Jews looked past worries to embrace Obama

For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

Ari Wallach described breaking through to elderly Jews in Florida who had resisted voting for the son of the man from Kenya, the tall black man with the middle name “Hussein.”

“It wasn’t only his policy on Israel and Iran, on health care,” said Wallach, whose ” target=”_blank”>Great Shlep,” an effort to prod young adults to get their Jewish grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama. “His biography feels so Jewish, it feels like an Ellis Island archetype. People felt more comfortable when I talked about where he came from, it resonated so deeply surprisingly among older Jews.”

For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival.

Wallach credited the campaign’s late-campaign blitz of Jewish communities, joined by groups like his own, for converting the candidate from stranger to standard bearer for a Jewish ethos.

It was an uphill battle, starting with rumors that Obama was a hidden Muslim, that he wasn’t a genuine, born American. The subterranean campaign soon burst through semi-legitimate and then legitimate forums; Obama was not a Muslim, these conservatives and Republicans said, but he might have been raised a Muslim and later had radical associations.

The ” target=”_blank”>reject the RJC ads, said it was vindicated.

“Tonight, American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multimillion dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” J-Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in a statement. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama. With exit polls showing Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote equal to 2004 levels, it is absolutely clear that their efforts failed.”

Some Democrats said McCain, once popular among Jews because of his willingness to reach across the aisle, hurt himself in the community by choosing the deeply conservative and relatively inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

An American Jewish Committee poll commissioned in September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin pick, compared to just 15 percent who disapproved of Obama’s decision to tap Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

But Obama’s appeal to Jews might have been most deeply rooted in shared values, said Mik Moore, Wallach’s partner in

“Folks just wanted to be with us, with the more progressive candidate; it’s where their heart is,” he said.

Let bygones (not) be bygones

That’s it?

Twelve-hundred-and-eight words, and we’re supposed to forget the months of ugly that came before?

Not so fast.

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.”

A gracious gesture, and — poof! — the “Country First” ticket is off the hook, just like that, for the lying, red-baiting, character assassination, rabble-rousing, and calculated polarization that preceded it?

I don’t think so.

A dog that behaved that badly would be sent to obedience school. A child who was that reckless would face consequences up the wazoo. But just because Americans are good people, a campaign’s end requires us to willingly come down with a national case of amnesia?

Gimme a break.

What an insult it is to the idea of accountability, this notion that responsibility for the ugly emotions unleashed by demagoguery is wiped away by a concession speech. What an affront to the dignity of democracy, this remorseless draining of meaning from language, this quadrennial rush to retroactively trivialize our public discourse.

The most pernicious aspect of the media-political complex we are saddled with is its addiction to postmodern irony. Educated people are supposed to understand that politics is just theater, a pageant designed to entertain us, a Punch and Judy show whose audience realizes it’s not real. Politics is only a game, you see, a sport — a blood sport, to be sure, but the teams aren’t actually warriors, they’re performers, and their combat is ritual, not real.

You think these candidates mean what they say? Grow up, says the professional commentariat. Don’t you get it? These politicians are winking at you. They know it’s just kabuki. Don’t take this stuff seriously.

So John McCain — while claiming that not he’s not impugning Barack Obama’s patriotism — impugns Barack Obama’s patriotism, but we’re supposed to understand that it doesn’t really matter, because that’s just what people do in campaigns.

So Sarah Palin says that Obama pals around with terrorists, and she incites her crowds to look for pitchforks, but we’re supposed to believe that Pandora can just shoo the evil back into the box come Election Day.

So Rudy Giuliani bares his teeth on national television, but because he laughs with startled delight at the rancor he unleashes in his listeners, we’re supposed to construe his snarling as a harmless charade.

So the ads on America’s airwaves relentlessly pound into our national psyche the message that “liberal” is akin to traitor, that Obama is dishonorable, that he is opportunistically lying when he claims to dissent from “God damn America” – and the press covers the slurs as merely tactical maneuvers, as though the country could just take a shower once the campaign is over and wash the silly slime off its body, as though no damage had been done to the nation because no one serious takes any of this stuff seriously.

Yes, I know that some of Obama’s ads earned the ire of independent fact checkers. I realize that political rhetoric isn’t the same thing as sworn testimony. And I recognize that campaigns in America’s past have crawled with calumny even worse than this one.

But I also think that our yearning for post-election healing, our hunger for common ground, is risky. There is something wonderfully redemptive in our belief in national reconciliation. But there is also in it something naïve and self-destructive and dangerous.

Have we so quickly forgotten the rank hypocrisy of George W. Bush running as “a uniter, not a divider”? Have we no recollection of the fatuous hollowness of his inaugural promises to reach across the aisle? Is it too dispiriting to recall that his search for common ground turned out to mean “my way or the highway”? Is it just too difficult to remember the eight years during which principled dissent was demonized as being “with the terrorists”?

On Inauguration Day, no doubt Barack Obama will come up with something gracious to say about the worst president in history, just as he was generous in his victory speech to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and open-armed to their supporters.

But it does no good to pretend that the politics of personal destruction is harmless to democracy, to ignore how corrosive campaigns can be, to comfort oneself — as the punditocracy does — with the sophisticated nostrum that it’s only politics, so get over it.

Call me churlish, but I think that along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions. And if you think that words — the currency of campaigns — aren’t actions, if you believe that rhetoric doesn’t matter, if you treat politics as just another branch of show biz, well then, you’re pretty much a sitting duck for the next demagogue to come along.

Forgive and forget? Not just yet.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. Reach him at

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.

McCain — and Lieberman — defend Palin in conference call with Jewish leaders [AUDIO]

NEW YORK (JTA)—Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman defended Sarah Palin during a conference call with Jewish leaders and supporters Sunday

During the morning “tele town hall” meeting, McCain said his running mate was criticized as a “threat to the left-wing feminist liberal movement,” due to her being the mother of five children as well as a “reformer, a conservative, a tax-cutter and a spending cutter.”

Lieberman, who introduced McCain on the call, described Palin as “very able,” and said that while Palin “holds some positions on social issues which, I’ll be honest, I don’t agree with,” she “holds them in a very respectful way.”

“She respects people who come to the other position,” he said, adding “I find her not to be ideological in a rigid sense. She’s a practical problem solver.”

The Connecticut senator, an Independent, added that the Republican vice-presidential nominee “has a deep love for the State of Israel” equal to McCain’s.

McCain passed up an opportunity to criticize Barack Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose criticism of the United States and Israel led Obama to cut ties to the pastor this spring.

Asked by American-born Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Riskin why he hadn’t raised the issue, McCain responded that the “issue of Pastor Wright is pretty well known by the American people.” On the other hand, he said, “We need to know more about” the details of Obama’s relationship with unrepentant terrorist William Ayers and ACORN, which has been accused of voter registration fraud.

McCain also discussed his views on the status of Jerusalem, saying in his opening statement that “Jerusalem remains undivided” and then repeating twice that the city “is undivided and must remain the capital of Israel.” He added that he would “never press Israel into making concessions that would endanger its security.”

Lieberman later in the call noted the trip he and McCain had taken to the Jewish state in March, and that McCain knows the “historic Jewish claim” to the city and “it’s clear he will not be included in efforts to divide Jerusalem.”

Lieberman later emphasized McCain’s promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “as soon as he becomes president.

The “tele-town hall” was billed as a meeting with Jewish leaders from various organizations, but judging from the questioners it appeared the audience included many backers of the candidate. Just one of the five questioners identified himself as being affiliated with a Jewish organization (one questioner said he worked for Agudath Israel) and at least four of the questions came from men and women who identified themselves as supporters of McCain.


Dems to Palin: Bring up Rev. Wright, we’ll bring up Rev. Muthee [VIDEO]

WASHINGTON (JTA)—As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attempts to inject Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor back into the presidential campaign, the Republican vice-presidential candidate is facing increasing questions about her own associations with clergymen.

This week, in an interview with William Kristol for his New York Times column, Palin suggested that more attention should be paid to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, calling his sermons “appalling” and arguing that Obama had effectively condoned the comments because he didn’t leave the church.

Obama supporters in the Jewish community counter that they are ready to fight back with their own barrage of guilt-by-association attacks. They note Palin’s presence in church when speakers praised Jews for Jesus, suggested that terrorism in Israel was divine retribution for rejecting Christianity and argued that corruption would end if Christians took control of the financial sector.

In addition, a prominent Democratic strategist and liberal bloggers have responded to Republican efforts to link Obama to a domestic terrorist-turned-education activist by noting that John McCain once served on the board of an organization accused of anti-Semitism.

Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, reiterated his objections to such attacks, but said that if Republicans are going to engage in them, they should “have to answer for their own problems.”

“What’s good for the goose,” he said, “is good for the gander.”

Last spring, during the Democratic primaries, a firestorm erupted over Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor and a man the U.S. senator from Illinois had identified as a mentor. After video clips surfaced of Wright shouting “God damn America” on the Sunday after the Sept. 11 attacks, and criticizing U.S. support of Israel, Obama eventually cut ties with the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

In recent weeks, the Republican Jewish Coalition has run advertisements playing up Wright’s controversial comments and Obama’s connection to him. Palin, meanwhile, has taken the lead in injecting the issue into the national political conversation.

Some Democrats say this is a risky maneuver, given the emerging details about clergymen who have appeared in her churches. Two weeks before being tapped for the GOP ticket, Palin was in attendance at her current congregation—Wasilla Bible Church—when a leader of Jews for Jesus described terrorist attacks against Israel as “judgment” against those who have not accepted Christianity.

While a spokesman for Palin has said that the Republican running mate rejects this view, the McCain-Palin campaign has declined to say whether she shares her pastor’s general support for Jews for Jesus—a group that Jewish organizations accuse of using deceptive tactics because it tells people they can embrace Jesus and still remain true to Judaism.

Asked this week whether the Alaska governor would condemn the missionary group, McCain-Palin campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb told JTA that “vice-presidential candidates cannot be in the business of condemning religious groups who do not commit violence” in a country that guarantees “freedom of religion.”

Goldfarb added that it is “extremely inappropriate for any elected official” to comment “on any religious group” and its mission. “That’s a fundamental breach of the separation of church and state,” he said.

Fred Zeidman, co-chairman of the Republican Party’s Jewish outreach in 2008, said in an interview with Shalom TV last month that Palin “needs to answer” questions about her feelings on Jews for Jesus “to have any credibility for all citizens. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And if the answers are not to the liking of the Jewish community, I think that becomes problematic.”

On Monday, Zeidman told JTA that the campaign’s response “was not the best answer in the world.” He added that he “would love to hear” Palin’s thoughts on the issue “from her mouth.”

Zeidman was also quick to emphasize his view that Obama’s 20 years in Wright’s church was a much bigger issue than Palin’s attendance at one speech at her church.

Goldfarb, the campaign spokesman, said Palin wouldn’t be opposed to talking about her religious beliefs, provided she was asked about them by interviewers in the next few weeks.

Attention has started to shift to Palin’s involvement in a second service, this one in 2005 at the Wasilla Assembly of God church, just a few days before she announced her run for governor. The video of the service first gained attention because it shows a Kenyan pastor, Thomas Muthee, blessing Palin, and urging Jesus to protect her from “the spirit of witchcraft.”

In recent days, however, critics increasingly have focused on the speech that the clergyman gave before he brought Palin to the stage.

Muthee called for “God’s kingdom” to “infiltrate” seven aspects of society, including economics.

“It is high time that we have top Christian businessmen, businesswomen, bankers, you know, who are men and women of integrity, running the economics of our nations,” he said. “That’s what we are waiting for. That’s part and parcel of transformation. If you look at the Israelites, you know, that’s how they won. And that’s how they are, even today. When we will see that, you know, the talk transport us in the lands. We see, you know, the bankers. We see the people holding the paths. They are believers. We will not have the kind of corruption that we are hearing in our societies.”

Given Muthee’s linking of Israelites and banks, some observers and critics have concluded that the statement was anti-Jewish. But, a McCain adviser countered, when read carefully it is clear that the statement was not at all critical of Jews.

The ‘Israelites’ video

The adviser, John Beerbower, said that the term Israelite “refers to the biblical kingdom, not the modern state,” and that Muthee is speaking of the “restoration of the Davidic kingdom,” a key element of evangelical Protestantism. He added that the statement can be read as a “compliment” to Jews, because he is actually saying that the Israelites were people of “integrity,” and still are today.

As for Muthee’s comments about wanting to see Christian men and women running the country’s economy, Beerbower said the clergyman was merely expressing a desire to see the Christian men and women who are in those positions act with integrity.

Dewey Wallace, a professor of religion at George Washington University who teaches on Christianity in the United States, agreed that the reference to “Israelites” could be viewed as “a bit of a compliment” to the Jewish people. But he said Muthee’s reference to “top Christian businessmen, businesswomen” went beyond a desire for men and women of “integrity” in banking; rather, it’s a wish for evangelical Christians to serve in those posts.

He noted, though, that Muthee was not targeting Jews with his comments, but all non-born-again Christians.

“I don’t think Jews need to be more concerned than Episcopalians,” Wallace said.

Goldfarb noted that Palin had actually left Wasilla Assembly of God as a member in 2002 and was only visiting that day. He argued that just because Palin sat in the audience or came up on stage did not mean she agreed with all of Muthee’s remarks—which, he added, were somewhat difficult to understand.

Rabbi Jack Moline, religious leader of a synagogue in Alexandria, Va. and a leader of the new group Rabbis for Obama, downplayed the importance of Muthee’s blessing of Palin. He said that what people do in their house of worship can look foreign to anyone who doesn’t have a background in that tradition.

Another front in the “guilt by association” war was opened up on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” when Democratic strategist Paul Begala pointed to McCain’s stint on the board of the U.S. Council for World Freedom. Begala identified the council as an “ultra-conservative, right-wing group” that the Anti-Defamation League said had increasingly become a gathering place for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.

“That’s not John McCain,” Begala said, but warned that the GOP candidate “does not want to play guilt by association or this thing will blow up in his face.”

An ADL spokesman said the group was currently looking for a copy of that report, which was published in 1981.

A New York Times article from 1986 reported that the ADL, in a letter to the group’s founder, John Singlaub, said that since he took over in 1981, the retired major general had “brought about a considerable cleansing of the organization.”

An Arizona Republic article from that same year said McCain had been trying to cut ties with the group for two years.

Singlaub told The Associated Press on Monday that he didn’t recall McCain’s efforts to leave the group, but he also said the Republican was not an active participant in the organization.


Keep religion out of presidential politics

Since last summer, when I volunteered for a Barack Obama event, I have received many nonsensical e-mails and heard many nonsensical arguments — from friends and family as well as on TV — about Sen. Obama’s alleged lack of allegiance to the United States of America. Bias and inaccurate conjecture have infiltrated the good judgment of many people I know regarding Obama’s disloyalty to this country through the avenue of his prior membership in his “radical church.” But before people tar and feather Obama, they should educate themselves further about what they are claiming.

The founding fathers of this country constructed an ideal for a society where religion would not be a roadblock to fair government representation. The intangible and the untestable were to remain in the completely separate sphere of church, while the practical and scientific were to constitute the sphere of state.

While our nation has made great strides toward the ultimate goal of a secular government, many Americans continue to associate morality with religion. Therefore, presidential candidates are rigorously scrutinized for their religious beliefs. After assertions that presumptive Democratic nominee Obama is a Muslim, his actual church, Trinity United Church of Christ, came under a series of attacks.

Indeed, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity Church has made ludicrous statements. For instance, Wright has preached that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were a symbol of some sort of worldly karma when he stated: “America’s chickens have come home to roost!”

In addition, Wright continues to voice his opinion that the American government planted AIDS within the black community to sabotage its potential success and preserve the system of white supremacy.

But black liberation theology’s roots are deeper than one 21st-century preacher’s fiery sermons. The black community that has adopted this theology relates to Jesus through the common portal of struggle in the face of an unjust opposition, and it purports, whether figuratively or literally, that Jesus was black. There is much philosophical depth to this theology, but it is unpopular simply because it does not have as big a following as the other more thriving theologies in our society.

Interestingly enough, the same type of irrationality can be found among the most popular of theologies or religions throughout history — just look at crusades, jihad, the Spanish Inquisition, blood libels, witch hunts and countless other aspects of insanity in world history. Because religion, based on faith, often lacks rational credibility, yet its supposed absolute truths have been accepted as such, it has been endowed with the ability to create and support some of the most monstrous acts of human indecency in history.

As one of the leading Christian voices of support for Israel, the Rev. John Hagee has been invited to speak at pro-Israel venues many times. The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, also successfully solicited, then recently renounced, the support of Hagee. But as I recently learned, Christian evangelical support for Israel rests largely on the idea that in order for Christian prophecy to be fulfilled, the Jews must retake Israel and have the Jewish Messiah arrive. This Jewish Messiah will then be demolished by the second coming of Jesus. Hagee’s backhanded support for Israel was confirmed with the resurfacing of his assertion that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jewish people back to Israel.

As a Jew, am I supposed to care that Hagee supports McCain and that he thinks the Holocaust was just another step in God’s plan for the second coming of Jesus? Or should I care more about Wright believing that Jesus was black? Should I care that every presidential nominee truly believes that I, a non-believer in Jesus, am denied eternal salvation? Absolutely not.

The fact is that irrational divisiveness is found in every religion. For this reason, it is simply unfair for the media and the American public to fault Obama for his religious affiliation. Given that any religious affiliation can be portrayed as ethically deleterious, let us not turn our backs on the separation between church and state. Let us not mix practical politics with irrelevant claims of religiosity. Let us not, as a nation with a conscience, shoot down Obama for his affiliation with a less popular form of absurdity.

Adam Deutsch will be a senior at YULA boys high school in the fall.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the August issue is July 15; deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15. Send submissions to

Birthright Israel, sex and the column

Birthright Israel

Your idea of creating multiple levels of free services and programs for various Jewish groups is brilliant (“Free at Last,” June 6). In retrospect, and l’havdil, we should take a lesson from Hamas and Hezbollah. What gives these organizations their popular support among the masses is the free medical clinics, schooling, mosques, food, etc., that they provide to their people, filling a gap that is not provided by the local governments.

Their continuous belligerence against Israel provides spiritual fulfillment to the masses and at the same time causing the suffering and misery. If it were not for this war mongering, Hamas and Hezbollah could have been a huge community success.

Birthright provides a spiritual and apolitical fulfillment. While most Jewish people do not need the material support, your suggestions for apolitical “Jewright” can provide the spiritual fulfillment within the Jewish community and increasing the bond among the people.

Nahum Gat
Manhattan Beach

Once again, you hit the nail on the head. It is hard to believe that Birthright has been in existence only eight years. I wish it had been around when I was growing up.

Our 26-year-old twins went on separate trips, and each returned transformed in different ways. After Birthright, one son gave up sports marketing and became program director at UC Davis Hillel. He is now focusing his career in the Jewish nonprofit arena.

The other son saved his money and got some help from the Jewish Free Loan Association. He left a successful job in film post-production and is now working in Israel for a year. These transformations would never have happened without Birthright Israel.

Our children’s enthusiasm has trickled down (or up) to me and my husband, who have secular Jewish roots. Woefully uninformed on Israel, we subscribe to The Journal to educate ourselves and help us feel more in tune with our sons.
Neither of us has ever been to Israel. Like many baby boomers, we are treading to keep afloat financially and can’t make the journey. We hope to do it some day.

In the meantime, I wish some philanthropist would fund “Deathright Israel” — to guarantee all American Jews one visit to Israel before they die.

Susan Amerikaner

Sex and the Column

We always hear about the negative impact that pop stars like Britney Spears have on the teens and preteens that look up to them as role models (“Sex and the Column,” June 6). It’s even sadder when an adult Jewish female like Orit Arfa tries to emulate the characters of “Sex and the City.”

During this Shavuot holiday period, it might do Arfa well to brush up on her study of the Jewish women in our rich history: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel and Ruth are better characters to pattern one’s life after than Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

The Wright Flap

In his long diatribe against Sen. Barack Obama, the writer exposes himself as a right-wing ideologue (Letters, June 6). For example, he included the exact words repeated for days by right-wing media and blogger dittoheads that Obama had thrown his “grandmother under the bus” because Obama, in his memorable speech on March 18, 2008, said that he had some understanding of white racisim from his own white grandmother (who helped raise him), when at times she expressed it in his presence.

By his attempt to show some understanding of the issue, Obama no more threw his grandmother under the bus than the Rev. John Hagee (who the writer shamelessly defends) tolerates our religious belief. Sen. John McCain literally begged Hagee (a professed bigot) for his endorsement and only disavowed it when it was publicly disclosed that Hagee incredulously said Hitler was sent by God to murder 6 million of us to create the State of Israel.

It is wishful thinking by the writer that Obama’s chance to be president has been torpedoed by his past association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. McCain and the writer want us to focus on this guilt by association nonissue, rather than on Obama’s own actions and words and the terrible political and economic conditions our beloved country has fallen into under the Bush/Cheney regime.

For the future well-being of our country (and Israel’s), we have to change course and not pursue the same disastrous one that McCain assures us he intends to continue.

George Magit

MBA Student Success

Every week, when The Jewish Journal arrives, I look for the American Jewish University (AJU) “success” ads (Advertisement, June 6). You’ve probably seen them. They feature graduate students of various ages and backgrounds.

This month, AJU featured an MBA student — Noelle Ito, the 27-year-old director of development for the Little Tokyo Service Center. Our family is acquainted with Noelle in a different context. Noelle was a high school classmate of our late son. Throughout his battle with cancer, which began during their senior years in college, Noelle exhibited incredible loyalty and support.

She inspired others to stay connected. After our son died in 2004, Noelle was a prime mover in implementing a fundraiser in his memory. Thanks to Noelle, the all-volunteer 2nd Lt. Andrew Jacob Torres Memorial Golf Classic has raised more than $230,000 for cancer research.

Noelle brings tremendous energy, organization and style to all our efforts. It has been said that “one day, cancer will be a disease of the past.” When that day comes, the credit will go to the Noelle Ito’s of the world and also to the institutions, like AJU, which nurture them.

Anita Susan Brenner
La Canada Flintridge

An Opinion essay by Arnold Steinberg ("Historic Prop. 13 Property Tax Revolt Turns 30," June 6), omitted the fact that the article was reprinted from the Weekly Standard. The Journal regrets the error.

Negotiating with Syria, still with the Rev. Wright brouhaha, Museum of Tolerance expansion

Talks With Syria

M.J. Rosenberg opens with the unqualified claim that former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold is “appalled” by Israel’s negotiating with Syria. (“Israeli Talks With Syrians Make Sense,” May 29). False. Gold has expressed no such view.

Indeed, he actively participated in negotiations with Syria nearly a decade ago.

The only basis the author cites for this claim is a quote in which Gold warns against one possible outcome of these talks: A complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. But to reformulate that as opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks altogether, even being “appalled” by them, exceeds even the most creative interpretation.

Far worse, the author joins political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in the libelous charge that certain Israeli officials goaded the United States into invading Iraq. Rosenberg states this outright about Gold, in particular, at least twice in the article. That is not only false but spectacularly so. Gold’s only known statement on the issue was a position paper taking great pains to dispute that very claim about Israel’s role (see “Wartime Witch Hunt,” at

Jeff Helmreich
Los Angeles

M.J. Rosenberg argues that Israel would be wise to negotiate with Syria to stop Hezbollah attacking it, showing he has learned nothing about Israeli negotiations with other terroristic, unreconstructed Arab parties.

Talking to Yasser Arafat and Syria’s Hafiz Assad achieved nothing, even when massive concessions were offered. And in Arafat’s case, where concessions were made, Israel ended up with a terror regime on its doorstep and the loss of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians to terrorism, more than all the Israeli civilians lost to terrorism in the 47 years that preceded Oslo.

Rosenberg might fantasize about Syria leaving Lebanon and reining in Hezbollah, but why would the Syrian Baathist regime be willing to do this? If a groundswell of Lebanese revulsion and international condemnation didn’t achieve this in 2005, it’s hard to see how negotiations with Israel will achieve it today.

The conflict with Israel is the Syrian regime’s warrant for power and oppression. It shares (and increasingly encourages at home, despite its putative secularity) the Islamist goals that drive Iran, and it prefers absolute power over economic reform and opening up to the West. Until that changes, Israeli concessions will only bring dangers, not security.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

Museum of Tolerance Expansion

[Daniel] Fink’s letter misrepresenting the Museum of Tolerance needs to be addressed (Letters, May 29).

The Museum of Tolerance is not a Holocaust museum. It is the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its mission is to educate, using the history of the Holocaust. It exposes intolerance, racism, terrorism and modern-day genocides, and it empowers all to take responsibility for their own words and actions. One should never forget but remember by the example of how we live our lives.

As someone who has been involved with the Museum of Tolerance for many years as a volunteer/docent, I take exception to Fink’s assertion that the museum wishes to “build a commercial catering facility” on its premises.

I see how young and adult visitors alike are made more aware of their potential to prejudge and are moved by their experience. The museum has an outstanding education and diversity-training program for law enforcement, educators, professionals and school and college groups that reaches far and wide. Its contribution to many walks of life makes an enormous difference. I am so proud to be affiliated with this institution.

Joyce Trank
Culver City

The Wright Flap

Raphael Sonenshein errs in characterizing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as “the black candidate,” as he is mixed race — and that may be the point (“The Wright Flap and the Black Candidate,” May 9).

The senator has played every side of the race issue: mixed race, black, African American, post-race, racial evangelist. From adopting the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a virtual blood relation and throwing his (Obama’s) own grandmother under the bus for Wright, to rejecting Wright when Wright didn’t play by the (Obama) rules.

Sonenshein errs equally if not more seriously in presuming that an endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by the Rev. John Hagee, who is at least a supporter of Israel, is equivalent to Obama’s 22-year relationship with Wright, who considers Israel a terrorist state.

More to the point, Hagee has sent a formal written apology to Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. Wright has not apologized for anything.

Even without the apology, Sonenshein’s premise is overreaching, and he does not address a fundamental question: What is more potent? Obama’s facile dismissal of Wright’s vicious anti-Israelism or Wright’s embrace of Louis Farrakhan’s hatred for the Jewish state.

The issue is not whether a superficial dismissal of his crazy (suddenly) “former” pastor by Obama placates Jewish supporters, but actually whether Wright poisons the minds of many thousands of African Americans against Israel — and that Obama has avoided this issue like the plague it is.

If Obama is as qualified to be president as Sonenshein believes, he should be far more concerned that his chances have been virtually torpedoed by Wright — while somehow discounting any effect of other unsavory associations — while Hagee will, in fact, have no such effect on McCain, despite the columnist’s obvious attempt to distract by arguing that it should be otherwise.

Jarrow L. Rogovin
Los Angeles


In an April 25 letter refuting The Journal's reporting that Scott Radinsky isn't Jewish ("Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players," April 18), Ephraim Moxson, co-publisher of Jewish Sports Review, wrote that Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. The Journal contacted a representative for the former Dodger pitcher, who confirmed that neither Radinsky nor his mother are Jewish.