He’s a Muslim. He was sworn into office on the Koran. He doesn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. His pastor is an anti-Semite. He’s a tool of Louis Farrakhan. He’s anti-Israel. His advisers are anti-Israel. He’s friends with terrorists. The terrorists want him to win. He’s the Antichrist.
By now you’ve probably seen at least some of these e-mails and articles about Barack Obama bouncing around the Internet. They distort Obama’s religious faith, question his support for Israel, warp the identity and positions of his campaign advisers and defame his friends and allies from Chicago. The purpose of the smear is to paint him as an Arab-loving, Israel-hating, terrorist-coddling, radical black nationalist. That picture couldn’t be further from the truth, but you’d be surprised how many people have fallen for it. The American Jewish community, one of the most important pillars of the Democratic Party and US politics, has been specifically targeted [see Eric Alterman’s column in the March 24 issue, “(Some) Jews Against Obama“]. What started as a largely overlooked fringe attack has been thrust into the mainstream–used as GOP talking points, pushed by the Clinton campaign, echoed by the likes of Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Falsehoods are repeated as fact, and bits of evidence become “elaborate constructions of malicious fantasy,” as the Jewish Week, America’s largest Jewish newspaper, editorialized.
What floods into one’s inbox these days bears little or no relation to Obama’s record. “Some of my earliest and most ardent supporters came from the Jewish community in Chicago,” he has said. Obama ran for the Senate promising to help reconstitute the black-Jewish civil rights coalition. His first foreign policy speech of the campaign was before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where he pledged “clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel.” He has occasionally angered pro-Israel hawks by urging direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, but Obama’s foreign policy record is well within the Democratic Party mainstream. He’s committed to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, supported Israel’s incursion into Lebanon in 2006 and has criticized Hamas. During his campaign for the presidency, Obama has been defended by AIPAC, the neoconservative New York Sun and The New Republic‘s Marty Peretz, a noted Israel hawk. And yet no defense of Israel by Obama–or of Obama by the pro-Israel establishment–seems to be enough. “When one charge is disproved, another is leveled,” says Rabbi Jack Moline, who leads a synagogue in Alexandria, Virginia.
It’s nearly impossible to decipher where the smears originated [for a comprehensive account of how such campaigns are generated and spread in the age of the Internet and e-mail, see Christopher Hayes, “The New Right-Wing Smear Machine,” November 12, 2007]. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency traced one e-mail back 200 people before it stopped with a filmmaker in Tel Aviv who didn’t receive a return address. “No one knows if it’s the Clintons, a rogue agent or a Rove agent,” says Congressman Steve Cohen, a Jewish Obama backer who represents a largely black district in Memphis. Likely it’s a combination of the three.