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Obama’s Jewish problem? Separating fact from fiction

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 2, 2008 | 2:48 pm

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Obama in high school

No shock here:

According to exit polls conducted in 30 primary states, Jewish Democratic primary voters overall supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama - 53 percent chose Clinton compared to 45% who chose Obama.

Yes, CBS tells us what we already know—that Jews prefer Clinton to Obama. But, then again, look at her margin of victory: 7 percentage points, plus or minus the margin of error. And this is in a heads-up competition. Considering the close intra-party race for Jews, which seem to be the Democrat’s evangelicals, it’s difficult to imagine Obama really having a “Jewish problem” if he is the nominee and running against John McCain.

And yet the question of whether Jews will vote for Obama has commanded an ungodly amount of news ink and general bloviation.

Obama will speak at AIPAC Wednesday morning, and in advance, The Forward suggested his Jewish problem has more to do with media perception than reality:

When Obama headed to South Florida recently, the media narrative that emerged focused on what was characterized as his uphill battle with the state’s Jewish voters, many of them elderly. The New York Times, in a front-page story appearing May 21, catalogued the anxieties — which ranged from Israel and Iran to race and antisemitism — circulating in the Jewish community, along with falsehoods like “Obama is an Arab” and “Al Qaeda is backing him.” (Reporting on the Times story, a Croatian Web site, Javno, summed up the situation under the more-than-dubious headline “Ku Klux Klan Supports Obama, Jews Do Not.”)

But as the discussion of Jewish ambivalence toward Obama reaches new levels of intensity, some observers are saying that the hand wringing is creating a skewed and potentially damaging picture of American Jewry whose support for Obama is, by several measures, quite strong.

“Enough,” wrote M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for the dovish Israel Policy Forum, in a May 23 column on the Web site Talking Points Memo. “The ridiculous focus of the media on the candidates’ pandering to Jews is bad for Jews.”

(skip)

While Catholics, for example, have supported Hillary Clinton over Obama to a greater degree than white primary voters overall, Jewish voters have actually been more supportive of Obama than whites in general in seven out of eight primary states with significant Jewish populations — Florida included. (In New York, Clinton’s home state, Obama’s share of the Jewish vote lagged four percentage points behind his performance with white voters.) Moreover, a Gallup Poll released in May showed that 61% of Jewish voters nationwide prefer Obama versus 32% for McCain, compared with a margin in the general population of 45% to 43%.

Given this broader picture, some members of Florida’s Jewish community worry that the focus on Jewish voters in recent weeks had created a false impression that Jewish voters are uniquely critical of the man overwhelmingly likely to be the country’s first African American presidential nominee, when in reality Obama is reaching out to Jews in order to shore up a cornerstone of his base.

“The [May 21] Times story showed a Jewish populace that is uninformed and fearful,” said Rabbi David Steinhardt, the host of Obama’s recent visit to B’nai Torah Congregation of Boca Raton, Fla. “The majority of my congregants are much more thoughtful and open to the truth than what we saw in that story.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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