Before becoming the Orthodox Union’s man in D.C., Nathan Diament went to Harvard Law School with Barack Obama and used to shoot hoops with the future presidential candidate. But however well Diament knows Obama, he really knows Jews, especially the ones who are likely to have concerns about him. Diament addressed the issue in an article for Real Clear Politics on the day that Obama arrived in Israel:
Recent polling indicates that Barack Obama has less support among American Jews than previous Democratic presidential nominees. This is not merely because an unprecedented campaign has been waged by viral emails and incendiary articles falsely portraying Obama as harboring secret biases for the Palestinian cause and taking advice from persons openly hostile to Israel’s interests. It is because Obama is seeking to succeed a pair of American presidents who each remain extremely popular in Israel and among her supporters for one basic reason – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, each in their own way, conveyed a gut level kinship with the Jewish state. Obama has yet to convey convincingly that he is similarly committed to Israel in his kishkes.
Well at least one high-profile Jewish communal leader who supported both Clinton and Bush is convinced. A day after Diament’s piece appeared, Jack Rosen – the chairman of the American Jewish Congress – announced in a Jerusalem Post opinion piece that he’s supporting Obama (it’s a personal endorsement – the AJCongress itself is non-partisan):
I supported George Bush in 2004 because of his support for Israel, and I support Barack Obama in 2008 because of his.
As Ben Smith of Politico pointed out, Rosen does not explain why he favors Obama over McCain (doesn’t even mention the GOP senator’s name), opting instead to focus his comments on rebutting questions about the Democratic candidate’s record and experience on Israel:
Unlike Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, Obama can point to many concrete votes on legislation important to Israel. He has gone as far as any candidate in history in innumerable speeches and statements highlighting his commitment to the US-Israel partnership and the security of the Jewish state. Obama’s strong words of support for Israel, especially in his AIPAC speech, were greeted with a harsh response in the Arab world. The New Republic said, “Think the whole world loves Barack? Arab opinion-makers don’t.”
On Iran, Obama’s position is firm. He said to AIPAC that “there is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran… The danger from Iran is grave, it is real and my goal will be to eliminate this threat… We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He added for emphasis, “Everything in my power. Everything.” …
In sum, we have much more reason to have confidence in Obama than we had at a similar stage in the candidacies of the predecessors who made the greatest contributions to the US-Israel relationship.
Another prominent Jewish leader, maybe the most prominent, tells JTA that Obama’s trip to Israel seems to be going well:
Obama also held a brief meeting at the King David Hotel with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who also happened to be in Israel. His organization released a report Wednesday on editorial cartoonists in the Arab world using anti-Semitic imagery to portray the presumptive U.S. presidential candidates as pawns of the Jews.
“In terms of what I’ve heard from Israelis I’ve met, they are impressed by the depth of his knowledge and understanding,” Foxman said of Obama. “I walk away feeling more comfortable with the words that I hear, that there is a deep understanding and sensitivity to the issues here.”