What Jewish problem?
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images After the video tribute to Jimmy Carter at the convention last night, several of CNN’s commentators were speculating that the former president and persistent critic of Israel was not invited to speak because of fears about Obama’s appeal to Jewish voters. I have no idea if this is true, but I would ...
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
After the video tribute to Jimmy Carter at the convention last night, several of CNN’s commentators were speculating that the former president and persistent critic of Israel was not invited to speak because of fears about Obama’s appeal to Jewish voters. I have no idea if this is true, but I would think that by now the “Obama has a Jewish problem” meme had been fairly well debunked by Gallup polls showing him trouncing John McCain among Jewish voters. Apparently it’s making a comback.
Today Politico’s Ben Smith reports that a group of Jewish Obama supporters are working to neutralize Jewish concerns about Obama with a Web site that features “a suite of political tools that embody the new political focus of merging cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned community.” Oy gevalt.
The group does seem to have a talent for coming up with clever kitchen-yiddish names for their initiatives:
Moore, who is on leave from a job at Jewish Funds for Justice, a left-leaning group, drew some attention in 2004 with “Operation Bubbe,” which sent more than 100 young Jews to Florida to try to persuade their grandparents (“Bubbe” is Yiddish for grandmother) and other retirees to support John F. Kerry. His new group will re-create that effort this fall under the rubric of “The Great Schlep.”
Very cute. But I’m still not convinced that there’s some sort of huge exodus of alter cockers going over to McCain. The idea was popularized by this widely-discussed New York Times story from May which quotes a number of Jewish retirees in Florida with wildly inaccurate beliefs about Obama’s background and positions. But Jews are hardly the only group in which a number of people are still convinved that the senator is a Muslim and are hardly unique in that McCain does better with old people, while Obama dominates among younger voters. That’s true across the demographic board.
The idea that Jews are disproportionately suspicious of Obama has a lot to do with the stereotype that they vote solely on which candidate is more hawkish on Middle East policy and fits a decades-old media narrative of black-Jewish animosity left over from Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark, Louis Farrakhan, and the 1991 Crown Heights riots. The Daily Show‘s Wyatt Cenac had a bit of fun with the Obama campaign’s bubbe-panic here.
It’s absolutely fine and advisable for Obama’s campaign to be doing Jewish outreach. But treating this demographic as if it’s some sort of crisis that needs to be addressed only refuels this tired and baseless talking point.
Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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