With Barack Obama close to clinching the Democratic nomination, Republicans have stepped up their efforts to woo Jewish voters who have doubts about the senator's support for Israel and his overall Middle East policy. Using fear tactics, groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition have played the "Israel card" to tip the balance come November. Four years ago, I would have been persuaded. Not this time.
Yes, back then the fear tactics worked, and they made me prefer President Bush over Senator Kerry. I was a college pro-Israel activist - needless to say in a very difficult time for Israel advocacy - and I needed some moral comfort, some moral clarity. While I recognized that Kerry was a smart guy, and I did like him overall, Bush's black and white clarity was more comforting. I was convinced that such beliefs were essential for a post-9/11 world and an unrelenting war against terror. Since Jewish voters whose main concern was Israel were telling me they supported Bush, I decided to join the club.
That was a huge mistake, but an eye-opening experience about campaigns and fear tactics. Today, neoconservatives are trying to do the same, but this time I am supporting whoever gets the Democratic nomination. I already know that Senator Clinton is a staunch supporter of Israel, and I have become convinced that Senator Obama would be as well. This time, using the "Israel card" will not work for the Republicans in attracting the Jewish vote.
SENATOR OBAMA's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic represents some of the most reassuring words I have heard from the Democratic front-runner regarding his Middle East policy, and especially his support for Israel. Rather than only seeing Israel as a "strategic ally" or as the "only democracy in the Middle East" - the standard clichés of support - Senator Obama identifies with the "Zionist idea" and believes that a secure Jewish state is "fundamentally just."
Now, that is refreshing. When was the last time we had heard the word "Zionist" being used in a positive way and described as "fundamentally just" by a non-Jew? Senator Obama evoked the Zionist idea because he does not think of Israel only as a geopolitical ally, and does not base his support on a cost-benefit analysis of the "special relationship." Rather, his support for Israel is anchored in a true understanding of the need for the Jewish people to have a homeland where Jews "can take care of themselves no matter what happens," where we can feel rooted, where our culture can be preserved, and where the Jewish values of social justice can flourish. He especially identified with Zionism's quest "to start over and to repair the breaches of the past."
Obama's connection to Israel is much more personal and, therefore, much stronger, genuine and uncompromising than your traditional candidates. It is not a support based on interests, politics, or a quid pro quo with the Jewish state. It is a support based on identity, on a genuine understanding of the needs of a people to have self-determination, and a conviction that regardless of day-to-day policies, the idea of a Jewish state is fundamentally just.
This is much more reassuring than a candidate that repeats the traditional catch phrases of "strategic ally" and "only democracy in the Middle East." These phrases always make me feel like I constantly have to "make the case" for Israel because, if I cannot prove Israel's "worthiness" to the US, then support will diminish. On the other hand, Obama's rationale for supporting Israel is much simpler. He respects, understands and identifies with the desire of the Jewish people to be a fulfilled and independent nation in their own homeland. In his eyes, Israel and the Zionist idea are important and fundamentally just in their own right.
Therefore, come November, I am confident that both Clinton and Obama represent hope and change for the future, and I am certain they both possess the knowledge and skills to grasp the complex issues much better than the Republican nominee. I had initial concerns about Obama, but I have come to realize that my doubts were just another product of the traditional "fear tactics" employed by neoconservatives. I have learned my lesson over the past four years and will not make the same mistake again. This time I support either Democratic nominee, and I am more convinced than ever. Undecided no more - if nominated, Obama is right for the job, right for Israel.
The writer is a long-time pro-Israel activist and a former Legacy Heritage Fellow.