It's talked about so much, you might actually call it the "fifth question": will Barack Obama win the Jewish vote? You'll read articles and op-eds that discuss the likelihood of McCain gains among the Jewish community in November, including pieces that appeared recently in this very paper.
But let's not confuse wishful thinking for insightful analysis or informed prognostication. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will win substantial support from the Jewish community, in line with historical levels of support for the last two Democratic nominees, Sen. Kerry and Vice President Gore.
A comprehensive study on American Jews and the 2008 Presidential Election released last week by respected scholars from NYU projected "a 75-25% margin in favor of Barack Obama among Jewish voters today." The latest Gallup poll reached the same conclusion, finding that the Jewish community now favors "Obama over John McCain by more than 3 to 1, 74% to 22%."
It's not just evident in the polls, but in the Jewish communities that I've visited with while campaigning for the Obama-Biden ticket all around Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The wide support that Barack Obama and Joe Biden have in the Jewish community is based on their deep and profound commitment to Israel's security, their tough and pragmatic approach to the threat posed by Iran, and their support for domestic policies that reflect the Jewish community's values. This support is also based on the belief that they offer this country the change that we all so desperately seek.
In places like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, the Jewish communities have been an important part of an alliance that has positioned the Obama campaign for victory. It is similar to the coalition that Barack Obama built with the Chicago Jewish community when he ran successfully for Senate in 2004, and in his State Senate races.
The real fight over the Jewish vote is not about liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, or even Obama and McCain. It's a fight between truth and lies.
The Obama-Biden ticket has succeeded in matching historic levels of Jewish support for the Democratic ticket because they have worked tirelessly to combat the vilest of rumors while clearly communicating their policies and convictions. This week's articles about "Obama and the Arabs" and "Obama's Radical Arabist Pal" are only the latest examples of the misinformation and falsehoods that have had to be overcome by the campaign.
Barack Obama could not be clearer in his determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He seeks a policy of tough, direct diplomacy backed by bigger sticks and bigger carrots. While Obama's policy is mischaracterized as suggesting social visits with the President of Iran, the McCain campaign fails to offer any meaningful departure from an ineffective Bush policy that has allowed Iran to move dangerously close to a nuclear weapon.
Detractors like to argue that Barack Obama opposed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) a terrorist organization--a decision he reached because he believed the amendment would have resulted in mission creep and provided George Bush with another reason to keep our troops in Iraq. Rarely mentioned is the fact that Obama co-sponsored a bill in 2007 that would have designated the IRG a terrorist organization and his consistent support for similar targeted efforts since then.
When McCain and his Republican allies had a chance to go beyond a non-binding resolution in confronting Iran, they obstructed instead of acted. Barack Obama was the primary sponsor of a bill, the "Iran Sanctions Enabling Act" (S.1430), which would have authorized tougher sanctions against Iran's banking and energy sectors, and facilitated divestment by naming companies that deal with Iran. McCain's Republican allies in the Senate blocked the legislation twice in the past month, while Iran produces more centrifuges and enriched uranium by the day.
Persistent rumors abound about Obama's advisors on Middle East policy. Emails and articles falsely assert Zbrigniew Bzezinski is a "leading advisor," when he has no advisory role with the campaign. The latest manufactured controversy is over Professor Rashid Khalidi, a former neighbor and colleague from the University of Chicago who has never had any role with the campaign. Strangely absent from the discussion of Obama's advisory team is actual mention of those on the Middle East advisory team, including former Middle East special envoy Dennis Ross, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, and myself.
Even after the record is corrected, critics speak about the "unknown" Barack Obama. They ignore his record of support for Israel from his State Senate days, his strong and unwavering record of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship in the U.S. Senate, and his longstanding relationship with the Chicago Jewish community. Barack Obama's record is consistent--he spoke eloquently about his commitment to the Jewish state of Israel at the annual AIPAC conference in June, and delivered the same message in Ramallah in January 2006 when speaking to a group of Palestinian students.
The coalescing of support in the Jewish community behind Obama and Biden is not only an affirmation of their policies with respect to issues of importance to the community, but also a rejection of the known. We know that Senator McCain offers more of the same when it comes to George W. Bush's foreign policy. It is a policy that we know has dramatically eroded Israel's strategic position--with Hamas running Gaza, a rearmed Hezbollah with a formal role in the Lebanese government, and an emboldened Iran that appears intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. It is also a policy that we know has failed most Americans on the home front--stagnant wages and mounting job losses, declining retirement accounts, increasing costs of health care and numbers of uninsured, and an erosion of civil liberties and the boundaries between church and state.
Don't let scurrilous emails, ugly insinuations and wishful thinking distract you from the larger reality: the Jewish community is behind Barack Obama like it has been behind the Democratic nominees before him, and they'll be an important part of the coalition that delivers him to the White House on November 4th.
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