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President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign on Aug. 21 announced a new initiative, “Rabbis for Obama,” consisting of more than 600 rabbis—among them Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists and a rabbi who dialogued with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who state their support for the incumbent.
According to the latest Gallup poll, Obama leads Republican candidate Mitt Romney 68 percent to 25 percent among Jewish voters. Republicans have been targeting Obama’s credentials on Israel, citing what they claim to be his tense relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as his weakness in dealing with the Arab Spring uprisings and the Iranian nuclear threat.
Obama’s list of rabbinical supporters includes Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of the Jewish Renewal movement—who in September 2008 spoke at a New York interfaith dialogue event featuring Ahmadinejad. The same year, Gottlieb was also among the first American rabbis to visit Iran since the country’s 1979 revolution.
“By promoting and showcasing Rabbi Gottlieb as one of Pres. Obama’s supporters, the Obama campaign lends legitimacy and credibility to a rabbi whose extreme views are well beyond the mainstream of the Jewish community and the mainstream of America,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a press release.
Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), told The Jewish Press that“the Rabbis for Obama group, which includes Jews who are amongst the most hostile to Israel anywhere in America, underscores the lack of seriousness with which they take their effort to convince pro-Israel voters that this president is pro-Israel.”
Gottlieb is an advisory board member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)—a pro-BDS group that at July’s Presbyterian Church USA conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., lobbied for a proposed resolution that the Church divest from three companies doing business with Israel. The divestment proposal was eventually defeated. Eight of JVP’s 35 rabbinical council members are on the “Rabbis for Obama” list.
The list also includes Rabbi Brant Rosen, JVP’s co-chair, and three executive committee members of Rabbis for Human Rights, a group that often criticizes what it calls Israeli “occupation” of territories in the West Bank.
JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson responded to criticism of Gottlieb’s inclusion on the list by noting that on her 2008 trip to Iran, Gottlieb “had the chutzpah to castigate President Ahmadinejad for his shameful Holocaust denial and comments about Israel disappearing from history in a room of 350 people including, presumably, armed guards.”
“Instead of being demonized by the right, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, one of the country’s first woman rabbis and a leader in the nonviolence movement, should be hailed as a hero,” Vilkomerson said in a statement.
Rabbi Alissa Wise, the co-chair of JVP’s rabbinical council, added in a statement that JVP rabbis are “courageous thinkers and leaders who regularly take stands for equality, justice and dignity for all people.”
“That their commitment to Jewishness or the well-being of fellow Americans is even being put into question because of a fight over partisan politics is simply unthinkable,” Wise said.
Ira Forman, the Jewish Outreach Director for Obama, said when “Rabbis for Obama” was announced that the rabbis’ “ringing endorsement of President Obama speaks volumes about the President’s deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel and his dedication to a policy agenda that represents the values of the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community.” ECI, however, countered that the presence of pro-BDS rabbis on Obama's list invalidated Forman’s statement.
“Far from demonstrating a ‘deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel,’ these figures have demonstrated a deep hostility to the state of Israel and a deep commitment to demonizing the Jewish state and undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance,” ECI Founder Bill Kristol wrote in a letter to Obama.