“You mean Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama?” he asked, laughing.
Klein quickly stressed that he was joking, and that he didn’t put any stock in the anonymous e-mail circulating that claims Obama is not only a closet Muslim--and that his middle name is Mohammed--but also that the senator from Illinois is part of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy the U.S. by winning its highest office. He had, however, certainly received the defamatory e-mail, as well as another that alleges that Obama’s church is a racist and anti-Semitic institution that is more committed to Africa than to the
Klein is far from alone. The Internet libel seems to have been directed in part at the Jewish community, and in recent weeks, these two emails have landed in the inboxes of thousands of Jews across the country. In fact, an adviser to the Obama campaign told me that he suspects the emails were originally sent using the mailing list of a Jewish nonprofit in Washington. He added that they may have originated with Middle East hawks skeptical about Obama’s approach to the region, but because the e-mail campaign has ramped up in both intensity and scope following Obama’s victory at the
“One can draw inferences on who might have interest in this spread,” he said.
There’s no question that it’s important for Obama to gain acceptance from the Jewish community in the
The heads of several national Jewish organizations--including the Anti-Defamation League and the
But why do those doubts exist in the first place? While Obama certainly has broad appeal in the Jewish community, as he does among other overwhelmingly Democratic constituencies, he has at times had a testy relationship with those most invested in protecting
Obama’s respect for soft power and the themes of reconciliation which underlie so much of his rhetoric may hurt him in some quarters of the Jewish community. His explaining how much Palestinians have “suffered” and his sense of urgency with regards to an
Each time I have asked a spokesperson from AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobbying group, about the organization’s opinion of Obama, they have stressed that they are satisfied with Obama’s positions on the
Several other people connected to Middle East lobbying in Washington have told me, though, that they believe there is a rift between the official positions of AIPAC on Obama and the feelings of a good deal of its membership, possibly including some of its major donors. Because AIPAC doesn’t endorse candidates directly, but often encourages its very active membership to get involved in campaigns and fund-raising on their own, how the AIPAC rank-and-file acts is not a matter of diktat; it’s an accurate barometer of how it feels. And according to The Jerusalem Post, “When it comes to the Jewish establishment of campaign donors, fundraisers, and political players, support for Clinton is estimated to be twice that for Obama (except in his home state of Illinois, where he has deep connections with the Jewish community).”
With regards to the AIPAC bigwigs, one former AIPAC official recently said to me that he believes that Obama’s stated willingness to diplomatically engage with some of
Mort Klein, whose ZOA is far to the right of AIPAC, is much less tight-lipped.
“Obama doesn’t understand that the Palestinians are more interested in
Even though ultra-hawk Mort Klein is hardly representative of American Jews, in November, a survey done by the American Jewish Committee found that 53 percent of American Jews had favorable opinions of Hillary Clinton, but only 38 percent felt similarly about Barack Obama. The survey did not endeavor to determine the reasons behind this disparity, but a well-trafficked feature on the English website of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper is clearer. The feature, called “The Israel Factor,” brings together a collection of Israeli academics and former government officials to evaluate the American presidential candidates’ relationships with
“There is no daylight between Barack Obama’s support for
He added that he was optimistic that voters would understand that, but said he recognized that the recent spate of defamatory e-mails posed a risk. Even the man himself--perhaps recognizing that being loudly pro-Israel carries little political risk, while being more soft-spoken about it just might--has made a more concerted attempt to reach out within the last week. After the U.N. Security Council called a meeting to discuss the current situation in the Gaza Strip, for example, he was the only presidential candidate who sent a letter to the
When influencing public opinion, however, sometimes a whisper campaign is louder than a shout.
Gregory Levey is the author of the forthcoming memoir Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government. He is on faculty at
By Gregory Levey