Politics & Policy

Jewish Whispering Campaign

Anatomy of a Newsweek hit.

Newsweek has a piece this week on Barack Obama — titled “His Jewish Problem: A Myth?” — that is an absolutely Herculean feat of water-carrying for the Illinois senator. But before tackling the factual problems, the article’s biggest problem needs to be addressed — Newsweek aids and abets the Obama campaign’s decision to slander Joe Lieberman:

In a brief but animated Senate floor confrontation last week, according to a campaign aide who asked for anonymity when talking about private discussions, Obama told Lieberman he was surprised by Lieberman’s personal attacks and his half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. (The aide says Lieberman was “strangely muted” during the exchange; a Lieberman spokesman says the chat was “private and friendly.”)

That is a surprising disclosure to read, because almost as a rule political aides don’t go walking around leaking the contents of private conversations between senators on the Senate floor to the press. It’s also hard to imagine that an Obama aide would accuse Sen. Lieberman of “half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim” and Lieberman would have nothing to say about that other than their conversation was “private and friendly.”

So a call to Joe Lieberman’s office was in order. Since Newsweek didn’t make it, National Review Online did. Actual Lieberman spokesman Marshall Wittmann says, “The anonymous Obama campaign staffer’s characterization of the private conversation was entirely false and fabricated.” Another Lieberman aide confirmed, “I was not told that the Obama campaign was selectively leaking the contents of that conversation, or I would have made it clear that that characterization was completely and utterly false. The first time I knew what the Obama campaign was saying was when I saw it in a magazine.” That Newsweek did not ask Lieberman to respond to the specific charges is grossly unfair. But in case you’re wondering where Lieberman stands on the Is-Obama-a-Muslim? charge, he’s been pretty clear. Take this February item from The New York Observer:

Joe Lieberman, who made history as the first Jewish candidate on a major presidential ticket in 2000, said he once was confronted the storyline about Barack Obama being Muslim and not a strong supporter of Israel.

“I’ve heard about it,” Lieberman told me just now in a telephone interview.

“The one time that I confronted it, I was campaigning in Florida for Senator McCain. I spoke to a large group and a man stood up and asked me about it, or he referenced it. And I said, of course, that I know Senator Obama pretty well. Obviously one’s religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian. So, I don’t know how widespread it is but that’s the one time I confronted it. And of course the most important thing is that Senator Obama said it’s just not true.”

Newsweek, however, did not given Lieberman the opportunity to say reports of him peddling the Muslim story is just not true. And naturally, the article also doesn’t touch on what might well be the crux of the dispute between Lieberman and Obama.

Aside from the obvious fact that Lieberman has been campaigning for McCain, Obama didn’t vote on an amendment sponsored by Lieberman and Arizona Republican Jon Kyl last fall that would have classified the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization for training and funding Hezbollah and otherwise contributing to the killing of Israelis. He was campaigning in New Hampshire at the time, but the amendment passed with 76 votes including those of a number of prominent liberal senators. Though he didn’t vote on Kyl-Lieberman, that didn’t stop him from pillorying Hillary for voting for it, and thereby contributing to the Bush administration’s “saber-rattling” with Iran.

The confrontation on the Senate floor came just after Obama’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, during which he completely reversed course and said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ought to be a designated a terrorist organization. (Obama also used the AIPAC occasion to backtrack on other key issues regarding Israel.) Lieberman immediately called Obama on the “disconnect” between the speech and the vote. Perhaps taking criticism from one the most respected Jewish voices in America — who also happens to be a loyal McCain surrogate — had something to do with Obama’s angry confrontation with Lieberman? Newsweek doesn’t bother to explore that obvious angle.

Instead, more rumors from Newsweek:

Obama has long had a strong core of liberal Jewish supporters in Chicago; his national Jewish support grew as his campaign surged. But so did rumors that he had a “problem” with Jewish voters because of his family background (middle name: Hussein) and that some of his aides held pro-Palestinian views.

Here, again, facts would be helpful. Obama’s chief military adviser and campaign co-chairman Gen. Merrill “Tony” McPeak in a 2003 interview with the Oregonian, on what’s holding back the peace process:

New York City. Miami. We have a large vote . . . here in favor of Israel. And no politician wants to run against it.

That doesn’t sound terribly pro-Israel — accusing American Jews of putting their loyalty to Israel above that of their own country.

The rumors, in other words, are true.

And McPeak is just the tip of the iceberg. Anti-Israel sentiments are all around Obama (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, Robert Malley, Joseph Cirincione …). Nevermind that his pastor of 20 years has an affection for Louis “Judaism-is-a-gutter-religion” Farrakhan…

But enough with facts. There are some actual rumors too:

David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul who once backed the Clintons but turned to Obama, told NEWSWEEK that her campaign bears some responsibility for “an awful lot of disinformation” that sowed doubts about the candidate’s support of Israel among “older Jewish voters in Florida.” New Jersey Rep. Robert Andrews, an Obama backer, says that two months ago a top Hillary campaign operative told him Obama would have a “hard time winning in November” because of his alleged Jewish problem and indicated Clinton’s campaign was going to take advantage of those fears. Andrews says he found such talk “offensive,” but he didn’t know whether Hillary had sanctioned it. Asked for comment, the Clinton campaign referred NEWSWEEK to an article in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, in which spokesman Phil Singer called similar comments by Andrews “sad and divisive.”

So two big Obama supporters blame Clinton — without citing any evidence other than hearsay — for disinformation among Jewish voters. And that meets Newsweek’s publication standards?

But we’re not done yet. Newsweek “reports”:

Obama has many high-profile Jewish fund-raisers, and aides claim his support among Jews will equal or surpass John Kerry’s 75 percent in 2004.

Well, if the Obama campaign says he’ll get Jewish voters, that’s good enough for Newsweek. No need to factcheck. It’s not like Obama lost the Jewish vote by 24 percent to Hillary in the Pennsylvania primary, which has one of the highest concentrations of Jewish voters of any state. (Oh, wait, that did happen. You just won’t read about it in Newsweek this week.)

If the Obama campaign has this willing a patsy in Newsweek, willing to be spoonfed anything the campaign churns out, and this is all they can say to demonstrate he doesn’t have a Jewish problem, Obama must have a really big Jewish problem.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.


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