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The Republican-Jewish case against Obama

MINNEAPOLIS--Earlier today I had lunch with an old friend who’s Jewish, pro-Israel, and pro-Obama. When I mentioned reservations about Obama in the Jewish community, he looked worried, but suggested that those reservations were based on a lack of familiarity and starting to dissipate. “My view is that there’s concern because he’s new and they don’t know him,” he said.

Based on what I just saw at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s “Salute to Pro-Israel Elected Officials” I’d say he’s right on the first count. A dozen or so US senators and congressmen spoke at this shindig, the vast majority of whom weren't Jewish, and the most striking thing about their speeches was the lack of specificity. One congressman said he supported Israel because he supports America, and left it at that. The majority, meanwhile, offered a variation on the standard-issue McCain-Obama dichotomy that’s been trotted out all week: Obama is callow, McCain is battle-tested—and because Israel’s situation is uniquely precarious, McCain’s the right choice for voters worried about Israel’s security.

Oddly—and maybe this is a good omen for Obama—about a third of the 200 or so people in attendance didn’t seem to care what the speakers had to say; they just hung out at the back of the room gabbing, despite repeated angry shushes from the bigger group up front. The talkers did pipe down, though, when Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart delivered what proved to be best speech of the day. Diaz-Balart may not have been accurate, exactly, but his angry electricity was something to see. Here’s an excerpt:

Let me tell you: everybody is your friend when times are good.  Everybody is your friend when there’s nothing at stake. But let me tell you what’s at stake in November. In the White House, we can have a friend of Israel and a pillar of American strength. Or we can have somebody who believes in moral equivalency; who believes there’s no difference between the Palestinians and the Israelis; who’ll take polls before he makes a decision. And let me tell you where I continually stand with our colleagues here. God willing, it will never happen. But if Israel ever has to make that tough choice of protecting herself, make that toughest decision that anybody can make, we the United States of America can’t vacillate, cannot bow, and we must be with Israel! [Here, Diaz Balart’s shouted conclusion was drowned out by applause.]

A couple more things worth noting: First, while the threats from Iran and Russia were mentioned more than once--along with Obama's willingness to negotiate with Iran--there was no acknowledgment that the Iraq War has bolstered Iran’s status and strength in the region, or that Bush has been played by Putin ever since gazing into his eyes and deciding he was a good dude. (Of course, as any good Republican will tell you, Bush isn’t running.) Also, despite Obama’s focus on renewable energy and reduced fuel consumption, his lack of enthusiasm for domestic oil drilling is apparently proof (if you’re a Republican) that he’s not interested in lessening U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Finally, everybody here is hoping that Jewish concerns about Obama will have a big effect at the ballot box this November. “Your assignment is to be the leaven in the lump, just like it talks about in the Scriptures,” Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said toward the end of the event. “The leaven in the lump in the Jewish community, to get them to see the light.” (Hatch might have been better off citing a non-Mormon phrase.)

The attendees, Hatch continued, need to explain something to their fellow Jews:  “Just because your great-grandfather did it”—i.e., voted Democratic—“and just because your grandfather did it, and just because your father did it, I can break free and still be a good Jew and vote Republican.”

Later tonight, I’ll post some video of a conversation I had with Jonathan Paull, an attorney from Houston and RJC activist, in which he explains his misgivings about Obama and Israel.

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