Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama and the Jews, Yet Again

Last week the Trinity PR Department sent me a note asking if I would like to contact a reporter working on a story about Senator Barack Obama's "Jewish problem". Apparently, there are certain right-wing media outlets reporting that Obama has surrounded himself with "anti-Israel" policy advisers, and a reporter for Cox Newspapers was working a story on this issue. I decided not to respond to the query, because I simply did not know enough about the issue; but of course the query caused me to go out onto the Internet to see what I could find. Sure enough, on the conservative web site of something called The American Thinker (often cited by Rush Limbaugh), I found an article enumerating a veritable laundry list of supposedly telling reasons why a Jewish voter should think twice before voting for Obama. I've been asked by my colleague Mark Silk of Trinity College's Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life to produce an article on "Obama and the Jews" for the upcoming edition of the Center's publication Religion in the News, so I'll skip working through the article in this blog entry -- I'll just focus on one issue: Obama's Middle East policy advisers.

Supposedly, the Internet is swirling with e-mails and e-journalism that Obama's Middle East policy advisers are uniformly "anti-Israel." Leading the list of accusations is the association of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser, with the Obama campaign, and the association of Robert Malley, a former Clinton administration diplomat who worked on the Camp David 2000 negotiations, with the Obama campaign. Each are characterized for various reasons in The American Thinker as hostile to Israel.

I won't now go into the details -- suffice it to say that the accusations were regarded significant enough by the Obama campaign to have required a response. As I blogged earlier, Obama hasn't done all that spectacularly with American Jewish voters this primary season, losing fairly consistently (except in Connecticut and Massachusetts) 40-60 to Hillary Clinton. In the November election -- if it is an Obama-McCain face-off -- Obama needs to shore up Jewish electoral and financial support, particularly if Joe Lieberman becomes more prominent as John McCain's national cheerleader.

And so, in today's American edition of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot there is an article (I could find no parallel on its English-language site) from their LA-based correspondent concerning a document sent late this week to potential Jewish contributors by the Obama staff directly addressing the issue of Obama's advisers on the Arab-Israeli conflict. According to this article, the document headlines Dennis Ross as Obama's principle adviser on the issue, and then goes on to list 4 other key advisers, all with impeccable "pro-Israel" creds. According to Yediot Aharonot, this document sent to potential Jewish donors specifically distances Obama from Brzezinski, at least as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned. I've not found confirmation for the Ross part of the story anywhere on today's Internet, but I did find this recent article from The Canadian Jewish News which seems to cover the overall controversy accurately.

Getting ready for my time in Israel

As some of you might know, I am soon to leave for a 10-week stay in Tel Aviv, and plan to blog (more) regularly once I arrive. I've done so in the past when I've been in Israel, and intend to do so this extended visit again.

Looking at today's (Friday) Yediot Aharonot newspaper, I couldn't help but notice an article about new in-flight regulations which the Israeli Ministry of Transportation is asking of all airline companies flying into Israel. Israel is requiring that all passengers, as well as flight crews, be buckled into their seats as soon as planes get within 180 miles of the Israeli coast -- approximately 30 minutes before touchdown. This is approximately the point when planes come under Israeli air control, and will give Israeli controllers an opportunity to review passenger lists one last time before the planes are vectored into final approach. It will also secure the plane far enough away from the Israeli coast so that if a late "event" were to oocur inside the plane, there will be sufficient time to scramble interceptors for a response. These new regulations (formerly the buckle-down was required for the final 15 minutes of flight), are being issued in the aftermath of the killing of Hizbollah terrorist operative Imad Mughniyeh last week in Damascus, and the ensuing promise by Hizbollah leader Shaykh Nasrallah to engage in "open warfare" against Zionist targets worldwide.

This new policy directive is not unlike the old special flight rules which the US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) issued for all flights going into Reagan National airport near Washington, DC in the wake of 9/11, which were suspended in the summer of 2005.

I'll be flying through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, an airport that to my mind maintains extremely high security, especially for Israel-bound flights, so I am not concerned. Schiphol requires every passenger to go through a thorough face-to-face questioning before entering the gate area, as well as the standard metal detectors and baggage x-ray. So while this news item caught my eye, I've decided to go have fun in Amsterdam as planned, and then make sure I've got no need to get up in those last 30 minutes of the KLM flight. ;)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More on the Jewish Vote - Super Tuesday

We now have exit polling data from 5 states with sizable Jewish populations: New York (where Jews made up 17% of the Democratic primary vote), Connecticut (10% of the Democratic primary vote), New Jersey (9%), Massachusetts (6%), and California (5%).

In a previous blog, I surmised on the basis of last week's Florida exit polls, that Senator Barack Obama had a "Jewish" problem. Tonight's Super Tuesday results do not bear out that initial analysis. In New York, New Jersey, and California, Senator Hilary Clinton won the Jewish vote (though in California it was paper-thin). But in Connecticut and Massachusetts, Obama won the Jewish vote. On one extreme, in New York, Jews voted for Clinton over Obama 69-29. In Connecticut, on the other hand, Obama won 61% of the Jewish vote.

So it appears that Jews are energized as ever to vote Democratic this election cycle, and the efforts by the Obama campaign to calm potentially nervous American Jews have succeeded to some degree. My bet is that when the raw numbers are calculated, the national Jewish Super Tuesday vote broke in Clinton's favor, but not by a whopping margin. I still believe that there remains a potential "Israel-friendly" calculation which will conceivably impact the American Jewish vote in an Obama-McCain national race to a far greater degree than a Clinton-McCain national race. But only time will tell.

Final note for the night: I am writing this at 11:39 pm Eastern time. None of the news organs has called California yet. But if the CNN exit polling data is accurate (54% of the Democratic voters in California are female, and Clinton won the female vote 57-39), it looks like Hillary will win California, with the same margin as she won New Jersey. At 11:44 pm, Obama appears before his supporters and the national media before California is called. If the Obama campaign thought they were going to win the big one, they would have held off a little longer, having already missed the late night news. It is going to be quite a race. I'll wait for the California call, then time to go to bed.