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March 02, 2008

Obama and the Jews

I've been getting a bunch of visitors lately through searches for phrases like "Obama and the Jews." But I've never written on the subject before, and my visitors have ended up at one or another of my three gag posts called "If Barack Obama were Jewish, instead of the second coming of Jesus." The gag is that a Jewish Obama is shouting into his cell phone, either at his obviously difficult mother or, in one case, at Bill Clinton. Ha, ha. Get it?

But the issue of Obama's potential relationship with Jewish voters seems to be a very hot topic these days. An article in the Washington Post on Thursday. An article in the New York Times on Saturday. Tim Russert asked Obama at a recent debate what he thought of Louis Farrakhan's endorsement of him. Obama has met with Jewish leaders (whatever that means) in Cleveland.

Ed Lasky has two articles going through the concerns that Jews might have with Obama and the connections he has with anti-Israel policy-makers. Both are very much worth reading.

But I'd like to try to address this issue a different way. When I started Pillage Idiot, I wrote fairly often about the Jewish vote. For instance, I tried to explain why Jews are overwhelmingly liberal; why we need a new benchmark for the Jewish vote; and why the exit polls in the 2004 election did not accurately measure the Jewish vote for Bush.

Jews are predominantly liberal politically, but they are conservative in the sense that they do not adapt easily to political change. The political landscape has changed to the point that the political left, where so many Jews reside, is the current locus of not only radical anti-Israel views but outright anti-semitism. (Surprise! I've written about this, too.)

Jews aren't likely to budge, however. So I'd like to make two very basic points here, directed to my fellow Jews. I'm going to keep the points very simple, so that a people suffering from ideological vapor lock can understand them.

1. By and large, politicians of both political parties are going to be essentially friendly toward Israel. Sure, there are exceptions -- James Moran, Jimmy Carter, people like that -- but mostly, politicians will say they support Israel and will express generally reassuring statements about it. Cynical though I may be, I tend to accept these declarations of support as genuine. In a superficial sense, these politicians do indeed support Israel. And in this superficial sense, I have yet to see any identifiable difference between Hillary and Obama.

But this superficial support is not terribly relevant, and it should not be the basis of the decision of an individual Jew concerned about Israel.

2. Israel's security does not depend on superficial support from American politicians. It depends on American power. A strong America indirectly benefits Israel. A weak America, an America that that is constantly running away from confrontation, indirectly hurts Israel. (It directly hurts America, but that's a topic for another day.)

Think of it this way: The United States has a security umbrella that protects itself and its allies. Israel benefits from the American umbrella. If the United States lowers its umbrella, Israel's security suffers. And as far as I'm concerned, both Hillary and Obama will lower the American umbrella. We can quibble about how far each will lower it -- I tend to think Hillary is distinctly better on national security, and if I were a Democrat, I would choose her over him -- but both of them will lower it. If your vote turns at all on the security of Israel, it's important to focus on this point, and not on the candidates' superficial friendliness to Israel or on who their advisors may be.

I look at the Jewish vote, and I see consistent support for politicians who rail against the use of American power, who want to scale back American presence overseas, and who even want to cut the military itself. Fine. If that's your world view, sei gesund, but then don't obsess over Obama's anti-Israel advisors, because they really don't matter. What matters is their approach to American security.

In a world in which the United States refuses to act unilaterally if necessary, in which it feels it should get the approval not only of our sometime allies but also of the whole run of dictatorships that constitute the United Nations, in which it tries to get other countries to like us by withdrawing suddenly from a war that it has a good chance of winning, Israel will have precious little security.

If you support candidates who have that world view, don't blame Zbigniew Brzezinski or Anthony Lake. Blame yourself.