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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Editorial: Jewish leaders tardy to denounce email smear campaign against Barack Obama

By JewsOnFirst.org, January 27, 2008

Only weeks ahead of primary elections in the states with the largest Jewish populations, Jewish organizational leaders and elected officials condemned a pernicious email calling Barack Obama a secret Muslim. The email has been circulating on Jewish lists for at least a year.

It is dismaying that the major Jewish organizations and Obama's Jewish colleagues did not confront this issue earlier.

A year ago we saw forwarded emails alleging that Obama was a covert Muslim with a "madrassa" education and ties to radical Muslims.


   Letter from Jewish Leaders

An Open Letter to the Jewish Community:

January 15, 2008

As leaders of the Jewish community, none of whose organizations will endorse or oppose any candidate for President, we feel compelled to speak out against certain rhetoric and tactics in the current campaign that we find particularly abhorrent. Of particular concern, over the past several weeks, many in our community have received hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama's religious beliefs and who he is as a person.

These tactics attempt to drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion. We reject these efforts to manipulate members of our community into supporting or opposing candidates.

Attempts of this sort to mislead and inflame voters should not be part of our political discourse and should be rebuffed by all who believe in our democracy. Jewish voters, like all voters, should support whichever candidate they believe would make the best president. We urge everyone to make that decision based on the factual records of these candidates, and nothing less.

Sincerely,

William Daroff, Vice President, United Jewish Communities; Nathan J. Diament, Director, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League; Richard S. Gordon, President, American Jewish Congress; David Harris, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Phyllis Snyder, President, National Council of Jewish Women; Hadar Susskind, Washington Director, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

One of the falsehoods in the email, "Osama (sic) was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta," returns more than 600 Google results, complete with the coy misspelling of the candidate's name. One of those links goes to a My Space forum posting on January 12, 2008.

Debbie Schlussel, a Jerusalem Post columnist and "Conservative Info-Babe Commentator" (as described by a "fan club" linked from her website), heavily promoted the lie about Obama's religion on her blog, juxtaposing a photo of Obama with a Muslim crescent symbol. Schlussel claimed that the Hillary Clinton campaign was investigating Obama's background and "agreed" with her about his Muslim identity.

Schlussel cited as her source a report in Moonie-owned Insight magazine. According to James Ridgeway, blogging at the UK Guardian and other sources, the Clinton campaign has denied the allegations in the Insight report.

A year ago the Anti-Defamation League cited the allegations in the emails as an Internet rumor and said the emails were "widely circulated."

Obama has been obliged to repeatedly deny the false rumors that he is a Muslim and assert that he is a Christian. Those denials and the video below are compiled on his campaign website.

This January 15th, officials of nine Jewish organizations released their letter (at right) to the Jewish community condemning the smear emails. On the 18th, seven Jewish U.S. senators who have not endorsed a presidential candidate also addressed the Jewish community, deploring the smears.

The Jewish leaders' condemnations come so late, though, that they might well be perceived as insurance -- should Obama lose the "Super Tuesday" primaries on February 5th -- against charges that Jews sabotaged his campaign.

According to James Besser, writing in the New York Jewish Week, the emails have been effective in diminishing Jewish support for Obama's candidacy.

We believe that the tardy Jewish response to the smearing of Obama is, at least partly, the result of Jewish organizations' expanding cooperation with Christian Zionists such as Pastor John Hagee's Christians United for Israel. We have been reporting on this trend here for the past 18 months.

Hagee's stock in trade is bashing Islam (more here). Nevertheless, many Jewish organizations pressure rabbis and congregations to participate in Hagee's nights to honor Israel.

We believe that a second factor contributing to the civic and moral lapse by Jewish organizational leaders is the popularization of of the concept of "Islamo-fascism." Virulent anti-Muslim bigotry has long festered within the Jewish far right and fundamentalist Christianity. But this year the Jewish-Christian duo of David Horowitz and Ann Coulter staged "Islamo-fascism awareness" events on campuses around the country with the evident intent of popularizing anti-Muslim bigotry.

Popularization certainly makes bigotry acceptable. As Hitler proved.

Note: On January 28th Sen. Obama initiated a conference call with Jewish reporters in which he addressed the smear campaign and urged Jewish media to be a "megaphone" for denouncing the lies. You can listen to the call here.





   An example of the emails
    smearing Obama

Who is Barack Obama?

From the urban legends clearinghouse site Snopes.com

Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black Muslim from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white atheist from Wichita, Kansas. Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii.

When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya. His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a radical Muslim from Indonesia. When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia.

Obama attended a Muslim school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school. Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim. He is quick to point out that, "He was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school."

Obama's political handlers are attempting to make it appear that Obama's introduction to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best. In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce, and never again had any direct influence over his son's education.

Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, introduced his stepson to Islam. Osama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world. Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

Please click here for more about the email smears from Snopes.com.

9 Jewish Leaders Say E-Mail Spread Lies About Obama

By James Barron, New York Times, January 16, 2008

The leaders of nine Jewish groups released an open letter on Tuesday condemning what they called “hateful e-mails” that they said spread lies about Senator Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and his intentions.

The anonymous e-mail messages have circulated for months, saying that Mr. Obama is a Muslim and carried a copy of the Koran when he was sworn in at the United States Senate. Continue.

Open Letter to the Jewish Community from U.S. Senators

via the website of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, January 18, 2008

Over the past several weeks, many in the Jewish community have received hateful emails thai use falsehood and innuendo about Senator Barack Obama's religion and attack him personally. As Jewish United States Senators who have not endorsed a candidate for the Democratic nomination, we condemn these scurrilous attacks.

We find it particularly abhorrent thai these attacks arc apparently being sent specifically to the Jewish Community. Jews, who have historically been the target of such attacks, should be the first to reject these tactics. Continue.

A Rabbi's World: Barack Obama and the Jewish Problem

Gerald A. Skolnick, A Rabbi's World blog, The Jewish Week, January 24, 2008

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of JewsOnFirst.org contributed a comment to this posting.

In a predictable and terribly disturbing way, the campaign of rumors being waged against Barack Obama in the Jewish community has begun to stick. I am not at all sure that he is the candidate that I would/will vote for in either the primaries or the general election. I have issues with his candidacy, as I do with almost everyone who is running. But I find it painful that it is so easy to discredit him by appealing to the basest, most ethnocentric fears of so many in our Jewish communities.

Why is it, I wonder as both a Jew and a rabbi, that when push comes to shove, our buttons get pushed so easily? Why are we so ready to believe the worst about those from outside our community whom we may perceive as threatening? And why is Barack Obama threatening to our community? Is it because he is an African-American? And if that is the case, as it might well be, why do we need to feel that way? Continue.

Campaign Of Falsehoods On Obama Seen Sticking
On eve of Florida primary, signs that e-mail blitz charging Muslim background gaining traction among Jews.

James D. Besser, The New York Jewish Week, January 23, 2008

When Doug Bloomfield, a columnist for Jewish newspapers and popular lecturer on the pro-Israel circuit, spoke in south Florida last week, he was astonished by what he encountered.

Anonymous e-mails and not-so-anonymous charges by some Jewish leaders about Sen. Barack Obama’s alleged Muslim past have started gaining real traction in the increasingly furious battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, he said.

"I was really shocked by the number of people who took these things seriously," Bloomfield said this week. "One man said to me: how do you know he’s not a ‘Muslim plant’; another used the words ‘Manchurian Candidate.’" Continue.

Why the Jews entered the fray

Ron Kampeas, The New Jersey Jewish Standard, January 25, 2008

Washington – New Jersey’s senior senator, Frank Lautenberg, was one of seven Jewish senators who signed a letter over the weekend protesting attacks against presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama based on rumors about his upbringing and faith. (See related story.)

"We find it particularly abhorrent that these attacks are apparently being sent specifically to the Jewish community," said the letter, initiated by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

"Jews, who have historically been the target of such attacks, should be the first to reject these tactics," the letter said. Continue.

Barack Obama's "Madrassa" Education

Anti-Defamation League, January 29, 2007. Full text.

A widely circulated e-mail suggests that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) attended a fundamentalist Muslim religious school, known as a "madrassa," as a child living in Indonesia, and that his childhood education was steeped in radical Islam.

In fact, from ages 6 through 10, he attended a public school in Indonesia with both Muslim and non-Muslim students.

Sen. Obama is not a Muslim; he is a Christian who attends the United Church of Christ. Click here.

Obama Talks Education, Faith, Race

Farai Chideya, News & Notes, National Public Radio, January 24, 2008

In advance of Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama says he would increase federal funding and place "great emphasis on poor urban and rural school districts" in an effort to improve the nation's public education system.

Obama is canvassing South Carolina, which reportedly has the highest school drop-out rate in the nation.

In an interview with NPR's Farai Chideya, the Democratic presidential hopeful lays out his plan for bettering the nation's public schools, addresses persistent rumors about his religious faith and considers the role that race is playing in his bid for the White House.

The following is a transcript of the interview: Continue.

Schlussel: Should Barack Hussein Obama be president "when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam"?

Media Matters, October 20, 2006

In a December 18 column headlined "Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always A Muslim" and posted on her website, right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel argued that because Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) middle name is Hussein, his late, estranged father was of Muslim descent, and he has shown interest in his father's Kenyan heritage, Obama's "loyalties" must be called into question as he emerges as a possible Democratic presidential candidate. In the column, Schlussel asked: "So, even if he identifies strongly as a Christian ... is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father's heritage, a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?" She ended her column by asking if Obama becoming vice president instead would be acceptable. Answering her own question, she wrote: "NO WAY, JOSE ... Or, is that, HUSSEIN?" Continue.

Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always A Muslim

Debbie Schlussel, Debbie Schlussel.com, December 18, 2006

Many months ago, readers began asking me whether Barack Obama is Muslim. Since he identifies as a Christian, I said, "no," and responded that he was not raised by his Kenyan father.

But, then, I decided to look further into Obama's background. His full name--as by now you have probably heard--is Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. Hussein is a Muslim name, which comes from the name of Ali's son--Hussein Ibn Ali. And Obama is named after his late Kenyan father, the late Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., apparently a Muslim. Continue.

Confirmed: Barack Obama Practiced Islam

Daniel Pipes, FrontPageMagazine.com, January 07, 2008

In a recent analysis, “Was Barack Obama a Muslim?” I surveyed available evidence and found it suggests “Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father.” In response, David Brock’s organization, Media Matters for America (MMfA), which calls itself a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” has criticized one of my sources of information. Continue.

Obama and the Jewish question

Editorial, Haaretz, February 2, 2008

Not a year has passed since Danny Ayalon completed his term as Israel's ambassador in Washington, but he has already seen fit to criticize Barack Obama, who may well be the next U.S. president or vice president. In an article published in The Jerusalem Post, Ayalon wrote that during his two meetings with Obama, he got the impression that the Democratic candidate was "not entirely forthright" regarding Israel. Similar and even worse smears can be found in abundance in American blogs and e-mail chain letters.

While Obama was taking advantage of Martin Luther King Day to speak out against anti-Semitism among blacks, Jewish spokesmen were using racist language against him, solely because his father was Muslim. Since it is hard to find so much as a single anti-Jewish statement in Obama's political record, or even support for anti-Israel policies, his defamers base their arguments on the fact that his positions on the Middle East conflict are "leftist" - solely because he rejects the right's positions, which are more acceptable to some Jewish-American leaders. Continue.

Why American Jews are afraid of Barack Obama
Community voices support for and concern over senator's candidacy

Lorne Bell, The Jewish Advocate, (Boston, MA), January 24 2008

In the race for the American presidency, securing support from Jewish leaders has become a valuable tool in swaying Jewish voters. But as Barack Obama campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, some Jews have been increasingly skeptical about the Illinois senator’s commitment to Jewish issues, and Israel in particular.

"Given his heritage, background and upbringing, there is no question that he’d be more open than the other candidates to arguments from different perspectives and viewpoints and not hold the standard party line regarding Israel and the Jewish community,” said the Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff.

While Obama is Christian, both his father – a native of Kenya – and his stepfather were Muslim. And an e-mail circulating throughout Israel and the U.S. seems to be preying on Jewish fears, accusing the Illinois senator of ties to Islamic extremism Continue.

The Audacity of Criticism
Scurrilous rumors about Obama are wrong, but real questions need answers

Jonathan S. Tobin, The Jewish Exponent, (Philadelphia, PA), January 24, 2008

African-Americans and Jews were joined in a relationship long characterized by mutual respect and shared commitment to civil rights. But it was also one that often foundered on the sensitivities and resentments that both groups often could not rise above.

Yet now that the civil-rights movement, as well as fights over affirmative action and other hot-button issues, have faded from the top of the national agenda, blacks and Jews most often have little to do with each other.

But the presidential campaign of the first serious African-American contender for the White House has brought some of the old sensitivities and fears back to the surface. Continue.

Washington: Wooing the you-know-whos

Hilary Leila Krieger, The Jerusalem Post, January 24, 2008

Last weekend, seven Democratic senators who haven't endorsed any presidential candidate sent out an unusual letter. They chastised those who were seeking to scare Jews away from Barack Obama by sending "hateful e-mails that use falsehood and innuendo" about his background and religion.

The message echoes a similar open letter to the Jewish community sent out by nine heads of major non-partisan Jewish organizations days earlier. "Attempts of this sort to mislead and inflame voters should not be part of our political discourse and should be rebuffed by all who believe in our democracy," they wrote of wrongful accusations that Obama, a Christian, has hidden a Muslim upbringing that includes instruction at a jihadist madrassa.

There's little to suggest that these attacks have caused Obama political damage among Democratic Jews as he tries to wrest the nomination from Hillary Clinton, perhaps because of the defense offered by these letters and subsequent media reports in mainstream publications, such as The New York Times. But there's also little to suggest that Obama has picked up significant support from Jewish Democratic activists in the wake of his victory in Iowa and the momentum he has since gained nationally - where he has considerably narrowed the gap in polls with Clinton as the two head into the primaries, when the bulk of the American Jewish population will be voting. Continue.

Obama in the clear
Campaign notes from GuardianFilms' New Hampshire team

James Ridgeway, UK Guardian Blog, January 8, 2008 10:00 AM

As the fervor here grows with an unprecedented runaway victory by Obama a near certainty, politicians on all sides are having to dump their carefully honed plans into the garbage pail and start all over again. People waiting in long lines to see Obama in downtown Manchester tell our cameras they have never experienced anything like this in their lifetimes. Not Jack Kennedy or Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton came close. Obama has opened a curtained window onto a politics seldom seen. True or not, he is seen as the man who can lead the country into the future. Continue.

As Obama Heads South, Rumors Follow
In South Carolina a Historic Candidacy Puts Black-Jewish Ties to the Test

Jennifer Siegel, The Forward, January 16, 2008

Charleston, S.C. - At first glance, there seemed to be few surprises at a packed Sunday morning lecture sponsored by the Jewish studies department at South Carolina’s College of Charleston. The attendees circulated amid trays of bagels and lox and, when asked about the upcoming presidential primaries in their state, rattled off the usual list of concerns: the Iraq War, terrorism, support for Israel, health care. An informal poll found the most support for Senator Hillary Clinton, with Senators John McCain and Barack Obama close behind.

At least one person, however, had taken sharp notice of unfounded rumors about Obama that have spread in the Jewish community in recent weeks through e-mails and word-of-mouth.

“I really think I’m likely pro-Hillary, because I hear Obama has too many ties to the Muslims,” said Anne Hellman, a Charleston resident who is in her 60s. “I don’t like the fact that — as I’ve been told — he’s actually a Muslim and I haven’t had a chance to prove or disprove it.” Continue.

Internal Memo Takes On Obama’s Mideast Approach

Jennifer Siegel, The Forward, January 20 and 23, 2008

A confidential memo questioning Senator Barack Obama’s potential approach to Middle East policy was distributed earlier this month among staffers at a major American Jewish organization.

Obama’s approach to dealing with Iran “raises questions,” said the document, which circulated within the American Jewish Committee. It also suggested that Obama placed the burden of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict primarily on the Jewish state.

The memo, a copy of which was given to the Forward, was written by Debra Feuer, the AJCommittee’s counsel for special projects. It also contained information about the Republican winner in the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee. Continue.

Obama criticized over efforts to tout himself as a Christian
Some Jewish groups have voiced concern about this Obama campaign flier being sent out in South Carolina.

By Ron Kampeas, JTA, January 24, 2008

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Just a week ago, Jewish organizations stepped up to defend U.S. Sen. Barack Obama against an Internet campaign smearing him as a radical Muslim. Now some Jewish communal leaders feel the Democratic presidential candidate is going too far in touting his Christian bona fides.

Anti-Defamation League has asked the campaign of the Illinois senator to clarify fliers distributed in South Carolina declaring Obama to be a "committed Christian." The flier features Obama posing in churches -- in one instance, in front of a cross -- and reassures the reader: "Guided by his Christian faith, Barack Obama is the leader we can trust to challenge the ways of Washington."

It also includes a passage quoting Obama on the "power of prayer," saying: "We’ve got to express those values through our government, not just through our religious institutions." Continue.

You can see the flier here.

Obama Speaks to Jewish Voters on Israel

by Laurie Kopans, Associated Press, ABC News, January 29, 2008

Jerusalem - Barack Obama wooed Jewish voters and skeptical Israelis in interviews published Tuesday, voicing support for key Israeli demands in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Winning over Israel could help the Democratic presidential candidate gain favor with American Jews, who make up large voting blocs in key states like New York and Florida.

But he faces a difficult task. Israeli officials say privately they would prefer Obama's main rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, due to her experience and the backing her husband, Bill Clinton, gave Israel during his two terms as president in the 1990s. In contrast, Obama is relatively unknown here. Continue.

Good for the Jews?
Hillary Clinton's surrogates are questioning Obama's commitment to U.S.-Israel relations

Michael Hirsh and Dan Ephron, Newsweek, March 3, 2008

The comment seemed like a casual aside. Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, was touting the New York senator's strong support for Israel during a conference call in January with leaders of major American Jewish organizations. During the call, Lewis energetically contrasted Clinton's pro-Israel credentials with those of Barack Obama. To make her point, she said that Obama's "chief foreign-policy adviser" is Zbigniew Brzezinski, says one participant who would talk about the call only if he were not identified.

Brzezinski—the former national-security adviser to Jimmy Carter—is not Obama's "chief foreign-policy adviser." That is the job of a triumvirate who once worked for Bill Clinton: Anthony Lake, Susan Rice and Greg Craig. But Brzezinski, who tells Newsweek he has advised Obama "only on occasion," has a reputation that is close to toxic in the American Jewish community. "When Brzezinski's name appears on an advisory list, that's a red flag right away," says an influential American Jewish leader who did not want to sour relations with the Obama campaign. Many American Jews mistrust Brzezinski because he endorsed a 2006 article, later a book, called "The Israel Lobby," which blames many U.S. foreign-policy problems on Washington's ties to Israel.

Lewis's aside is not an isolated incident. (She did not respond to a request for comment.) As the race between Clinton and Obama has sharpened in recent months, other Clinton campaign operatives have sent around negative material about Obama's relations with Israel, according to e-mails obtained by Newsweek. Continue.

Muslims Say Obama's Denials Come Up Short

By Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service via PewForum.org, February 7, 2008

(UNDATED) Muslim Americans and political observers heralded the 2006 elections as a sort of debutante's ball for the Muslim voter, when anger and organizational heft pushed unprecedented numbers of Muslim citizens to vote and get involved with U.S. politics.

The 2008 election cycle, however, isn't quite working out that way.

Many Muslim Americans sense that presidential candidates have, at worst, conflated their faith with terrorism, and, at best, treated them as a liability to be kept at arm's length.

They're especially disappointed that Sen. Barack Obama, in denying claims that he is a closeted Muslim, left it at that. They say he could have at least defended Muslims, or knocked down the notion that being a Muslim is somehow a negative. Continue.

Obama, Being Called a Muslim Is Not a Smear

Naomi Klein, The Nation, February 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton denied leaking the photo of Barack Obama wearing a turban, but her campaign manager says that even if she had, it would be no big deal. "Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."

Sure she did. And George W. Bush put on a fetching Chamato poncho in Santiago, while Paul Wolfowitz burned up YouTube with his antimalarial African dance routines when he was World Bank prez. The obvious difference is this: when white politicians go ethnic, they just look funny. When a black presidential contender does it, he looks foreign. And when the ethnic apparel in question is vaguely reminiscent of the clothing worn by Iraqi and Afghan fighters (at least to many Fox viewers, who think any headdress other than a baseball cap is a declaration of war on America), the image is downright frightening. Continue.