With Election Day finally having come and gone, God-o-Meter is closing up shop till 2012–or at least 2010. Till then, get your faith and politics fix over at Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steve Waldman’s blog.
Barack Obama may have gotten a cooler reception yesterday at AIPAC than John McCain did a couple days earlier, but Obama did manage to outdo the Bush administration in seeing things the Israeli way (no small task) in one crucial matter: insisting that Jerusalem remain the Jewish state’s undivided capital.
“Let me be clear,” Obama said, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper. But any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided,” he added, in efforts to secure the Jewish vote.
Obama also walked back further than ever from his previous vow to meet with Iran’s leader:
Obama has since said he would not guarantee a meeting with the Iranian president. He went a step further in the AIPAC speech by laying down conditions for what he said would be “tough and principled diplomacy” with Tehran.
“There will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress,” Obama said. “I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing, if and only if it can advance the interests of the United States.”
Will this make Obama more palatable to wary Jewish voters? Who knows. But God-o-Meter is struck that, in addition to ratcheting up his pro-Israel rhetoric and ratcheting down Iran negotiation talk, Obama is employing a novel strategy in marketing himself to Jewish voters: emoting at length about his own early exposure to and identification with the Jewish story.
That’s a lot different than John McCain’s all-policy approach. Indeed, it’s a stylistic departure from most recent presidents and presidential aspirants:
I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years old. I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds.
The story made a powerful impression on me. I had grown up without a sense of roots. My father was black; he was from Kenya, and he left us when I was 2. My mother was white; she was from Kansas, and I’d moved with her to Indonesia and then back to Hawaii. In many ways, I didn’t know where I came from. So I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity. And I deeply understood the Zionist idea — that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.
Obama keeps going in this vein, and you can read the whole thing here.
What Obama appears to be doing is applying the testimonial way he speaks about his own faith, a product of having spent lots of time in the black church, to speaking about Israel and Jews. He did the same thing in his interview with The Atlantic last month.
God-o-Meter would be interested in hearing from Jewish voters about what they make of this unusual approach.