Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jewish organizations denounce an ugly e-mail slander campaign against Obama

Whispering campaigns can now use anonymous e-mail messages, which recipients are asked to forward, to spread slander and disinformation about candidates. I have heard some rumors about the anti-Obama smear campaign discussed below. According to various reports, its origin is unknown, though a Clinton campaign volunteer in Iowa was apparently one of those who forwarded it. The volunteer was fired, but the e-mail message keeps working its way through the internet. (There is a copy of this message & a refutation of its claims at

This particular smear campaign is even more disgusting and dangerous than most political dirty tricks, since it can only serve to poison relations between Jews and African-Americans. Its charges against Obama are also especially ludicrous and deranged.

Aside from appealing to generalized anti-Muslim prejudices (claiming that Obama is a Muslim, which he is not), this smear campaign tries to play on Jewish fears and suspicions left over from several decades of often difficult political relationships between African-Americans and Jews (a state of mind nicely captured in a message that Andrew Sullivan reprinted today), and there is no doubt that some black political figures have done their bit to help poison these relationships. But Obama is not Al Sharpton, or even Jesse Jackson. As far as I can tell, there is not the slightest shred of anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist rhetoric or action in Obama's own political record. He has had warm ties with and strong support from the Jewish community throughout his career; and as the events of the last few days have once again shown, Obama is willing to condemn anti-semitism in the African-American community explicitly and without equivocations. In fact, I am inclined to agree with my friend Adam LeBor that a President Obama would probably be good for the Jews (though Obama isn't the only Democratic candidate for which that's the case), and one way in which this is true is precisely that he's the kind of political leader who can help bridge some of the social and political rifts between Jews and African-Americans.

The strong public denunciation of this anti-Obama smear campaign by the leaders of five major Jewish-American groups is therefore both welcome and essential.

=> Update 1/19/2008: Seven Jewish (Democratic) Senators who haven't yet endorsed any of the presidential candidates just released "An Open Letter to the Jewish Community" that also denounces this e-mail smear campaign.

--Jeff Weintraub
New York Times
January 16, 2008
9 Jewish Leaders Say E-Mail Spread Lies About Obama
By James Barron

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.

He is a Christian who has attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago since he was a community organizer there in the 1980s.

The e-mail has been so persistent that Mr. Obama was asked about it Tuesday at the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate in Nevada. He replied: “I am a Christian. I have been sworn in with a Bible. I pledge allegiance and lead the Pledge of Allegiance sometime in the United States Senate, when I’m presiding.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign has long been concerned that people would come to believe the misinformation as the e-mail messages were forwarded and reforwarded. “If you get this e-mail from someone you know,” Mr. Obama said in November at a rally in Iowa, “set the record straight.”

But at the debate on Tuesday, he pointed out that he had gone on to win the Iowa caucuses anyway, and to do well in the New Hampshire primary.

The Jewish leaders seemed to be responding to reports that the e-mail was now being spread deliberately among Jews. In the letter, they said that the “hateful e-mails use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and who he is as a person,” and that they were an “attempt to drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion.”

“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,” the leaders said. “Jewish voters, like all voters, should support whichever candidate they believe would make the best president.”

The leaders said their organizations would not endorse or oppose any presidential candidate.

The letter was signed by William Daroff, vice president of United Jewish Communities; Nathan J. Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Richard S. Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Phyllis Snyder, president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The letter was released as Mr. Obama posted a statement on his campaign Web site distancing himself from an award given by Trumpet Newsmagazine, published by his church in Chicago. Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist, said on Tuesday that the magazine had given an award last year to Louis Farrakhan, the longtime leader of the Nation of Islam.

Mr. Obama’s statement condemned “the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.”

“I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders,” he said, “but it is not a decision with which I agree.”

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home