Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why American Jews Voted For President Obama

Mark Gold wrote a piece published on the right-wing Israpundit website on August 6th titled "Were Jewish Obama Voters Fooled?". He also submitted the post to The Jerusalem Post blogging contest. I originally wrote a brief comment objecting to his assertions but the more I through about what he wrote the more I realized just how insulted and offended I was by his article. I decided a longer and more forceful response was in order.

The principle assertion made by Mr. Gold is that "Obama’s Jewish voters were not fooled by his campaign, but rather that, unfortunately, Israel is just not a major concern or issue to them." Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Gold also claims that none of his Jewish acquaintances have any regrets about voting for President Obama. Perhaps that is because the Republican alternative still looks, in retrospect, even more likely to have done serious harm than the Obama administration, even with its current misguided policies towards Israel.

Mr. Gold's claims that Israel is relatively unimportant to American Jewry or that American Jews continue to blindly support the President and his policies is belied by an article in today's Jerusalem Post with the headline "Most US Jewish Obama backers oppose his Israel policies". The article quotes frequent Fox News contributor Dick Morris:
"Democratic Jews in the United States strongly support Obama, but also strongly support Israel. Asked explicitly to choose between Obama's position and that of the Israeli government on issues such as construction in the settlements, or the two-state solution, they back the Israeli view by more than two to one. To me this indicates that the jury is still out and that a backlash may yet develop against Obama's policies."

Sorry, Mr. Gold, but two to one in support of Israel and opposed to the President's policies vis a vis Israel among Jewish Democrats indicates, to me, that Israel remains a major concern for most of us.

The alternative Mr. Gold presents, that we were "fooled" by the Obama campaign, is also completely wrong. As a religious minority we watched John McCain sell his soul to the religious right of the Republican party. We watched him select Sarah Palin, an incompetent and absolutely unprepared less than one term governor from Alaska as his Vice Presidential choice. Mrs. Palin is also an overtly right wing evangelical Christian. Jewish Americans who aren't wedded to the Republican Party or the conservative movement still distrust evangelicals with good reason. First, they seek tirelessly to convert us to Christianity and strip us of our Jewish religion, traditions, and culture. Second, for many evangelicals their support for Israel includes a prophetic view of the future in which the Jewish people either accept Jesus or are slaughtered in a coming apocalypse. Consequently they support the most right wing and intransigent forces in Israel who work against any hope of peace at any time in the future. Sorry, but to most American Jews these people are not our friends. The prospect of Mrs. Palin, who shares those views, a heartbeat away from the Presidency was truly frightening.

We saw a right-wing Republican campaign as contrary to the liberal values most American Jews, and indeed the majority of Jews in Israel, share. We saw Senator McCain and Governor Palin, and the prospect of their likely Supreme Court nominations, as a direct threat to our religious freedom in America.

American Jews were faced with a difficult choice. We looked at Barack Obama's record in the U.S. Senate, which was staunchly pro-Israel. We wondered if it was sincere or merely a necessity to be elected Senator from Illinois. We looked at his statements while in the Illinois Senate which also were positive. We heard his campaign statements and we heard reassurances from Joe Biden, whose record of support for Israel is long and impeccable. We watched other strongly pro-Israel Democrats line up behind Obama.

After all that many of us still had our doubts but looking at the candidates and hearing the reassurances about Mr. Obama we made what seemed to be the less onerous choice. I am still not at all sure it was the wrong choice. Yesterday I wrote about the power of Democrats who support Israel to influence the President and help to change his policy towards Israel. I will remind my readers once again that both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were seen as anti-Israel early in their respective administrations. Early in the Bush administration when Prime Minister Sharon visited the President pro-Israel voices in the press colorfully stated that the Prime Minister had been "bushwhacked." The Prime Minister then famously warned President Bush that Israel is not Czechoslovakia in 1938, to be sacrificed to appease the Arabs. The President's policies changed and Mr. Gold is one of those that still sees Mr. Bush as the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.

Much as an assessment based on the first six months of the Clinton or Bush administrations would have reached the wrong conclusion about how these Presidents would shape American policy towards Israel, so too might Mr. Gold's assessment of President Obama prove false. The truth is we just don't know yet. I also find it interesting that Mr. Gold is attacking American Jewry for a lack of loyalty to Israel. Didn't Mrs. Palin, a candidate he supported, characterize anyone in areas which weren't supporting her candidacy as essientially un-American? I wonder how Mr. Gold reconciles that with condemning American Jews for putting American interests ahead of his notion of Israeli interests. That is the assertion Mr. Gold is making.

Simply put, Mr. Gold's article does not pass the smell test. I wrote yesterday that Republicans and conservatives who see political gain in discrediting President Obama will always throw proverbial stones regardless of the policy. They will always find fault. It is in their political interest to do so. If we ignored Republican warnings about Mr. Obama during the campaign it was simply because the source of those warnings was not trustworthy. Democrats, liberals, and moderates are not interested in condemning the President. We are more interested in meaningful policy change towards Israel. Mr. Gold, as a conservative Republican, is in no position to castigate and condemn Jewish Democrats when his true agenda has less to do with what is right for Israel than it does with pushing a conservative Republican agenda, one most American Jews simply do not agree with.

I am an American Jew of Israeli heritage. Much of my family lives in Israel. I am actively planning aliya. My love for the State of Israel and my support of Israel could not be stronger. I also love the United States of America and all the opportunities this country has given me. I don't see a conflict or a tension between the love of these two countries. I am also a Democrat who voted for President Obama. I don't think I made the wrong choice. As such I find Mr. Gold's article questioning my values and loyalties and those of other Jewish Democrats offensive and insulting.

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