Smear campaign against Barack Obama targeted at Jews

By | February 25, 2008

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.

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13 thoughts on “Smear campaign against Barack Obama targeted at Jews

  1. jik Post author

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, and Samantha Power are or were all in the Obama campaign and advising him.

    I do not find the Big Lie technique to be particularly convincing. Repeating lies does not make them true.

    Brzezinski and Malley were never part of Obama’s campaign (Power was, which I’ll address below). There is no proof that they ever were, because they weren’t. Brzezinski and Malley have never advised Obama on Israel. There is no proof that they ever did, because they didn’t.

    Now he’s gotten smarter and is not publicly making a big deal out of them.

    He never made a big deal out of them, because they were never part of his campaign. If you can come up with some proof that they were, other than the unsupporting rantings of right-wing pundits, please feel free to provide it.

    But they are all strongly endorsing Obama.

    So what? Obama has no more control over who endorses him that McCain does, and let me tell you, some of McCain’s endorsers stink in a big way.

    Independent of that, none of the people listed above are single-issue politicians. If you have some evidence that any of them has endorsed Obama specifically because his views on Israel agree with theirs, please provide it. Otherwise, please stop spreading unsupported innuendo.

    If you don’t know who they are, look them up – they are ardent and prominent Israel haters.

    Brzezinski and Malley both hold views on Israel that are offensive to many Jews. This is irrelevant, since their views on Israel differ markedly from Obama’s and he has taken no advice from them regarding Israel issues during his campaign.

    Some Jews also profess to find Power’s views on Israel offensive, although they are hardly in the same class as Brzezinski’s or Malley’s, and from what I’ve seen, the objections to her seem to have been constructed quite recently and inflated for the sole purpose of discrediting Obama. Plenty of Jews who support Israel, myself included, think that she is an eminently qualified adviser and a credit to Obama’s campaign.

    As noted in one of the links given above, here is Obama’s real team of advisers on Israel, rather than the fictional team of advisers made up by his detractors: Dennis Ross, Tony Lake, Robert Wexler, Dennis McDonough, Dan Shapiro, and Eric Lynn.

    Obama’s church (tucc.org) has this, I would say, divisive language on their site: “We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian… Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.”

    Do you recognize these quotes? “Bring us safely from the ends of the earth, and lead us in dignity to our holy land.” “Gather us together from the ends of the earth.” “Have mercy, Lord, and return to Jerusalem, Your city. May Your Presence swell there as You have promised. Build it now, in our days and for all time. Reestablish there the majesty of David, Your servant.”

    Strinking resemblance, eh?

    While this is not particularly anti-semitic, you will notice a very clear similarity to the sorts of philosophies coming out of Farrakhan and others.

    “I can’t prove that they’re anti-semites, so instead I’ll attack them for being *gasp* proud of their culture!

    Wright DID give an award to Farrakhan and is unapologetic about supporting him.

    Already addressed, won’t waste my time addressing it again.

    Wright has a lot of very anti-American and anti-Israel statements,

    A couple of points:

    1. Those who are attacking Obama through Wright have managed to dredge up a few out-of-context comments which they find objectionable, out of the several decades worth of preaching he’s done. I don’t find that exactly convincing. Actually, a fellow Obama supporter of mine, Marc Caplan, put it much better, so I will quote him, with his permission:

    …a good analogy to Rev. Wright might be the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has certainly made some comments that people in the Jewish community would find objectionable, and is more “guilty by association” with problematic figures than Rev. Wright, but who nonetheless is an unassailably important and heroic figure in the ongoing struggle for human rights and dignity in South Africa and beyond.

    I don’t really know that much about Rev. Wright—I don’t think anybody outside of the Black community in Chicago does—but I’m gathering that in addition to roughly a half-dozen or so objectionable comments he’s made over the past 25 years regarding American imperialism, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and Louis Farrakhan’s role in Black America, he’s also got a formidable record in fighting for civil rights, working with rehabilitating prisoners and fighting poverty, and exerting a spiritual authority on his congregants. Given that we don’t hear so much as an echo of his negative baggage in anything Obama has done or said, is it possible that our candidate gravitates to Rev. Wright’s church for the latter reasons, and not the former?

    In Pirkey Avoth, it stands written dan l-khaf zkhus; “judge on the side of merit” (i.e., give people the benefit of the doubt). This is an ethical standard that has been hard-won in Jewish history, certainly a principle we would have liked to have seen applied more often with respect to us and our beliefs. Isn’t it right to apply the same ideal in this case, as well?

    2. Blacks in this country have an awful lot of legitimate complaints about the way America has treated them, not just 200 years ago but today as well. Wright’s preaching is a legitimate reflection of that.

    as well as racist statements.

    Pride in one’s culture is not racist. There is nothing racist about the statement from Wright quoted above.

    I couldn’t find any public anti-semitic statents, but just saying good things about Farrakhan is anti-semitic enough for me.

    Wright is correct. Farrakhan has done a lot of good for the black community. He is also an anti-semite, that’s certainly true. Wouldn’t it be great if the black community were to bring forth new leaders dedicated to repairing the rifts in the relationship between blacks and Jews. Leaders like… Barack Obama?

    Reply
  2. Gene

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, and Samantha Power are or were all in the Obama campaign and advising him. Now he’s gotten smarter and is not publicly making a big deal out of them. But they are all strongly endorsing Obama. If you don’t know who they are, look them up – they are ardent and prominent Israel haters.

    Obama’s church (tucc.org) has this, I would say, divisive language on their site: “We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian… Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.” While this is not particularly anti-semitic, you will notice a very clear similarity to the sorts of philosophies coming out of Farrakhan and others. Wright DID give an award to Farrakhan and is unapologetic about supporting him. Wright has a lot of very anti-American and anti-Israel statements, as well as racist statements. I couldn’t find any public anti-semitic statents, but just saying good things about Farrakhan is anti-semitic enough for me.

    Obama is very close to Wright, and says he is his spiritual advisor. Obama is in his church, and has been so for 20 years.

    Imagine what would be the response of the media if, say, John McCain’s preacher and the leader of his church (not just some priest or minister, but the HEAD of the church), gave awards, and spoke highly of, say, the leaders of the KKK. I wonder how this would play out in the media.

    Reply
  3. jik Post author

    Updated above article: Added link to column by Ira Forman refuting Ed Lasky attacks.

    Reply
  4. jik Post author

    Updated above article: Added link to article by Gidon Remba refuting attacks on Obama by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

    Reply
  5. jik Post author

    Updated above article: Added link to Feb. 27 Washington Post article debunking the attacks.

    Reply
  6. jik Post author

    These are good questions!

    How did Obama vote on foreign aid for Israel and for other Arab countries?

    Were there foreign aid votes in the Senate during his tenure that were not rolled into omnibus bills? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to hold Senators accountable for their votes on omnibus bills, since they may have to plug their noses and vote for a bill that has some elements they don’t like, because otherwise the elements they do like won’t be passed.

    I don’t see any relevant foreign aid votes listed for Obama on VoteSmart.org.

    According to Obama’s Web site, he certainly supports foreign aid to Israel:

    Support Foreign Assistance to Israel: Barack Obama has consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel. He defends and supports the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel and has advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met. He has called for continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems.

    I cannot find anything specific about foreign aid for Arab countries, although I did find this in Obama’s Israel fact sheet:

    Help Palestinian Families Get the Aid They Need Without Supporting Terrorism: Barack Obama supports U.S. efforts to provide aid directly to the Palestinian people by bypassing any Hamas-led government that refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Obama believes that a better life for Palestinian families is good for both Israelis and Palestinians.

    Does Obama support the bill passed by the US Senate that would allocate 0.7% of our GNP, above what we already provide, to the UN to alleviate world wide poverty?

    Don’t know about the specific law you cited, but again from Obama’s Web site:

    Fight Global Poverty: Obama will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and he will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal. He will help the world’s weakest states to build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.

    Does Obama support moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

    Can’t answer this one. Not sure he has stated a position. VoteSmart doesn’t show anything that I can see, but they don’t put every vote. If you know of any particular votes on this issue that were taken in the Senate while Obama was there, his vote can be looked up.

    Frankly, this particular question was always pretty poor as a litmus test of a candidate’s Israel credentials, and it’s gotten worse over time. I don’t really think it means much.

    Has Obama ever visited Israel?

    Yes.

    If yes, what were his impressions?

    See his speech to AIPAC.

    Reply
  7. Moshe

    How did Obama vote on foreign aid for Israel and for other Arab countries? Does Obama support the bill passed by the US Senate that would allocate 0.7% of our GNP, above what we already provide, to the UN to alleviate world wide poverty? Does Obama support moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Has Obama ever visited Israel? If yes, what were his impressions? These are some of the things we should know about him.

    Reply
  8. jik Post author

    Obama was raied [sic] as a Muslim. He has tajen [sic] on the airs of a Christian because thus country would not elect a Muslim in today’s climate.

    This is a lie.

    Islam states that any person leaving the faith receives a death fatwa! Why has nothing been done to Obama.

    Perhaps because he was never a Muslim?

    Even if Obama is a praticing [sic] Christian his Churh [sic] pastor is an Antisemite.

    This is a lie.

    Obama has never spoken out about his Pastor’s beliefs.

    This is a lie.

    In addition, Obama has praised Minister Farrakhan!

    While I cannot categorically state that this is a lie, I am unaware of Obama ever praising Farrakhan. Can you provide proof of this assertion?

    Let us at least deal with the truth. Not just your “version” of it!!

    Indeed.

    What’s interesting about your lies is that I debunked pretty much all of them in my article, so it appears that you didn’t trouble yourself to read it before commenting on it. It’s always amusing to see such a concrete example of someone who can’t be bothered to let the facts get in the way of his opinions. Not to mention can’t be bothered to learn to type and spell correctly.

    Reply
  9. Jeffrey Levine

    Sorry, but I disagree. Obama was raied as a Muslim. He has tajen on the airs of a Christian because thus country would not elect a Muslim in today’s climate. Islam states that any person leaving the faith receives a death fatwa! Why has nothing been done to Obama.

    Even if Obama is a praticing Christian his Churh pastor is an Antisemite. Obama has never spoken out about his Pastor’s beliefs. In addition, Obama has praised Minister Farrakhan!

    Overall, I feel that Mr. Obama is a poor candiate for the Jewish people. Not that I am claiming there is a good candidate to be found.

    Let us at least deal with the truth. Not just your “version” of it!!

    Jeffrey

    Reply
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