Obama struggling to convince all Jewish voters
Polls show presidential hopeful has more work to do to win over Jewish voters despite reassuring them of his steadfast support of Israel. 'There is a fear particularly among older Jews and the more traditionally religious, that he might be less sympathetic toward Israel or sympathetic toward the Palestinians,' The Forward says
White House hopeful Barack Obama is still struggling to convince some wary Jewish voters to close ranks behind his campaign despite their traditional support for Democratic candidates.
Obama has taken steps to reassure American Jews of his steadfast support of Israel in recent months, but polls show he has more work to do to win over a large majority of the key electorate for the November 4 election.
In May, a nationwide Gallup poll showed that 61 percent of Jews supported Obama compared to 32 percent for Republican contender John McCain.
While the margin is wide, it is disappointing for a Democrat who should normally count on even more backing from Jews, who heavily lean Democratic.
One notable exception was in 1980, when then-president Jimmy Carter got 45 percent of the Jewish vote compared to 39 percent for Ronald Reagan, who won the election.
But in 2004, the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, enjoyed massive support among Jews, 74 percent, while President George W. Bush mustered only 25 percent.
During the 2008 primary campaign, Obama's rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, had 66 percent of support among Jews.
"It seems that Obama is having trouble overcoming the fear among some Jewish voters," J.J. Goldberg, director of the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, told AFP.
"It appears that he will get a majority of Jewish votes, but perhaps not as great a majority as some other Democrats have gotten," Goldberg said.
Jews make up only four percent of the US electorate, but they punch above their weight through powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups.
Bloomberg to Jews: Reject the rumors
And their vote can also be decisive in key swing states, particularly in Florida, according to the Israel-based Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
McCain is doing better than Bush did among Jews, with seven percentage points more, while Obama has 13 points less than Kerry.
Obama's weakness lies partly in suspicion among Jews about his stance in the Middle East, Goldberg said.
Obama has pledged to hold direct talks with Iran and Syria - staunch enemies of Israel - but he also recently pledged "unshakeable" support for the Jewish state and said Jerusalem must remain its undivided capital.
"There is a fear particularly among older Jews and the more traditionally religious, that he might be less sympathetic toward Israel or sympathetic toward the Palestinians, or at the very least neutral on the Middle East question, which to many Jews is as bad as anti-Israel, since they view Israel as fighting for its life against an overwhelmingly hostile Muslim world," he said.
Obama's middle name, Hussein, rumors about his record and his relationship with his former pastor, the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright, are also problematic for some Jews.
"His decision to keep his middle name, Hussein, raises symbolic fears among some of these voters, and reports about his record -- including his early flirtation with black identity politics and his long association with Reverend Wright -- strengthen these fears," Goldberg said.
Obama, who is Christian, has also had to fend off false rumors spread via email trying to paint him as a secret Muslim.
In response to the Internet smear campaign, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, publicly urged fellow Jews to reject the rumors during a speech to Florida Jews last month.
The New Yorker magazine satirized the fears about Obama in a cover-page cartoon this past week showing him wearing Muslim garb with a burning US flag in the fireplace and a portrait of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
But the cartoon, which aimed to poke fun at the false rumors against Obama, was widely criticized and rejected by the Democrat's campaign as well as by his Republican rival.