President of Religious Zionists of America on Obama
I have known Rabbi Blau for many years and have a great deal of respect for him. He is a major orthodox thinker, a scholar, outspoken Zionist, and mensch.
From The Jewish Week
Rabbi Yosef Blau is the director of religious guidance at Yeshiva University and president of the Religious Zionists of America.
For the past 16 years, the leaders of the Jewish establishment of this country, primarily concerned with Israel, have been comfortable with the American president. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, despite their policy differences, were acknowledged friends of Israel. While the American people, unhappy with the Iraq war, apparently want a change in foreign policy, Jewish leaders are looking for continuity.
Sen. Barack Obama is both relatively unknown to the broader Jewish community and stands for change. His personal background is unusual, and his acceptance of his black identity occurred at a time when black-Jewish relations were tense. Not surprisingly, the Jewish establishment is suspicious and is not satisfied by his public record of support for Israel. The lack of significant differences between his policy papers and those of his opponents does little to allay fears.
Obama’s association with The Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other controversial figures who are part of the South Side of Chicago community has been subject to far greater scrutiny than questionable pastors and extremists of the right or left with connections to Senators Clinton and McCain. After Obama’s public denunciation of Rev. Wright, the letters published in The New York Times that criticized it as too little and too late, came from people with Jewish names. The rumor that Obama is a secret Muslim is still taken seriously by many Jews.
One can question whether Obama’s non-confrontational approach is appropriate for dealing with Iran, much as one can differ with other positions that he favors. If the issues were analyzed on their merits, Jews would split the same way that other groups in the general society divide. Among younger, less affiliated Jews this is probably what is happening. The impression gleaned from the Jewish media is one of stronger opposition to Obama by Jews than what is indicated by polls of Jewish voters.
The present trend seems to reflect the likelihood that Obama will be nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. If the political experts are correct, there is a reasonable possibility that he will be elected as the next president. Obama’s campaign is reaching out to the Jewish community as a significant bloc of voters, but there is little evidence that the Jewish leadership is responding.
Obama maintained good relations with the Jewish community in Chicago during his years in the state Senate and as a U.S. senator. His record on issues of Jewish interest has been excellent. This by itself does not eliminate all concerns, but does suggest that the national Jewish leadership should adopt a different approach.
Every potential avenue for ongoing dialogue with Obama should be pursued. Editors of Jewish newspapers should ask for interviews. Invitations to speak before major leadership groups as well as opportunities for private meetings are appropriate.
Even if Obama does not get elected president in 2008 he will be a major figure in American political life for a long time. His strength is with the young and highly educated as well as with the African-American community. If Jewish leaders take a long-range perspective, Obama is an individual that we should want as a friend.
Anyone who has read Obama’s first book, “Dreams from My Father,” written in 1995, long before he was close to campaigning for president, can tell that his nature is to bring people together. Not to have a positive relationship with a figure of hope and reconciliation, whose record is totally supportive of Jewish concerns, makes little sense. Jews in America, for all our successes, are a relatively small minority and are not well served by presenting a monolithic political posture. In this case the image portrayed by the leadership may differ greatly from the attitude of many Jews.
There is an inverse relationship between the acceptance of Jews in American society and the Jewish sense of insecurity. Basically satisfied with the status quo, the Jewish establishment is apprehensive about a person they do not know well and who represents change. However, America does not appear to be content with the present political leaders. Foresight should lead to establishing ties and making new friends. Barack Obama’s personality, record and policy proposals reflect a candidate with whom the Jewish community should be comfortable. The best way to test this hypothesis is to increase direct contact and open dialogue.