Jewish Academics Form Pro-Obama Group

By Anthony Weiss

Published October 22, 2008.
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The latest group of Jewish professionals that is banding together to support Barack Obama’s candidacy are professors in Jewish studies.

A group of more than 240 scholars of Jewish studies have signed onto a statement endorsing Obama. The statement urges fellow Jews to vote for the Democratic candidate and decries the persistent fears about Obama that have circulated among Jewish voters.

The endorsement comes with Obama still facing persistent doubts about whether he can attract the levels of Jewish support that Democratic candidates have traditionally garnered. In response, a number of left-leaning Jewish professionals and activists have organized to show their support in ways that some observers say is unprecedented. In September, more than 300 rabbis announced that the formation of Rabbis for Obama. More recently, a political group called the Jewish Council for Education and Research organized a Web site to counter false information about Obama and organized an event for young Jews to travel down to Florida and urge their grandparents to vote for Obama.

“I’ve never seen as much organization on the Democratic side in the Jewish community as in this year,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

No similar efforts have been planned on behalf of John McCain’s campaign. McCain supporters argued that the frantic efforts by Jewish elites to mobilize for Obama were, in fact, a sign of Obama’s weakness among grassroots Jewish voters.

“I think they’re organizing out of a concern about Barack Obama’s underperformance and erosion of support among Jewish voters,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “What that tells me is that, by and large, these elites, in many regards, just speak for themselves, that they don’t have a lot of coattails.”

Daniel Soyer, a professor of American history at Fordham University and one of the group’s main organizers, said he was inspired by the example of the Rabbis for Obama. Soyer said the group was hoping to counteract the well-publicized misgivings that have taken root in some parts of the Jewish community.

“In our opinion, those misgivings are misguided, based often on false rumors and malicious kinds of falsehoods that have been spread, if not by the McCain campaign, then by people who are friendly to it,” Soyer said.

[Full disclosure: The signatories of the letter included several members of the Forward Association – including Forward Association secretary Paula Hyman – who owns this newspaper. Those who signed the letter did so as individuals. This newspaper does not support or oppose candidates for public office.]

Soyer said the group had purchased an ad in the Florida Jewish Journal and was considering making a buy in Cleveland’s Jewish newspaper as well.






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