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Jewish Journal

Obama or McCain: who will Jews vote for?

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 16, 2008 | 6:07 pm

I mentioned last night that Barack Obama’s campaign has tired of attacks from the Republican Jewish Coalition and will no longer engage them. This made sense to some people, but not really to me. Though Obama’s lead nationally has stretched to 14 points, he’s still struggling in the Jewish community, particularly, with elderly Jews—and Jesse Jackson isn’t helping.

The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee showed Obama receiving only 57 percent of the Jewish vote, with 13 percent undecided and the rest going to John McCain. Sure, it’s likely Obama will get at least some, if not most, of those undecided voters—but if he received none, he would be only the second Democratic presidential nominee (after President Carter in 1980) to receive the support of less than 60 percent of Jewish voters since Jews fell in love with FDR.

“If Barack Obama doesn’t become the next president of the United States, I’m gonna blame the Jews.” You might remember hearing Sarah Silverman say that in her video for The Great Schlep.

I can’t every remember presidential candidates spending more time sweating Jewish voters, but, at this point, I’m not sure Obama needs to go 70-30 with the Jewish vote. After all, this is a very unusual election year and, with younger evangelicals split over McCain and Sarah Palin, Obama just might grab a larger chunk of that traditionally Republican voting bloc. Maybe Obama doesn’t need the Jews. There are really not that many (though there are in Florida).

Still, liberals in the Jewish community are fretting these final weeks; conservatives are hoping for a turnaround. I wrote about this at length in this week’s Jewish Journal, the first time I’ve written about the election in print since this cover story for the primaries.

After the jump is an excerpt that talks about McCain’s surprising Hollywood insider and Daphna Ziman’s move from supporting her friend, Hillary Clinton, to the man she was terrified of earlier this year:

The acrimony surrounding Sen. Hillary Clinton’s long goodbye from the Democratic presidential primary left a terribly sour taste in her supporters’ mouths. This, in turn, led to much worrying that these folks would, in anger, vote for McCain. And that was before he picked a woman as his running mate.

One of Clinton’s biggest backers, Lynn Forrester de Rothschild, made the move last month.

“I believe that Barack Obama, with MoveOn.org and Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, has taken the Democratic Party—and they will continue to—too far to the left,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m not comfortable there.”

Rothschild, who has resigned from the Democratic National Committee’s planning committee, said she feels McCain would run a “centrist” government.

But Rothschild has been the exception to the rule. For an indication of just how difficult it’s been for Clinton supporters, look to Daphna Ziman.

Ziman was one of Clinton’s bundlers here in California. She and her husband, Richard, hosted several fundraisers for Clinton at their Beverly Hills home. And Ziman was terrified about what Obama might mean for her native Israel.

“I don’t really know what he is going to do for Israel. It is a big question mark,” she said in a January interview. “And we can’t afford the risk.”

But Ziman recently changed her tune, and this month she co-hosted with Clinton a fundraiser for Obama in downtown Los Angeles.

Why? Reproductive rights.

McCain has expressed a desire to see Roe v. Wade overturned; Palin is even more passionately pro-life. For Ziman, who founded the charity, Children Uniting Nations, which mentors inner-city kids, voting for a conservative who would likely replace at least three Supreme Court justices was out of the question.

“When I look at Islamofascism across the Muslim world, it is based on the lack of women’s rights, and the ability to sacrifice that in an election is not an option for me,” Ziman said.

As for Israel, Obama’s selection of Biden as a running mate calmed, though it did not allay, those fears. Other prominent Los Angeles Jews have felt no discomfort regarding Obama and Israel.

Stanley P. Gold, chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and a substantial giver to the Democratic Party, had backed Clinton. Now, he’s known to be supporting Obama. (Gold declined to comment because of his role as the Federation’s lay leader.)

Additionally, several luminaries in the L.A. rabbinate are among the leaders of Rabbis for Obama—the first time rabbis have banded together to endorse a candidate. The organization’s co-chair is Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector at American Jewish University.

“Sen. McCain has voted for President Bush’s policies 95 percent of the time, and he promises to continue those policies if elected president,” Dorff said when he introduced Obama in a conference call last month with 900 rabbis. “That, though, is disastrous. Absolutely nothing is better now for our country than it was eight years ago.”

“Obama, by contrast,” Dorff continued, “offers us intelligence, caring, individual rights; well thought out programs for improvement in education and health care; programs to stimulate American productivity and to develop alternative sources of energy; respect and honesty in dealing with our fellow citizens and our allies—and, yes, wise and firm support for Israel and for peace in the Middle East.”

Like many, Carmen Warschaw, a matriarch of L.A. Jewry, needed no convincing. She’s been in Obama’s camp all along.

Back in June, her home was filled with a coterie of Hollywood’s who’s who—including Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, and Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures. The mission of the Obama Los Angeles Jewish Community Leadership Committee, organized by the campaign, was to convince Jews that Obama should get their vote.

But other well-known L.A. Jews, like Ozzie Goren, the 86-year-old former Federation president, haven’t been moved by Obama’s message.

“Obama is a brilliant speaker. But does he say anything? Nope,” Goren said. “It’s just ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and ‘my time.’”

One media macher you wouldn’t have found at Warschaw’s Beverly Hills home is Harry Sloan.

As chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Sloan is an anomaly. It’s unusual for Jews to be Republicans—only about 17 percent of Jews identify as such, according to the American Jewish Committee—but it’s almost unheard of for a Hollywood insider.

He twice held fundraisers at his home for McCain, first in January 2007 and again last January. On Oct. 1, he introduced Cindy McCain at a fundraiser at the Century Plaza Hotel that brought in $3.5 million from business folks and a few Hollywood stars, including, Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer.

Sloan, a lifelong Republican, said in an interview that, like most Americans, he is frustrated with where our country is now and headed in the future. He doesn’t lay the blame squarely on the Bush administration but disperses it over all of Washington’s insiders. And McCain’s willingness to stand his ground when convinced of the correct course—with unpopular immigration reform or the surge in Iraq, for example—is exactly what he believes Washington needs.

“He is not Mr. Congeniality because he tries to make changes. We have a country that seems to be on the wrong course,” Sloan said. “I don’t really think he is afraid to take on anybody.”

Certainly not with Iran. That’s one distinction between the candidates that has highlighted the differences between hawks and doves, of varying degrees, in the Jewish community.

Both candidates have said Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons; on this there is no disagreement. But Obama seems more interested in talking softly, while McCain wants to wield a big stick.

Contrary to what is commonly repeated, Obama has said he would be willing to talk with leaders of rogue nations but never said he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust and wants to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. Indeed, Ayatollah Khamenei is actually the head of Iran .

Not surprisingly, both sides have spun their candidate’s position as being in the best interest of Israel.

“I believe that to some degree this election is a referendum on what are the most important issues of our time,” said Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Congregation Ner Tamid. “To my mind, the security of the State of Israel, the security of our own country, our financial wherewithal, are the major issues of the day.”

“Who selects which Supreme Court is less my immediate issue,” Jeret continued, “Is the environment our national priority, for many people it is. But I want to be around for many years to address those issues, and there are many existential issues for our country and the State of Israel that are at hand.”

You can read the rest here. Also, click here to see a Jewish Democrat and the leader of the National Organization for Women endorsing Sarah Palin.

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