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.