November 2008

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Ira Forman executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
News and Opinion

The American Jewish Vote
For a stronger America.

by Ira N. Forman

It is hard to believe that Election Day 2008 is almost upon us. There has never been an election where the focus on the Jewish vote has been as intense and where the emotions within the community have run so high.

Yet for all the emotion and heated rhetoric, I believe Jewish voters will judge the two presidential candidates by one very objective standard: Who will be more capable of keeping the United States strong and respected in the world. Most of us know that a United States that is economically healthy and internally united will continue to be a secure home for American Jews. We also know that Israel’s security is dependent on an America that is both militarily strong and respected throughout the world.

We will have to wait a few more days to know for certain, but at this date it appears that a strong majority of Americans and an even stronger majority of American Jews have decided that Senator Barack Obama is the candidate who best meets this standard.

No matter the outcome, the Jewish community can take comfort in the fact that both the Democratic and the Republican tickets have been explicit in their support for the security of the state of Israel. Even some of the most partisan advocates on both sides of the aisle agree that Senators McCain and Obama share strong pro-Israel voting records and have laid out specific policy positions that will enhance the relationship between the United States and the State of Israel.

Jim Lehrer moderators Senators McCain and Obama's debate on foreign policy and national security at the University of Mississippi.

In the last year, a handful of political extremists have appealed to the worst in people by propagating lies about Obama. They have said that he is a Muslim or that he was educated in a Madrassa or that Obama is some kind of Manchurian candidate. These voices of hatred and fear live on the Internet, but they have been largely drowned out by responsible voices in our community. However, of more concern are a few die-hard partisans who use charges of guilt by association to try to muddy up the first African-American nominee of a major party.

For 40 years, the pro-Israel community has judged presidential candidates by two criteria: their voting records and public statements on the U.S.- Israel relationship. Guilt by association is a poor means to judge a candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, because there are literally thousands of individuals who are associated with a modern American presidential campaign. Therefore, it is exceedingly easy for an opposition researcher to sift through these supporters and come up with a handful of individuals that any given interest group finds objectionable. For example, if Senator John McCain supporters in the Jewish community level guilt by association charges at their opponents, then how do they explain McCain's choice of James Baker as the person he would pick as his Middle East envoy? Similarly, how do they address McCain’s statement that he would turn to Baker, Brent Scowcroft or Zbigniew Brezinski as foreign policy advisers?

The answer of course, is that this type of gotcha politics obscures the real truth. When it comes to Israel, the bi-partisan, pro-Israel consensus prevails in presidential politics.

While McCain and Obama are united in their support of Israel, the difference between the two candidates' stands on domestic policy could not be starker. For example, both candidates agree that the United States should strive for energy independence, but they have very different means for arriving at that goal. Obama stresses an approach in which almost every source of energy-- wind, solar, clean coal, bio-diesel, natural gas, oil, and even nuclear -- have roles. However, Obama proposes that we must get serious about conservation and proposes real investment in renewable sources of energy. By contrast, McCain says he is for renewable energy, but he does not have an energy plan or record to support that campaign rhetoric. The McCain campaign’s emphasis on drilling for more oil and giving tax breaks to the oil industry does not bode well for a true effort towards energy independence.

Another area of stark disagreement is the issue of reproductive freedom. Obama is a strong supporter of a woman's right to choose and of Roe v. Wade. By contrast, McCain has said he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and that he will appoint the type of justices to the Supreme Court who will carry out this mission.

The candidates also disagree on a number of other issues, including, economic stimulus in a recession, budget priorities and investments, separation of church and state, and the environment.

This campaign has witnessed more negative advertising than any previous election. There have been more attacks on personal character than in any recent election. Yet I have great faith that in the coming days American Jews will ignore the distortions and focus on the policy differences between Obama and McCain. I have great faith that American Jews will choose the candidate who can renew America. For in an uncertain world a strong America is what is best for the Jewish community.

Ira N. Forman is Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

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