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The Debate That Needed To Happen


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Over the next few years, the Jewish community will face serious challenges. Throughout this presidential election, we always understood that whoever was elected president would shape how our country deals with these challenges.

From the beginning, both Republican and Democratic candidates competed for support in the Jewish community. They elaborated on their solutions for critical issues like our troubled economy, the threat of a nuclear Iran, continued Hamas violence against Israel and the need for energy independence.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) not only helped raise these critical issues, but helped the Jewish community get clear answers.

Since the first days of the election, the RJC challenged President-elect Barack Obama to articulate his positions on these issues, and through our actions, let him know that the Jewish community would carefully examine his responses. As a result, neither party nor candidate took the support of the Jewish community for granted. The RJC is proud to have played a role in facilitating this important debate.

Early on, there were serious and legitimate reasons to be concerned with Obama’s positions on Israel, Iran and the Middle East. Nervous Jewish Democrats mobilized as never before. Numerous third-party groups formed and scores of high-profile surrogates flooded the community dedicated to addressing these concerns and to electing the Democratic candidate for president.

The Obama campaign itself deployed an unprecedented amount of resources and manpower into the Jewish community to maintain this traditional support. Despite this tsunami of Democratic resources, Obama was unable to exceed Bill Clinton or Al Gore, and only slightly improved on John Kerry’s support in the Jewish community. Unlike many other constituencies, which had huge increases in support for Obama, Jewish support for him showed only slight gains and lagged far behind other key demographics.

Throughout the fall, through our efforts, the RJC challenged the candidates to specify their policies. If Obama’s positions on Israel, Iran and the Middle East evolved throughout this election, it stands testament that he, and his campaign, understood the RJC’s message and adjusted theirs.

While we congratulate President-elect Obama on a hard-fought campaign, we were disturbed by some emerging trends that we hope do not continue. Throughout the campaign, Democrats consistently resorted to ugly intimidation to silence our message and stifle this important debate. It even went so far as the Obama campaign and other Democratic entities refusing to debate RJC surrogates.

When the RJC brought up legitimate policy differences, some Democratic surrogates reflexively called our questions “smear and fear” tactics and refused to discuss the important issues. Some discourse was marred by episodes of vicious attacks against our organization – at times even becoming personal.

One Democratic surrogate and former Clinton administration official likened the RJC to Yasir Arafat. Clearly, this goes beyond any acceptable level of discourse.

Unfortunately, the trend of Democrats punishing those who disagree with their policies seems to be continuing past Election Day. Only two days after President-elect Obama’s victory, there were reports that Sen. Harry Reid is contemplating threats, rebukes and penalties against Sen. Joe Lieberman over Lieberman’s decision to back Sen. McCain’s presidential campaign.

Throughout the campaign, Obama promised a post-partisan era of cooperation. If he is truly sincere about that commitment, seeking retribution against Sen. Lieberman is not the right way to start his administration.

The kind of behavior Sen. Reid is exhibiting is an all too-familiar hallmark of the Obama campaign and other Jewish Democratic entities. It is unfortunate that Jewish Democrats who engaged in these blackball, retributive tactics do not revere, as we do, the Jewish intellectual tradition of debate.

Our tradition teaches us that we hold the capacity to accept multiple opinions and to even value opposing positions. The Talmud says that these opposing positions are to be valued as they may prove to be correct someday.

Today, our nation moves forward into a new chapter. We come together in the Jewish community not as Democrats and Republicans but as Jewish Americans united in our resolve to move our country forward.

We pray that President-elect Obama will stay true to his campaign commitments and promises to the Jewish community. But one thing is certain: while our Jewish tradition teaches us to not shy away from debate, it also commands us to not stand idly by.

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