In 2004, President Bush and the Republican party made significant inroads with the Jewish community. Bush won 24 percent of the Jewish vote — up from 19 percent in 2000 — primarily as a result of his staunch commitment to Israel.
Four years later, it looks as though the Jewish vote is again up for grabs. Or, so says a recent Gallup poll, which revealed that in a contest between senators Obama and McCain, nearly a third of the Jewish vote would go to the Republican.
Senator Obama has sailed through this primary season in the wind of his words. That’s not to say he hasn’t encountered some rough seas, but his success has largely been a function of style, not substance. And when it comes to seeking Jewish support, he appears to be saying
all the right things.
Since his days in the Illinois state senate he has referred to himself as a “stalwart” supporter of Israel. He has been outspoken about Israel’s right to defend itself and the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. According to the Obama ’08 issue paper on Israel, the senator believes “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state should never be challenged.”
During a recent interview with The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama offered all the right responses. “My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain,” he told Goldberg. “I said they are a terrorist organization and I’ve repeatedly condemned them. I’ve repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: Since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements.”
And if what he has said about Israel isn’t sufficient, Obama reminded Jewish voters of the profound effect Jewish culture — especially Jewish literary culture — has had on him. “I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers,” he explained. “Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.” Obama connects with the Jewish community by drawing comparisons between their experiences and his own.
But with the Democratic nomination all but secured, Jewish voters are likely to start thinking less about the senator’s speeches and more about the company he keeps. As the last two elections reveal, when it comes to the Jewish vote, actions speak louder than words.
While Reverend Wright’s anti-American and anti-Semitic ravings captured the attention of the public for weeks, it’s simply his theatrics that appear to make him the most repellant of Obama’s friends. The senator has tried to dismiss Wright as a “crazy uncle,” but if you take a closer look at the crowd the senator runs with, it appears he has a whole lot of crazy relatives to disinvite from dinner.
It was widely circulated that Wright supported — and even publicly commended — radical black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Yet little has been said about Sen. Obama’s relationship with Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic pastor at St. Sabina, also on the South Side of Chicago. In 2004, Obama told the Chicago Sun Times that Pfleger was one of his three spiritual mentors.