Dan Kurtzer, the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and an Orthodox Jew, is in Jerusalem for a conference timed for Israel's 60th birthday celebrations. Yesterday my wife heard him being interviewed on Israeli Radio, in Hebrew, about the U.S. election. Kurtzer explained that he's backing Barack Obama.
This was not exactly a revelation. Kurtzer has explained his reasons for backing Obama at length . Here's some key snippets:
...we have had eight years of disaster with respect to our foreign policy, and I have to share with you as an analyst, we have had eight years that have [compromised] the security of the state of Israel.
An administration that has ignored the search for peace in the Middle East to a point where you have chaos in the Palestinian Authority, and you have a sham process called the Annapolis process, in which our Secretary of State, whom I admire personally, travels to region and announces when she gets there that she is bringing no new ideas.
You have an administration that hasn't engaged in the peace process, and so inherited a bad situation in 2001 and is leaving it in a worse situation in 2008. And you have an administration that has gotten us engaged in a war in Iraq that has not only cost American lives... but it's now being called the $3 trillion war...And I would share with you that the cost to the security of Israel is incalculable.
I was in Israel [as ambassador] when this was being contemplated and when it started... Now, you've heard the nonsense which is out there which suggests that Israel or the Jewish community or the Israel lobby pushed this war on the administration. And I can tell you it is nonsense, because there was not one Israeli official and not one Israeli academic who suggested that this war was going to end well. They all warned against exactly the problems we have experienced since this war started...
Knowing this, Kurtzer said, he considered which candidate was likely to improve Israel's situation. The answer was Obama, and the reason is very simple:
We have one candidate who is prepared to do diplomacy. Only one candidate...
We have had eight years of no diplomacy, and you have two candidates out there who tell us they don't want to talk to our enemies...
There is one candidate who believes in diplomacy and his name is Barack Obama.
There's nothing complicated about what Kurtzer is saying. Strangely, though, some Jews seem to be having doubts. Marc Ambinder cites Gallup's tracking polls , showing that currently 61% of U.S. Jews would vote for Obama, 32% for McCain. This looks like a blow-out, but it's actually a considerably poorer showing than a Democratic presidential candidate normally gets among Jews. (Note that the percentages are based on aggregate of tracking polls for the entire month of April - presumably because the number of Jews polled on any given day is too small for any sample. So the numbers are out of date; they're from a long period; and they're from a time when Obama was taking a lot of blows. Caveat lector.) Those figures, in turn, lead to articles such as this one in the New Republic, suggesting that a poor showing among Jews could cost Obama Florida.
I assume the swing voters among Jews aren't leaning toward McCain because of his deep knowledge of the economy, or because they can count on him to appoint justices who will protect the separation of church and state. Presumably, at least one strong reason is the suspicion fomented by rightwing writers and emailers that Obama is somehow bad for Israel. The stuff recycles; a political reporter reports that Obama has a Jewish problem; the media herd grabs the story; the less-informed believe the next crank email they get because - hey - didn't you hear that Obama has a Jewish problem?
Kurtzer has it right. In four easy steps, here's why Obama is the best candidate for Israel: