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Racism Is The Root Of Anti-Obama Paranoia Among Jews

[Note: This post is part of an ongoing dialogue between Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and Shmuel Rosner of Slate on the need for U.S. national candidates to stop invoking the Jewish state every chance they get. Rosner's first letter, … Read More

By / October 20, 2008

[Note: This post is part of an ongoing dialogue between Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic and Shmuel Rosner of Slate on the need for U.S. national candidates to stop invoking the Jewish state every chance they get. Rosner's first letter, to which the following is a reply, can be read here.]

Dear Shmuel, Happy New Year, first of all. It’s nice to read you again; the Ha’aretz site is a barren place without you. And you seem even more blunt than usual; I suppose this has to do with your return to Israel. Your re-aliyah will inevitably re-sharpen your edges. I’m of two minds about even having this dialogue, because I do tend to think, as you do, that Israel is mentioned far too often in presidential debates. On the other hand, who doesn’t like to be the center of attention? We Jews have gotten used to this over the past 3,000 years or so.

Let me wrestle with two of your points. You write of Israelis, "The constant need for the husband to say how much he loves the bride does not mean the bride is lovable but rather that she lacks self-confidence." I think you’re a bit too harsh on your countrymen. It’s natural, and inevitable, that Israelis would worry about the possibly-shifting feelings of their great benefactor. Jewish history, if nothing else, makes this natural, though I don’t think this behavior is unusual at all for any country that is essentially a client state. This insecurity does have unpleasant manifestations, of course – loyalty tests, for one thing, and a weakness for victimology.

The Yad Vashem-to-Sderot Express, which all foreign dignitaries are forced to ride upon their arrival in Israel – "Look what they did to us!" meets "Look what they’re doing to us!" – is a particularly unpleasant manifestation of this. Just ask Barack Obama, who would have probably enjoyed a visit to brash, positive modern Israel. But to your main question: I think that most Jews who oppose the rise of Obama are opposing him for reasons other than Israel.

Yes, there are actual, ideologically-Republican Jews out there; and yes, I suppose there are Jews, primarily in Flatbush, who believe that John McCain will defend the Jewish claim to Greater Jerusalem (which is a terribly important cause when you live in Brooklyn, apparently) with greater fervor than would Barack Obama. But in my own experience, I would have to say that simple racism motivates much of the anti-Obama anxiety in corners of the Jewish community. I don’t know what else explains it.

His positions on most matters related to Israel are indistinguishable from those of AIPAC. This anti-Obama feeling is, of course, disappointing, but not altogether astonishing. A black president with a strange name elicits the same fears among Jews in New York and Florida that it does among Protestants in West Virginia. That said, I assume there are fence-sitters out there who are comforted to learn that Obama doesn’t actually hate Jews (and is, in fact, very nearly surrounded by Jews) so it does seem useful for Obama, and his surrogates, to remind Jews that he is a something of a Zionist fellow-traveler. In fact, this latest Jesse Jackson episode provides a good opening for the delivery of just such a message.

We’ll get to McCain later, I hope. For now, I’m curious to hear you on what Israeli government officials actually think of Obama. Do they really believe that he is in some way hostile to their interests?

Best, Jeff

To read Shmuel Rosner’s first letter, click here.

RELATED: Rosner’s original piece, "Enough About Israel, Already," for Slate, and Goldberg’s post at the Atlantic.

Shmuel Rosner’s blog is here.

Rosner’s response to this letter will follow shortly.

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