Sunday, April 06, 2008
Two months I posted a piece on Barack Obama and his problems with Jewish voters. A recent article in the Jewish Daily Forward, source of the graphic above, sheds light on another dimension of the Democratic presidential primary. Here are some excerpts from "Dozens of Jewish Super-Delegates May Hold Key to Democratic Race" by Jennifer Siegel (all emphasis is mine):
According to a new survey conducted by the Forward, a disproportionately large share of the Democratic party’s super-delegates are Jewish. Many of them have declared their support for Hillary Clinton, accounting for more than 15% of her current backers.Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada has an interesting editorial on Obama and the controversy over Jeremiah Wright entitled "The senator, his pastor and the Israel lobby". Here are some excerpts:
Like the general population of super-delegates, whose support remains fluid, several Jewish supporters of the New York senator said in interviews that their votes still remain up for grabs. All told, more than 70 Jewish super-delegates will make the trip to Denver this summer for the Democrats’ nominating convention. They account for nearly one-tenth of the party’s nearly 800 so-called super-delegates, the informal term for elected and party officials whose status as delegates to the convention does not depend on state primaries and caucuses.
VFPD: According to the American Jewish Year Book, Jews comprised only 1.78% of the US population in 2006 as opposed to almost or more than 10% of the Democratic Party's super-delegates.
If the Democratic presidential primary comes down to a photo finish, these Jewish insiders could play an outsized role in anointing a nominee at the party’s August convention. And it would be a history-making experience: Although Jews have long been considered a formidable voting bloc and have been overrepresented among the country’s cadre of liberal activists and thinkers, they have only more recently become common as Democratic establishment insiders, with unprecedented numbers of both Jewish elected officials and party leaders.
“Politics in America has become a Jewish profession, just like arts and the law,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council and the author of a book about Jews and American politics. “We now are overrepresented in all these areas.”
The relatively high number of Jews among super-delegates highlights a larger political shift that has occurred in recent decades, according to Forman. Although Jews have always been well represented on the American left, he said, historically they have tended to gravitate toward causes, such as the labor and civil rights movements, rather than active participation in party politics.
In the years since World War II, however, the number of Jewish politicians has grown significantly, with 33 Jewish members elected to Congress in 2006, up from 13 in 1950. In addition, over the past 15 years, the DNC has been led by three Jewish chairs — Americans for Peace Now head Debra DeLee; Massachusetts-based party activist Steve Grossman, and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, all now backing Clinton — while the current chairman, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, is married to a Jewish woman and has raised his children as Jews. Of the DNC’s nine national officers, three are currently Jewish.
Susan Turnbull, who became a vice chair of the DNC in 2005, told the Forward that she has begun organizing get-togethers for Jewish DNC members at the party’s national meetings in recent years, and occasionally communicates via e-mail on issues of mutual concern, as when, several years ago, she was helping to pass a DNC resolution against divestment from Israel.
To compile a list of Jewish super-delegates, the Forward included elected officials and DNC members known by the paper to be Jewish. Turnbull identified additional Jewish DNC members, and the Forward’s list was vetted by the Clinton and Obama campaigns. This list may omit Jewish super-delegates whose religious affiliation is not widely known.
US senator Barack Obama was widely hailed for his 18 March speech calming the media furor about the sermons of his pastor for twenty years Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Wright's remarks, Obama said, "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."See also "Barack Obama: The War in Iraq and the Jewish Vote"
It might seem odd for Obama to mention Israel and "radical Islam" in a speech focused on US race relations, especially since Wright's most widely reported comments were about America's historic and ongoing oppression of its black citizens.
But for months, even before most Americans had heard of Wright, prominent pro-Israel activists were hounding Obama over Wright's views on Israel and ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In January, Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), demanded that Obama denounce Farrakhan as an anti-Semite. The senator duly did so, but that was not enough. "[Obama has] distanced himself from his pastor's decision to honor Farrakhan," Foxman said, but "He has not distanced himself from his pastor. I think that's the next step." Foxman labeled Wright "a black racist," adding in the same breath, "Certainly he has very strong anti-Israel views" (Larry Cohler-Esses, "ADL Chief To Obama: 'Confront Your Pastor' On Minister Farrakhan," The Jewish Week, 16 January 2008). Criticism of Israel, one suspects, is Wright's truly unforgivable crime and Foxman's vitriol has echoed through dozens of pro-Israel blogs.
Since his early political life in Chicago, Barack Obama was well-informed about the Middle East and had expressed nuanced views conveying an understanding that justice and fairness, not blinkered support for Israel, are the keys to peace and the right way to combat extremism. Yet for months he has been fighting the charge that he is less rabidly pro-Israel than other candidates -- which means now adhering to the same simplistic formulas and unconditional support for Israeli policies that have helped to escalate conflict and worsen America's standing in the Middle East. Hence Obama's assertion at his 26 February debate with Senator Hillary Clinton that he is "a stalwart friend of Israel."
But Obama stressed that his appeal to Jewish voters also stems from his desire "to rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African American community and the Jewish community."
Obama has not addressed to a national audience why that relationship might have frayed. He was much more candid when speaking to Jewish leaders in Cleveland just one day before the debate. In a little-noticed comment, reported on 25 February by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Obama tried to contextualize Wright's critical views of Israel. Wright, Obama explained, "was very active in the South Africa divestment movement and you will recall that there was a tension that arose between the African American and the Jewish communities during that period when we were dealing with apartheid in South Africa, because Israel and South Africa had a relationship at that time. And that cause -- that was a source of tension."
Obama implicitly admitted that Wright's views were rooted in opposition to Israel's deep ties to apartheid South Africa, and thus entirely reasonable even if Obama himself did "not necessarily," as he put it, share them. Israel supplied South Africa with hundreds of millions of dollars of weaponry despite an international embargo. Even the water cannons that South African forces used to attack anti-apartheid demonstrators in the townships were manufactured at Kibbutz Beit Alfa, a "socialist" settlement in northern Israel. Until the late 1980s, South Africa often relied on Israel to lobby Western governments not to impose sanctions.
... For many African Americans, it was intolerable hypocrisy that so many Jewish leaders who staunchly supported Civil Rights and the anti-apartheid movement would be tolerant of Israel's complicity.
Thus, Reverend Wright, who has sought a broader understanding of the Middle East than one that blames Islam and Arabs for all the region's problems or endorses unconditional support for Israel, stood in the mainstream of African American opinion, not on some extremist fringe. ...