Obama and the Jewish Question

This year’s U.S. presidential election arrives at a very opportune moment for the Democrats.

As the U.S. economy continues to slump, the Republican Party has remained woefully ideologically outdated since the Reagan Era, with its particular emphasis on free markets and reduced government intervention. The Bush administration’s recent generous “rescue efforts” have since violated its laissez-faire principles, a move that has been mocked by liberals as “socialism that relieves the rich.” Middle-class voters who have formed the Republicans’ primary base for decades, are now in an interminable state of anxiety under the pressure of globalization and real estate downturn, amongst other factors. High oil prices have a significantly greater impact on Republican grassroot exurbs and Southern “red bases,” than on Democrat-led cities and Northern states.

The rock-star welcome that Europe gave Barack Obama was even more effusive than the one John Kerry received in 2004 (Back then, a German newspaper hailed the former presidential hopeful as a “dream candidate.”) Overwhelming U.S. media coverage of Obama’s visit put a further dampener on John McCain’s campaign momentum.

Things Are Different On The Home Front

In U.S. polls however, Obama has but a slim lead over McCain. Despite all the strategic points he has scored, Obama has yet to establish himself as a unifier with strong backing by the masses. It raises the issues I have once discussed: that of Obama’s “electability” and the “secondary racial bias” that minority groups may have against blacks. The Jewish attitude towards Obama deserves greater consideration.

Although there has been in recent years, a neo-conservative movement led by the Jewish elite, a large majority of American Jews still consider themselves Democrats. This is mainly because the Jews and Blacks were once both oppressed minorities. But in the last several decades, both groups have undergone rather different paths.

The Jews chose to work within the system: active participation in mainstream U.S. economy, culture, education have allowed them to become the powerful ethnic group they are today. African-Americans on the other hand, have fought outside mainstream institutions via mass movements and protests, thus shaping today’s political forces. Yet at the same time, the majority of blacks today remain at the bottom of the economic and cultural ladder.

Many ordinary Jews therefore bear a traditionally snobbish prejudice against blacks, as was reported in the New York Times several months ago. Since the Jews are the most highly-educated minority group in the U.S., their ‘sub-racism’ is almost inevitably brought on by religious, cultural and political factors. This is directly related to the fact that the two groups embarked on different paths of development. In choosing to work outside the system, the blacks became the opposition to a white mainstream government. Amongst them sprang a black Islamic movement that included the famous organization, “Nation of Islam (NOI),” which later became an important component of the black civil rights movement. In the 1960s, boxing champ Muhammad Ali publicly renounced his Christian faith and joined the NOI, producing an upsurge in the religious protest movement.

The NOI headquarters are coincidentally in Chicago, where Obama resides. Many of the black Christian congregations, include Obama’s Trinity United Church of Christ, are allies of the NOI. Last December, Trinity Church even presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Louis Farrakhan, the chief of NOI, for his social consciousness.

The Nation of Islam has always been viewed by most American Jews as a strongly anti-Semitic organization. Black sympathy towards Arabs is not uncommon, hence allowing Trinity Church pastor Jeremiah Wright to make the bold suggestions that the U.S. brought 9/11 upon herself. As the Jewish NYT columnist Thomas Friedman acknowledged, even if Obama pledged to support Israel, there will still be unease within the Jewish community of Obama’s apparently cosy relations with the Arabs. The spread of such rumors may be part of the Republican’s “dirty strategy,” but that does not take away from the fact that it will plant some serious doubts in ordinary Jewish voters.

The attitudes of the Jewish elite are even greater food for thought. In a commentary in May, I discussed how two Jewish columnists: the New York Time’s Krugman (whose wife is black) and the Washington Post’s Krauthammer, were attacking Obama on both ends. Similar criticism from the Jewish elite has poured in since then.

In late July, another Jewish columnist from the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, asserted that Obama had no real substance behind his soaring rhetoric. Cohen pointed instead to McCain as a candidate that had gone through a series of “major tests,” stressing that the next president’s Herculean tasks included having to “deal in an ugly way when nuclear weapons seize the imagination of madmen.” He ended off with a final dig at Obama: “a near-perfect political package,” but one that could not deliver the goods.

Cohen once said that the formation of Israel in the Middle East was an “honest mistake”–a viewpoint fairly representative of how the typical liberal sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His negative view of Obama clearly reflects Israel’s deep concerns about Iran’s nuclear threat.

On 5 August, yet another ‘moderate-conservative’ NYT Jewish columnist, David Brooks, publicly criticized Obama for being, but a “sojourner” in all of his life experiences. Obama was said to have embarked on careers, joined organizations, “put one foot in the institutions he rose through on his journey but never fully engaged.”

Given the very recent wave of negative U.S. media coverage on Obama, such an evaluation from a commentator (Brooks) so influential in the intellectual sphere, only adds fuel to the fire.

On the whole, the primary obstacle to Obama’s “electability” remains the racial prejudices of the lower-middle class white voters. But the doubts of a Jewish elite, especially one in control of the most important resources, should not be taken lightly either.

The writer is currently conducting research in North America.

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