Home / Opinions / OpinionsRSS Feed
Obama is the clear choice
October 23rd, 2008
Atlanta (JTA) — I was a supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for president. I liked her policies and record. But my hopes were not to be.
Once that became clear, I sat on the sidelines, watching and wondering. Now I am firmly in the camp of Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees Barak Obama and Joe Biden. I am there as an American, a woman and a Jew.
Republican nominee John McCain is a firm pro-lifer, having voted against choice more than 120 times in his career. His running mate opposes abortion even in the case of rape and incest.
While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these beliefs, I object to having someone’s personal views forced upon everyone else when it entails such a private family matter.
Furthermore, this view potentially conflicts with Jewish law, which holds that when there is a threat to the life of the mother, her life takes precedence over that of her fetus — and leaves abortion decisions up to a woman and the rabbi with whom she consults.
Many traditional rabbis take into consideration the issue of mental stress on the mother, permitting abortions in the case of Tay-Sachs and other genetic diseases.
Were McCain and GOP vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to write their pro-life beliefs into law, their policy could create a direct obstacle to Jewish law and severe invasions into our private lives.
McCain’s views on abortion are not, however, my primary reason for not supporting him. I diverge from him on a far broader array of issues.
The Torah repeatedly instructs us to care for the “widow, orphan, poor, and the stranger.” It is fundamental to Judaism that those blessed with “more” have an obligation — not a choice — to help those who have less.
Taking care of the needy in Jewish tradition constitutes doing tzedakah, not charity. There is a world of difference between the two.
The root of charity is “caras,” as in dear — caress, care. The root of tzedakah is justice.
Jewish law prefers that people give charity lovingly and kindly. But it teaches that even if you don’t care to give, you are obligated to do so.
How then could I support McCain, who has voted against the minimum wage at least 10 times? How could I support someone who believes in the privatization of Social Security?
Can you imagine what would be happening today as the economy lurches toward implosion to people who depended on private Social Security accounts? Social Security is a contract a society makes with its citizens: We will help you when you are old and needy.
How could I support a candidate, McCain, whose health-care program would leave millions uninsured and tax the health insurance benefits we now receive from our employers?
How could I support someone who supports more tax cuts for the wealthy and almost nothing for the middle class or the poor?
And then, of course, there is Israel, to which so many of us are deeply and viscerally connected. Groups of Jews who oppose Obama want to strike fear into people’s hearts on this issue.
Why else would I receive e-mails from them — I like to know what the other side is saying — referring to BHO, as in Barrack Hussein Obama?
Obama’s record has earned praise from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israeli leaders, and condemnation from Palestinian leaders.
The recently defunct, solidly pro-Israel New York Sun declared in an editorial earlier this year: “Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.”
Leaders in Israel on both sides of the political spectrum do not fear Obama’s commitment to Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader, told the Jerusalem Post that he was “impressed with Obama’s understanding of the Iranian threat and that they both agreed that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable.”
What about the “experience” conundrum? Obama’s familiarity with the issues has impressed many people, including the veteran journalist David Horowitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post.
On his whirlwind visit to Israel, “McCain, one of whose primary strengths is said to be his intimate grasp of foreign affairs, chose to bring along Sen. Joe Lieberman to the interview” with Horowitz and “looked to Lieberman several times for reassurance on his answers and seemed a little flummoxed by a question relating to the nuances of settlement construction.”
Horowitz’s meeting with Obama was different. Obama “spoke with only a single aide in his hotel room.”
Horowitz observed that Obama “knew precisely what he wanted to say about the most intricate issues confronting and concerning Israel, and expressed himself clearly, even stridently on key subjects.”
Contrast that with Palin’s rote repetition three times during the Charlie Gibson interview of precisely the same phrase, “We can’t second-guess Israel.” Is that all she has to say? Can she only speak in sound bites? Does she have any knowledge of the nuances of the situation?
The same thing happened in the vice-presidential debate. Palin spewed a lot of talking points — two-state solution, no second Holocaust, embassy in Jerusalem — but demonstrated no real familiarity with the situation.
I believe that those who know the history and nuances of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the track record of the different players cannot help but come down on the side of a safe and secure Israel. But to help broker a real peace, they must know much more than rote talking points.
Many Jews, myself included, were deeply disturbed by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s most controversial comments. But there is nothing in Obama’s record to indicate that he adheres to Wright’s views. I was glad to hear Obama forcefully and publicly denounce them.
Contrast that with Palin, who sat in her church while a Jews for Jesus leader, David Brickner, preached that terrorism in Israel is “God’s judgment” against Jews for failing to accept Jesus.
Maybe she said nothing because she did not understand the implications of Brickner’s words, but that would be even more disturbing.
When Palin first ran for mayor of Wasilla, she did so as the town’s “first Christian mayor.” Is this someone you want a heartbeat away from America’s oldest president, a man who has had multiple bouts with cancer?
Lest someone assume I disdain her religious commitment, let me emphasize the contrary. In my work and life, I find myself more comfortable with people deeply committed to their faith — whatever that faith may be — than those totally unconnected and, worse, contemptuous of those who are. I just don’t want them imposing their faith on me.
Finally, let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of many people’s election ballots.
While no one should vote for Obama because he is black, that a black man is a nominee for the country’s highest office affirms that at long last, some of the final barriers of discrimination are crumbling. For Jews it is another reminder of the blessings this country has offered them and other minorities.
For me, the choice is clear.
Deborah E. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.