I have been reluctant to write here about the smear campaign against Barack Obama that has been targeted at Jews. I had hoped that people would recognize it as the despicable pack of lies that it most surely is, but alas, it seems that some are not, so I feel the need to speak out.
I will tell you up-front that I voted for Obama in the primary and I hope to have the chance to vote for him in November. However, I hope that even were I not an Obama supporter, I would still be appalled at the character assassination being attempted by other Jews.
I am ashamed to say that the smear campaign appears to have originated with Jews, in particular, conservative Republican Jews who would very much rather not see left-leaning Barack Obama win the White House in November. The complexity of the smear makes it clear that its originators knew exactly what they were doing. It’s simply impossible that the authors of this carefully woven tapestry of lies, innuendo, veiled racism, and bigotry truly believed that what they were writing was true.
Unfortunately, the original smear has been repeated, on-line and in the press, by many right-wing Jewish pundits, columnists, and bloggers. I don’t think most of them realized they were repeating lies. I think that they, too, were taken in. However, that doesn’t make them any less accountable for their behavior.
American Jews can in good conscience disagree and engage in civil debate about what political course is best for America, for Israel, and for the Jewish people. However, none of us should be willing to tolerate debate based not on a desire to seek truth but rather on falsehood and innuendo. Understanding the power of the spoken and written word is a core Jewish value. It is deeply disturbing to me that there are Jews who subvert that value for political gain.
Here’s some more information about these attacks on Obama:
- Gidon Remba maintains a comprehensive list of all the important resources responding to the attacks.
- The National Jewish Democratic Council maintains a clearinghouse of information about refuting the smear attacks against Democratic presidential candidates.
- Geoffrey Berg, a supporter of John McCain, wrote a fascinating article about how the specious attacks against Obama have entered the mainstream and are likely to become much worse and much more open should Obama win the nomination.
- The Philadelphia Jewish Voice published a column by Ira Forman, the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, refuting attacks on Obama by Ed Lasky.
- Gidon Remba published a refutation of recent attacks on Obama by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
- The Washington Post ran an article on February 27 debunking the attacks.
- The leaders of nine major, national Jewish organizations have condemned these attacks on Obama. Their statement can be read here.
- Seven Jewish US Senator who have not yet endorsed a candidate for President have also spoken out against these attacks. You can read their letter here.
- The New York Sun has printed an editorial dismissing claims that Obama is anti-Israel, and stating up-front that they were prompted to write that editorial by the news that New York Republicans were preparing to attack Obama for his supposed lack of support for Israel.
- The Tough Dove Israel blog has published an excellent rebuttal of the attacks by Jack S. Levin, a friend of Obama’s and an insider to his campaign.
- The Jewish Week ran an article about the attacks and the Jewish community’s reaction to them which made it quite clear that they consider the accusations against Obama to be pure bunk.
- JewsOnFirst.org has an excellent summary of the entire affair, with many more links than I’ve posted here.
- The Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran an editorial condemning the attacks (careful, this link will bring up your browser’s Print dialog — I couldn’t find the a link to the article on the Haaretz Web site that doesn’t).
I’m not going to post links to any of the attacks on Obama, because I don’t want to drive up their link count and hence search engine rankings. However, now that you’ve had a chance to see just how widely recognized it is that these attacks are completely without merit, I’m going to tell you a bit about just what the attacks have been saying, so that you can see how abhorrent and absurd they are.
LIE: Obama is pretending to be Christian but he’s really a Muslim.
TRUTH: The only religion that Obama has ever practiced is Christianity.
The “proof” cited for this claim is that his father and step-father were Muslims and he attended a Muslim school in Indonesia for a few years as a child. Even Obama’s name is sometimes cited as proof that he is a Muslim (his middle name, by the way, is “Hussein”). None of this proves that Obama is now or has ever been a practicing Muslim. He hasn’t.
What makes this attack especially despicable is the implication that if Obama were a practicing Muslim, that would somehow “taint” him and make him a bad President. In short, the people making this attack are racists, or at least they’re hoping that the people reading it are.
The other despicable thing about this attack is that it’s rather difficult for Obama to respond to it without alienating the Muslim community. If he reacts with disapproval to claims that he is a Muslim, then he runs the risk of implying to practicing Muslims that there’s something wrong with being one. It’s really a masterful smear.
LIE: The pastor of Obama’s church is a known anti-Semite. HIs church has given an award to Louis Farrakhan. The fact that Obama continues to be a member of the church proves that he is anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
TRUTH: There is no record of the pastor of Obama’s church, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., ever uttering a single anti-Semitic statement. Wright is outspoken on the plight of the Palestinians, and his stance on that issue angers many Jews, but (a) contrary to what the Jewish right would have you believe, being sympathetic to the Palestinians is not the same as being anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, and (b) Obama has stated publicly that he disagrees strongly with Wright’s views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, has never consulted with Wright about the conflict, and never will. Obama’s public statements about the conflict and his votes in the Senate bear out his rejection of Wright’s views on this issue.
A magazine published by Wright’s church did, indeed, give an award to Farrakhan. Obama had nothing to do with the giving of the award, and he publicly condemned Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic statements and the decision by his church to recognize Farrakhan.
So, why does Obama continue to belong to a church whose Pastor has political views differing from his own and whose magazine gave an award to a known anti-Semite? Unlike those who are attacking Obama, I refuse to speculate on such things. I will, however, say that in my own experience, no house of worship is perfect. Both major and minor faults can be forgiven or at least tolerated, perhaps because there are positives which outweigh the negatives, or perhaps simply because finding a new house of worship and a new community is time-consuming and difficult, and thus inertia tends to keep us where we are.
LIE: Obama’s advisers on the Middle East conflict, most notably Zbigniew Brzezinski, are notoriously anti-Israel, so Obama’s policies if he becomes president will clearly be anti-Israel.
TRUTH: Brzezinski isn’t one of Obama’s advisers; that’s simply a lie. At least one of the other supposed advisers mentioned in this attacks also isn’t actually one of Obama’s advisers. Overall, Obama’s real group of advisers on the Middle East conflict is decidedly supportive of Israel. For more details, see what Jack S. Levin has written about this.
LIE: Obama’s just pretending to be pro-Israel now, since it doesn’t make strategic sense for him to expose his anti-Israel intentions until after the election.
TRUTH: This claim is attributed to “one of the key advisers to one of the Democratic Presidentical candidates,” though we aren’t told the name of this adviser or the candidate for which s/he works. It’s a lovely piece of circular logic — Obama’s pro-Israel stance will be revealed as a sham once he’s elected, and the reason why we know that is because we know he’s actually anti-Israel, so the fact that he appears to be pro-Israel must be a sham.
Pity that there isn’t actually any evidence to support this anonymous source’s accusations.
LIE: Obama has said that if elected, he will actually talk (gasp!) with Muslims, Palestinians and even Iran.
TRUTH: Well, um, yes, he has said that. And good for him for doing so!
Obama has consistently made it clear that he recognizes that Israel’s security is of paramount importance and that Israel is America’s truest ally in the region. You can read Obama’s record and policy statements about Israel in his own words.
It is specious to conflate a willingness to talk with the enemies of Israel with weakness on Israel’s security. In fact, Israel has been able to afford the luxury of refusing to talk to its enemies (in public, at least; as any student of Israeli history knows, the stronger the public refusals to talk by the Israeli government, the more likely it is that they’re actively engaged in private dialogue) only because US Presidents have been willing to talk. The role of the US President in the conflict is to serve as an honest broker, someone whom both sides are willing to work with, and that simply isn’t possible if the President refuses to talk to the people whom Israel doesn’t like.
If Jimmy Carter hadn’t been willing to talk, there would have been no Camp David Accords. (Yes, I’m as disgusted as you are with what Jimmy Carter has done since then with that bully pulpit, but that doesn’t change the fact that thirty years ago, he was instrumental in the achievement of piece between Israel and Egypt.)
If Bill Clinton hadn’t been willing to talk, there would have been no peace treaty with Jordan.
There is a point here that is worth stressing. Those right-wing Jews who are attacking Obama are, by and large, the kind of people who advocate the position that Republican Presidents are by definition better for Israel than Democrats. And yet, the only two successful peace treaties that Israel has ever signed with its neighbors have been signed under Democratic presidents.
I’m probably forgetting one or two little tidbits in the honor roll of baseless attacks on Obama, but I think you get the idea. If you really feel like you need to know more, you can explore the links given above or just google “Brzezinski Obama”. It is especially amusing when doing so to note how many of the attacks against Obama follow the same structure and order and even use many of the same phrases. It is clear that the vast majority of people posting these attacks are not coming up with them on their own.
In closing, I will point out that I have written previously on the importance to Jews of considering issues other than Israel when deciding for whom to vote. I strongly believe that when all the issues are taken into consideration, Obama rises to the top as the candidate for whom Jews should be voting.