Earlier today, I wrote about the budding controversy over the inclusion of a leader of an anti-Zionist group on the list of the “Rabbis for Obama” created by the president’s re-election campaign. But in doing so I apparently gave Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the so-called Jewish Voices for Peace too much honor. She is not the only member of what the Anti-Defamation League called one the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the country. She is, in fact, only one of eight members of JVP’s rabbinic council to appear on the list of Rabbis for Obama.
Some readers have reacted by saying that it is not fair to ask the Democratic group to repudiate anti-Zionists on their list. The only thing membership in the Rabbis for Obama connotes, they say, is support for the president. They point out that if they all had to vouch for each other, the whole thing would collapse, since Orthodox rabbis would not be able to affiliate with the non-Orthodox and other denominational squabbles would render any list bringing Jewish clergy together behind any cause impossible. That’s an interesting argument, but it misses the point about Rabbis for Obama and the way it is being used in the campaign.
The significance of Rabbis for Obama is not the fact that you can gather signatures from a few hundred Jewish clergy members on behalf of a Democratic candidate for president. As I noted earlier, given that most Jews are devout liberals, it’s hardly surprising–or even noteworthy–that so many rabbis could be counted on to back the Democratic ticket. But the reason the Democrats have promoted the group so ardently is because of President Obama’s weakness on Israel. Rabbis for Obama has one purpose, and that is to provide a rabbinical hechsher for the president’s Middle East policies. The hope is that it will help wavering voters forget the first three years of his administration, when he was constantly picking fights with Israel, and remember only his election year Jewish charm offensive. Rabbis for Obama exists in 2012 for the same reason a group with the same name was created in 2007: to vouch for the president’s bona fides on Israel.
The group can be as inclusive as it likes. If the rabbis involved want to treat as merely a list of those who support the Democrats, so be it. But if the Rabbis for Obama are neutral about associating with anti-Zionists who support the boycott of Israel (all of Israel and not just the West Bank settlements) and the Palestinian “right of return” while opposing the Jewish state’s right of self-defense, then the group doesn’t have the standing to give the president a kosher stamp of approval for his Israel policies. So long as Gottlieb and her anti-Zionist colleagues are in the group, the press, along with groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition, is entitled to call the Democrats out on this issue whenever anyone with the “Rabbis for Obama” label is trotted out for that purpose.