rebuilding the Civil Rights-era alliance of Jews and Blacks.  Included—Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. John Lewis.

Let the games begin: GOP plays ‘Iran card’ against Democrats Obama and Biden


DENVER (JTA)—A year ago, the push for a congressional amendment that urged the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group was signature legislation for much of the pro-Israel lobby. Only two dozen U.S. senators out of 100 opposed it.

Two of those opposed—Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.)—make up the Democratic Party ticket for president.

Republicans are hoping to score points on the issue, building on their criticisms of Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with the head of Iran without preconditions.

In a bit of political jujitsu, however, the Democrats are trying to turn the candidates’ opposition to the amendment into an asset.

Jewish Democrats rolled out the strategy this week on the first day of the Democratic convention here, saying the amendment sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) wasn’t serious. Obama and Biden, the Democrats say, have a better plan to secure Israel from attack.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told a roomful of Colorado Jews on Sunday that Obama’s sponsorship of legislation that would facilitate sanctions against Iran until it proves it is not developing nuclear weapons was the substantive way to go.

“This is not some fluffy sense of Congress resolution,” Wasserman Schultz said in an apparent allusion to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was nonbinding. “This is a resolution with real teeth.”

Wasserman Schultz—whose preference in the Democratic primaries, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was criticized by Obama supporters for backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment—elaborated later in an interview with JTA.

“Barack Obama backs up his words with action,” she said, adding that nonbinding resolutions “are great, but they don’t empower.”

Democrats are vying to maintain the traditional 3-to-1 Jewish split in favor of Democrats, particularly in swing states such as Colorado and Florida.
The theme, repeated throughout the day at Jewish events: Obama’s coupling of tough sanctions with diplomacy and building alliances is likelier to face down the Iranians.

“We need allies in that war,” U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Sunday evening at a National Jewish Democratic Council gathering outside the modest brick Denver home that housed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she was a teenager. “This administration has pushed off the people we need. We’re going to reach out to those people and pull in allies.”

Republicans made an issue of the vote within hours of Obama’s announcement of Biden as his running mate on Saturday.

“Biden has failed to recognize the serious threat that Iran poses to Israel and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “In 1998, Sen. Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill that punished foreign companies or other entities that sent Iran sensitive missile technology or expertise. Biden was one of the few senators to oppose the bipartisan 2007 Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.”

Lieberman, the one-time Democrat turned Independent who is backing U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, already has made an issue of the votes in pitches to pro-Israel arguments.

The attacks already were discomfiting Democrats.

“It will be an issue only to an extent that the Republicans try to misrepresent and distort the nature of that vote,” said Alan Solomont, the Boston philanthropist who was one of Obama’s earliest backers and is one of his leading fund-raisers.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backed the Iran measures opposed by Biden. But any disagreement over the issue appeared to be history for AIPAC when it came to weighing in on the selection of the veteran senator for vice president.

“Sen. Biden is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and he has longstanding ties to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community,” spokesman Josh Block said in a statement, echoing similar praise it has lavished on Obama and McCain. “Throughout his career in the Senate, Joe Biden has been to Israel numerous times and has gotten to know many of Israel’s most important leaders.”

Biden cast one of the four “no” votes in 1998 against the sanctions bill, which was vetoed by President Clinton, arguing that it could undermine U.S. progress in convincing Russia to curb arms sales to Iran.

“The administration had made significant progress over the six months with the threat of this bill in place,” said Biden, according to a report from the time in The New York Times. “I’m trying to approach this from a practical point of view: How do we insure this doesn’t continue?”

As for opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Obama, Biden and U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)—all candidates competing in the Democratic primaries at the time – have said they did not oppose the step of labeling the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group. They had backed similar language in separate legislation, and an executive order by President Bush designating the corps as terrorist within weeks of the amendment’s passage caused barely a murmur.

Instead, according to the candidates, they objected to language tying efforts to contain Iran to American actions in Iraq. That, they said, would be handing Bush an excuse to intensify American involvement in an unpopular war.

Dodd, Biden and Obama used Clinton’s vote for the amendment as a cudgel to batter their rival among the party base—a turn of events leading some critics to accuse them of putting politics ahead of the effort to pressure Iran.

Water under the bridge, said Steve Grossman, a former AIPAC president and a leading Clinton backer.

“If there’s one area where Barack Obama has taken a leadership role, it’s on legislation on Iran,” Grossman said, citing the sanctions-enabling act the Democratic candidate is pushing.

The act is stuck in the Senate; an anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on it.

Grossman didn’t think the Kyl-Lieberman votes would have an effect.

“Will it ultimately determine Jewish votes? I don’t think so,” he said.

In its criticisms of Obama’s choice of running mate, the Republican Jewish Coalition noted that during a debate last December, Biden said “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America” and told MSNBC that he “never believed” Iran had a weapon system under production.

Biden, who has said that a nuclear Iran is an “unacceptable” danger, made the comments following the release of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Iran has likely halted its nuclear weapons program. The senator used the news to paint the Bush administration as having further damaged America’s credibility and hurt its efforts to isolate Iran.

“It was like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier,” Biden said during the 2007 debate, sponsored in Des Moines by National Public Radio. “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly, with the rest of the world at our side. But we’ve made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us?”

2008: The contest for the Jews


With Hillary Rodham Clinton’s

Voice of reason in a sea of insanity, Jewish Dodgers, Prager, archaeologists, politicians and peace


Food Issues

Rob Eshman’s article about food issues is a voice of reason in a sea of insanity (“Food Issues,” April 11).

Much of the meaning behind the holiday is in its simplicity, as Rob indicates. Changing one’s diet for seven or eight days obviously extends beyond the seders. Unfortunately, it is getting swept under the table with the increasing availability of processed foods just like what we eat the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to choose between our day-to-day excessive commercialism or changing our lives for a week and truly appreciating the simplicity and freedom that we normally associate with Pesach.

Ed Rivkin
Cherry Hill, N.J.

Ziman and Lee

I realize that bad news always travels faster than good news — especially with today’s technology(“Four Questions,” April 18).

But the simple and difficult question you asked — is it true — still needs to be answered.

Whatever the answer is, it will say a lot about everyone involved. As you wrote, there will probably be multiple versions of what was exactly said. I think seeing all of them, or at least the generally accepted versions, will be quite revealing.

Philippe Shepnick
via e-mail

Two facts stick out from the Daphna Ziman controversy: She is a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton that included Ziman’s hosting fundraisers for her, and she gratuitously connected Sen. Barack Obama with the Rev. Eric Lee’s alleged vitriolic remarks he has vehemently denied.

She then sent out her version of what he said in an attempt to persuade as many as she knew in the Jewish community to oppose Sen. Obama. Pure and simple, it was just another political hit piece. Hopefully it has not worked.

George Magit
Northridge

Jewish Dodgers

I enjoyed Robert David Jaffee’s history of Jewish baseball players on the Los Angeles Dodgers (“Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players,” April 18).

However, I would like to correct him regarding one of the players that he stated was “hailed by some as Jews even though they are not.”

Scott Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. He considers himself a Jew much in the way Mike Lieberthal identifies himself.

Ephraim Moxson
Co-Publisher
Jewish Sports Review
Los Angeles


Period slide show set to Jimmy Durante’s 1963 Sandy Koufax tribute “Dandy Sandy”

Marriage Equality

I am grateful for your publishing the article highlighting Jews for marriage equality (“Battle for Gay Marriage Rights Gains Jewish Support,” April 11).

As a Conservative rabbi, I signed the petition, and I stand fully behind the work of the commission and its desire to bring equality and justice to the many gay and lesbian couples seeking to enter into the sanctity of marriage with all of the rights and privileges that come with that covenant.

Judaism has constantly evolved, and I agree fully with Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a pioneer and leader on this issue, when he teaches that this is a landmark time in the state of Judaism, a time that will require the will and commitment of dedicated Jews to bring yet another group of outsiders into the fold of Jewish life.

Some of the arguments made today against bringing homosexuals into the mainstream of Jewish life are the same arguments made 20 years ago in the Conservative movement regarding women. We overcame those hurdles, and we have started to overcome the current hurdles. Because we are all created in the image of God, all Jews deserve full access to the Torah and equal rights in civic life, as well.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center

Dennis Prager Ad

Yes, Dennis — I’m a Democrat that fights for carbon dioxide emissions control (Advertisement, April 18).

Had you and your Republican ilk been fighting for that, rather than fighting for more oil around the world, our dependence on your black gold may not be such that we’d need to be sucking it out of places where we are so resented for our presence alone.

Corporate evil — that is what you do not fight!

Kenny Halpern
Oxnard

As a respected nationwide figure and a proponent of moral belief systems, I consider Prager to have a heavy responsibility to present meaningful, well-analyzed arguments.

After reading his ad, “I Used to Be a Democrat,” I was sorely disappointed with the weakening of his own position by the juxtaposition of evil and CO2 emissions.

The implication that being against destroying the earth is tantamount to considering that is more important than nazism, communism and terrorism is absurd and totally unfair. These two hideous problems are not comparable, and one should not have to choose between them to be righteous.

Diane Rowe
Santa Monica

How sad it was to read this full-page ad and realize that Dennis Prager would rather be associated with a presidential aspirant who actively sought the endorsement of the Rev. Hagee and all the hate and bitterness he represents and stands for then remain identified with the true inheritors of the Lincoln legacy, the contemporary progressive movement.

And when he goes on to say that Republicans are for the preservation of liberal values, well, he might as well consider going to an open mike night at the Comedy Club!

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

Web Editor: The Prager ad did not appear online @ JewishJournal.com

Passover Ponderings

As I participated in seders this year, I imagined the early years of the Jews in Egypt. They didn’t come as slaves but came looking for subsistence. They came looking for the opportunity to feed their families.

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