Monday, September 15, 2008

Obama's Jews

Barack Obama is still leading among Jews 2 to 1, and pundits are still telling us that this is a sign of weakness: that historic levels of support among Jews, 3 (or even 4) to 1, are needed to win Florida and Pennsylvania; and that Obama's not going to get there unless he's willing to be as "Zionist" as McCain.

There are too many misconceptions in this analysis to be dealt with here. (I try to lay them out more fully in the current Harper's.)   But it is meanwhile worth having another look at this penetrating Gerstein-Agne poll, conducted for the rising J Street Lobby. It suggests that Jews are seriously divided: that the vast majority, around 70%, are more or less liberal, opposed the Iraq war, and want to see the US pressure Israelis and Palestinians into a peace deal; while our most prominent Jewish leaders, in AIPAC, the Council of Presidents, and the World Jewish Congress, tend to promote the agenda of the 20-25% who identify with conservative politics, and would never vote for Obama no matter what he does.

THE POLL SUGGESTS, in other words, that Jews will have less of an impact on the Obama campaign than it will have on them. For it raises the question of why, and how long, American Jews will continue to tolerate its own leadership.
  
And the question is the more intriguing since the most progressive Jews seem most generous to both Jewish community organizations and political campaigns. I asked Jim Gerstein, who conducted the J Street poll, to run the relevant numbers. He wrote me back, generously: "Among 'liberals,' 51% contribute to Jewish organizations and charities no different from the overall sample; 50% contribute to political campaigns, 8 pts. higher than the overall sample. Among 'progressives,' however, 56% contribute to Jewish organizations and charities (4 pts. higher than the overall sample); while 63 percent contribute to political campaigns, a remarkable 21 pts. higher than the overall sample."

Jews, I need not add, have means: over a third earn $100,000 or more.   So if you assume that the Obama campaign has the trappings of a liberal movement, you have to wonder if the Jewish majority is not on a collision course with the organizational leaders who purport to represent Jewish interests. This collision seems imminent if Obama wins, but seems the more inevitable if he loses--and loses in part because of the solidarity between McCain's forces and a deceptively prominent Jewish right.