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Why Older Jews Have a Problem with Barack Obama

Barack Obama has been the subject of some serious rumblings among Jews lately, so much so that in January a group of prominent Jewish leaders put out a letter condemning a “whispering campaign” against the Illinois Senator. But why are … Read More

By / February 27, 2008

Barack Obama has been the subject of some serious rumblings among Jews lately, so much so that in January a group of prominent Jewish leaders put out a letter condemning a “whispering campaign” against the Illinois Senator. But why are older Jews so anxious about him? Recently Richard Cohen and Roger Cohen each wrote a column that together usefully illustrate two main fears that Jews of their generation have about Barack Obama:

A) Blacks think it’s acceptable to hate Jews.

B) Because of their experience of racism, blacks identify with other minorities, but not Jews, whom they perceive as whites masquerading as a “false minority.”

Richard Cohen struck first, back on January 15th, in a Washington Post column provocatively titled “Obama’s Farrakhan Test.” Few people symbolize black antisemitism more powerfully than Louis Farrakhan, who once lauded the achievements of Adolf Hitler. Though Cohen does not say that Obama shares Farrakhan’s views, the juxtaposition of these two African-American public figures (who share little besides skin color) inevitably invites comparisons. In reality the only link between these two men is that the magazine run by the daughter of Jeremiah Wright, the minister of Obama’s church, gave an award to Farrakhan. Cohen wonders what Obama makes of all this. (For the record, Obama has stated publicly and repeatedly, including at last night's debate, that he deplores Farrakhan’s antisemitic rhetoric and disagrees with the award.)

Is it disappointing that Obama’s minister would make such a move? Definitely. But considering that it is possible to play "Six Degrees of Louis Farrakhan" with any prominent African-American politician, such a sensationalizing column could only be justified on the assumption that any potential African-American presidential candidate personally owes Richard Cohen a denunciation of Farrakhan.

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