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The Jewish question

For decades Arab analysts and commentators have trumpeted the so-called "Jewish vote" as a major reason why US politicians, particularly on the national level, adopt a pro-Israel line. But the voting power of US Jewish communities, who are concentrated in key cities like New York, Miami, Los Angeles, has never been the whole story. Jewish citizens of the US are generally more politically aware and vote in higher percentages than non-Jews. Jews contribute to campaign chests. Finally, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, and other pro-Israel Jewish organisations have considerable leverage on candidates because they can marshall influential backers and financial resources.

Taking into consideration all these components of "Jewish influence" in the US political process, it is interesting to look at what is happening in the tight contest for the Democratic party's nomination for president. Since the Democratic party enjoys the support of at least twice as many Jewish voters as the Republican, the "Jewish vote" is a significant factor in this year's contest for the nomination. Indeed, the "Jewish vote" could even be decisive because of the closeness of the race.

Results of primaries in more than half of US states reveal that both senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama won Jewish support. This is interesting because Clinton is a politician trusted by pro-Israel individuals and organisations and Obama is considered, at best, an "unknown quantity" and, at worst, not so friendly towards Israel. On Feb. 5, Super Tuesday, Clinton won the strong backing of Jewish communities in New Jersey and New York . This was expected. Clinton secured 69 per cent of Jewish voters in New York City because there is a higher percentage of conservative Orthodox Jews in the population. She also had the votes of 60 per cent of the Jews in New Jersey. In Arizona, Clinton won the backing of Jews by a smaller margin than in New York and New Jersey .

In the Florida primary, which the Democratic National Committee disqualified, Clinton won 58 per cent of Jews against 26 per cent for Obama, who secured the majority of Jewish votes in Connecticut and Massachusetts, a state he did not win. According to exit polls, he also had an edge over Clinton in California, another state Clinton won. Here Obama secured 49 per cent of Jewish votes to her 47 per cent. Obama was generally supported by liberal, anti-Iraq war Jews. In Maryland a group of Jewish legislators came out for Obama, in a bid to sway the state's Jewish voters in his favour in Tuesday's primary. He won that contest handily.

Overall Jews are divided along the same lines as the US population as a whole. While Clinton attracts older voters, youngsters go for Obama.

In a New York Times opinion article this week, Roger Cohen, expressed the opinion of liberal Jews toward Obama. "I believe Barak Obama is a strong but not uncritical supporter of Israel. That is what the Middle East needs from an American leader: the balance implicit in the two-state solution." He quotes Douglas Bloomfield, a former AIPAC official, who made the point that a majority of US Jews "want a two-state peace [with the Palestinians], but are intimidated by a vocal right wing." Clinton is more in tune with the Likud-allied Jewish right than Obama.

In addition to what David Axelrod - an Obama strategist quoted by Cohen - calls "a lack of familiarity" and "an exotic name," Obama has to contend with "malicious assaults" by opponents who cite the fact that his middle name is "Hussein" and that he had his early education in Muslim Indonesia.

Other antagonists argue that his Christian pastor in Chicago has embraced Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the black Nation of Islam movement who is accused of being anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish). They ignore Obama's denunciation of Farrakhan's diatribes. The only serious complaint that right-wing, pro-Israel Jews have against Obama is his call for dialogue with Tehran. They vehemently reject any contact with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose outbursts against Israel have led to his demonisation in the West.

If he is elected president, Axelrod said Obama would be "actively involved from day one" in the drive for a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Cohen concludes his very interesting piece by stating that Obama is not "blind to the fact that backing Israel is not enough if such US backing provides carte blanche for the subjugation of another people."

The Israeli liberal daily Haaretz has evaluated the presidential candidates on the basis of policies and pronouncements, ranking ranked candidates from 1 to 10 on the basis of who it considers best for Israel.

Number one in mid-January was Republican Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor, who received 8.37. But he dropped out of the race when John McCain pulled ahead in the race. Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton was number two, with a 7.62 rating. She takes the view that "the security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East ."

John McCain was awarded 7.12. He backs Israel 's West Bank wall and argues that there can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians "until the Palestinians recognise Israel , forswear forever the use of violence, recognise their previous agreements, and reform their internal institutions." He argues that the US should continue to provide" Israel with whatever military equipment and technology she requires to defend herself, above and beyond what we supply today if necessary.

Barak Obama rated 5. While he backed the 2006 Israeli onslaught on Lebanon, he has been less enthusiastic about Israel than the others and has even said a few decent things about Palestinians. The head of a major US Jewish organisation, Malcolm Hoenlein has expressed concern about "all the talk about change" - particularly in the Obama camp - because if he wins the presidency he could make major changes in the US approach to Iran, seen by the Zionists as the main threat to Israel.

Furthermore, right-wing Zionists and Israelis would not welcome a president who makes a sustained effort to negotiate a deal between Israelis and Palestinians before Israel has completed its land grab in the West Bank and colonisation of East Jerusalem.

Source: Gulf Today
Posted: 11/06/2008

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