Group's internal memo points to Obama's struggle with Jewish vote
As the Democratic presidential candidates prepare for Feb. 5's "national primary," a leaked memo from a major Jewish organization shows that Senator Barack Obama may have a difficult time winning votes from the important demographic of Jewish voters.
The Forward, a Jewish news weekly published in New York, revealed the existence of the internal document from the American Jewish Committee. Reporter Jennifer Siegel noted that it "betrays a quiet unease about Obama’s potential Middle East strategy that still lingers in some pockets of the Jewish community."
The memo questioned Obama's approach to dealing with Iran, and frets that he puts too much of a burden on Israel in negotiations with Palestinians over the Middle East conflict. And the internal document also delves deep into Obama's background.
"[AJC Counsel for special projects Debra] Feuer takes note of Obama’s presence at a fundraiser headlined by the late Edward Said in 1998, and public suggestions by Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based Palestinian activist, that Obama was more openly critical of the America’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before his first run for Senate," Siegel added.
The group claimed that the memo did not represent the group's official position on Obama, and regretted its release.
The report comes on the heels of earlier reports of Jewish doubts about Obama's record and principles. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen called on Obama last week to go further in condemning the leaders of his Chicago-based church for their praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. And an Orthodox Jewish community leader, Mendy Ganchrow, accused Obama of harboring Muslim sentiments that would shape his approaches to foreign policy.
The latter charges in particular have been widely condemned. In an open letter to the Jewish community, a collection of Jewish groups, including AJC, condemned the circulation of viral e-mails that accused Obama of secretly being a Muslim, which they called "hateful."
Still, political analysts have long pointed to Jewish concerns about Obama's positions. After a foreign policy speech delivered before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last March, the Politico reported that "some observers of American Jewish politics see...that Obama’s rhetoric and themes of reconciliation and common ground – the heart of his national popularity – sound off-key and even naïve in the context of a grim, confrontational moment in the Middle East."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz further underscored that while Obama received good ratings from Jewish activists in Chicago, Illinois, he lacked a wider base of support among Jewish voters.
"Voting for Israel a couple of times doesn't constitute enough of a track record on which to make a more favorable judgment," an anonymous correspondent told Shmuel Rosner in Dec. 2006.
And whether or not they share the AJC's apparent concerns about Obama's policy positions, the Senator still appears to be struggling to build a base of support among Jewish voters. Poll results from Nevada showed that Senator Hillary Clinton received a dominant share of Jewish voters in Saturday's Nevada Caucus. And perhaps unfortunately for Obama, Jewish Democrats will likely stand out as important blocs of voters in New York, California, New Jersey, and other delegate-rich states that will be up for grabs on "Super Duper Tuesday."