Volume 21, Number 19 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Sept. 12 -18, 2008
Have rumors of Obama’s Judaism been greatly exaggerated?
By Ben Krull
Immigration records show that Sen. Barack Obama’s grandfather, Baruch Heshy Obramowitz, was an Ethiopian “Falasha” Jew, who changed his surname when he moved to Kenya. The revelation has set off rumors that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is a secret Jew.
An e-mail sent to Muslim voters, from a group called The Truth About Jewbama, claims that while growing up in Hawaii, the future senator attended a radical Jewish school, called a “Yeshiva.” The e-mail also says that his campaign has several Jewish advisers, including Woody Allen.
Senator Obama issued a statement denying the charges. “I am not now, nor have I ever been Jewish,” the statement read. “We must not allow this smear campaign to distract the American people from the important issues of this campaign, such as Senator McCain’s age.”
Despite the denial, speculation that Sen. Obama is Jewish intensified after he was seen wearing an Israeli flag pin. According to a campaign spokesperson, the candidate was given the pin while attending a Greek Orthodox Easter celebration, and thought it represented the Greek flag. “It was an understandable mistake, since both the Israeli and Greek flags are blue and white,” the spokesperson said. The controversial flag pin has since been replaced by a red, white and blue one, causing Moveon.org to accuse Sen. Obama of being a secret American.
According to political analysts, questions about the senator’s religion could hurt his chances of winning Michigan, which has a significant Muslim population. At a recent meeting of Muslims For McCain, held in a Dearborn, Michigan mosque, a bearded man wearing a dashiki, who would only identify himself as Mohammed, said that both Sen. Obama and his wife were Jewish.
“Everyone knows they met on J-date,” Mohammed said, referring to the internet Jewish dating site.
Sen. Obama’s religion was also recently on the minds of Muslim callers to “The Savage Nation,” a radio talk show. “He says he’s a Christian, but I know he only joined that meshuggner church to advance his career,” said a caller named Khalid.
A woman calling herself Burka Jane also questioned Sen. Obama’s public embrace of Christianity. “ I heard that at Harvard he was a member of Hillel,” the caller said, repeating a much-circulated rumor that the senator once belonged to the Jewish student campus organization. Other callers railed against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for his pro-Israel voting record and his reported fondness for gifelte fish.
The Obama campaign has become wary of having the candidate seen with supporters wearing traditional Jewish clothing. When questioned about a Hasidic man who was sitting behind the senator at a recent rally, a campaign aide tried to mislead reporters by saying that the man was Amish. When the ruse was revealed, the campaign apologized to the Hasidic supporter and offered him a backstage pass to the Democratic convention.
Sen. John McCain has had little to say about his opponent’s religion. After visiting the third grade class of an Ann Arbor, Michigan Madrassa he told reporters, “Sen. Obama is not Jewish…as far as I know.”
While Jews and Muslims raise doubts about Sen. Obama’s religion, another ethnic group is quietly laying claim to the presidential candidate. A recent story in the newspaper Irish Times claims that Sen. Obama’s relatives immigrated to Kenya during the potato famine, where they changed their name from O’Brien.
Ben Krull, an attorney in Lower Manhattan’s Family Court, is a freelance writer.