- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
As Lenny Bruce would say, "Dig: Obama’s Jewish" — or at least his friends say he is.
Obama’s longtime friend and supporter Alan Solow, former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has a suggestion on how to sell the president to nervous Jewish voters, as Benjy Sarlin reports:
“At the risk of stereotyping us, he thinks like a Jew,” he said, likening Obama’s decision-making process to a Talmudic scholar. “I knew it before he was the president, and I’ve seen it every day since he’s been the president.”
He added: “Barack Obama has a Jewish soul. He has neshama.”
Solow is following up on a theme pushed by several Jewish journalists including the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg:
[H]e is the most Jewish president we’ve ever had (except for Rutherford B. Hayes). No president, not even Bill Clinton, has traveled so widely in Jewish circles, been taught by so many Jewish law professors, and had so many Jewish mentors, colleagues, and friends, and advisers as Barack Obama (though it is true that every so often he appoints a gentile to serve as White House chief of staff).
… and the Daily Beast‘s Peter Beinart:
What Obama understands, via Heschel and Alinsky and his many progressive Jewish friends, is Tikkun Olam, a form of Jewish identity that, like it or not, is more pervasive in the United States than either observant Judaism or active Zionism. If it weren’t, Obama would never have won 78 percent of the Jewish vote.
Longtime Obama advisor and former White House Counsel Abner Mikva has joked, "When this all is over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president.” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes has said “he came into office with a deeper understanding of Jewish culture and Jewish thought than, I would argue, any president in recent memory.”
Obama himself has picked up on the theme in discussions with Jewish leaders, as reported by Haaretz in May:
There were some questions directed at the presidents concerning his thoughts on the role of religious leaders in a more civil political dialogue, which then lead to the inevitable question – how does he feels about Israel? Obama joked that Lew always warns him it will get to "the kishkes question."
"Rather than describe how deeply I care about Israel, I want to be blunt about how we got here," Obama said, reminding his guests that he had so many Jewish friends in Chicago at the beginning of his political career that he was accused of being a puppet of the Israel lobby.[…]
Obama also stressed he probably knows about Judaism more than any other president, because he read about it – and wondered how come no one asks Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner or Senate minority leader Mitch McConnel about their support to Israel.
I understand the need to counter the GOP line that Obama has thrown Israel "under the bus" and what Goldberg calls "the cosmic joke that he is somehow anti-Semitic," but these meme is getting a little out of hand. Surely those charges are easy enough to rebut without arguing that Obama is more Jewish than his opponents, or has more Jewish friends than them, or has a Jewish soul, or "thinks like a Jew" — whatever that means. It feels just a bit overdefensive: it’s not like McConnel and Boehner feel any compulsion to demonstrate their M.O.T. status either.
I think it should be okay to accept that there are no Jews in this race. Just a Protestant, a Mormon, and two Catholic VP nominees, who may differ on Mideast policy but aren’t anti-Semitic and aren’t threatening to throw Israel under anything. Goyim can have kishkes too.