I was saddened to see the shameful whisper campaign about Barack Obama’s faith be granted credence, however partial, in these pages. In a February 1 editorial, assertions are repeated that contradict the facts about Obama’s life, and the spirit of unity that surrounds his candidacy (“Fear Factor”).
Barack Obama is a Christian. He has been a member of the same Christian church in Chicago for two decades. I know the depth of the man’s faith because I have prayed with him, and seen how his faith informs his public service.
For two decades, Obama’s commitment to fighting for justice and opportunity has been rooted in his faith. That is why he fought for jobs for the jobless as a community organizer; pushed for a fair tax code for working families in Springfield and Washington; passed legislation to make government more open, honest and accountable; and has committed his candidacy to pushing for an energy policy that will free ourselves from dependence on Saudi oil and save our planet.
Yet the Forward repeats second-hand reports that Obama was a Muslim as a child growing up in Indonesia. That assertion is untrue. He was raised by his secular mother, and his father left when Obama was two years old.
The Forward does not state that Obama is a Christian, conspicuously allowing room for doubt by writing: “Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Almost certainly not.” Almost?
Obama knows that no community of faith is perfect. That is why he courageously and consistently calls on all of us to bridge our divisions in a spirit of unity. Most recently, he stood up at Dr. Martin Luther King’s church, Ebenezer Baptist, and cited the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho in calling on the congregation to acknowledge that “the scourge of antisemitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community.”
The rumors repeated in these pages might raise questions about whether Obama can be trusted as a friend of Israel. On this point there is no doubt: Barack Obama is a dedicated and proven friend of Israel.
Our friends in the Chicago Jewish community and in the Senate can attest to this. But you need not heed our words; just look at Obama’s deeds.
While traveling to Israel, he visited victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks in the north, and then, during the Lebanon war, stood up in support of Israel’s right to defend itself. He has led the push in the Senate to enact a law to permit states like Illinois, Florida, New York and California to divest their state and pension funds from energy companies active in Iran.
He has repeatedly called for the protection of Israel as a Jewish state, as part of a two-state solution. And as recently as last week, he pushed the Bush administration to focus its attention on the barrage of Qassam rocket attacks being launched daily from Gaza.
Candidates for high office should be subject to scrutiny, but that scrutiny must be grounded in the truth. That is why Obama’s Jewish colleagues in the Senate — colleagues who have not endorsed a candidate in this race — raised their voices together against this smear campaign.
The challenges facing America and Israel do not call for division fed by false attacks, rumor and innuendo. Instead, the deep and abiding friendship between the United States and Israel is rooted in the belief that there are core principles that unite us: a belief in democracy and justice, security and community. Barack Obama’s campaign — indeed, his entire public life — has been dedicated to advancing that spirit of unity.
Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is the Senate majority whip.