Tuesday, June 10, 2008

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Obama's Real Jewish Problem

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Does Barak Hussein Obama, Democratic presidential candidate in the United States, have a Jewish Problem? The full Jewish community in the US has traditionally voted overwhelmingly democratic. In the primaries, Obama has been receiving 80% of the Black vote, but democratic candidates have ALWAYS received 75-80% of the Jewish vote.

But there's a sea change happening in the US Jewish community, in two separate directions. First, the older generation is passing, and with it traditional automatic support for the UJA and Jewish Federations, as well as a firm commitment to Israel and a firm attachment to Jewishness (if not Judaism). For the subsequent generations who are lightly committed to Jewishness, traditional Jewish concerns are of passing interest. As such, they fade as a faction into the general voting population.

Second, as in most Jewish communities in the world, the orthodox continue their multi-generational high growth rate while simultaneously successfully maintaining an extremely high level of community commitment. In the US as elsewhere, a very high percentage of children in Jewish schools are in orthodox Jewish settings. The generational picture is drawn, if not the majority in 1 or 2 generations (as they will be in many Jewish communities), the orthodox certainly will be close to it (this terrifies Israeli politicians, but that's another story). Meaning, orthodox Jewish concerns are coming into play in Jewish community politics, and traditional concerns and power brokers are weakening.

Hillary Clinton learned this surprisingly well as part of her Senate campaigns in New York. While she attended the traditional UJA dinners and Federation fundraisers, she also met with chassidic community leaders (both in Brooklyn and upstate, such as New Square). Her outreach netted her over 95% of the vote in places such as New Square (as well as political contributions of the WHOLE community, in many ways more valuable than the votes).

While there are many Jews excited by the Obama candidacy, as Jews are known for being passionate about a cause (any cause), the orthodox community is not. Partially this is an ethnic problem - not with Mr. Obama's ethnicity, but rather with his community support - because many orthodox Jewish communities have found themselves in physical proximity to African American communities, with significant attending conflicts over many years (note the current spate of serious attacks by African Americans against chassidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY). Similarly, members of the African American community that he has been close to, as well as the Muslim community and the ultra-liberal community (including a number of direct advisrers), clearly espouse anti-Israel positions that frequently stretch into anti-semitic positions.

The question will be, can Mr. McCain and the Republicans take advantage of this? Traditionally, the Republicans have been clueless about how to reach the Jewish community, and attempts such as the Republican Jewish Coalition are simply pathetic.

The Republicans have an opening, interestingly opened by Hillary Clinton. It would seem they're going to need it.

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