These questions are lost in trivial arguments about whether he did or did not put his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance, nonsense about Muslim religion etc.
Anonymous e-mails and not-so-anonymous charges by some Jewish leaders about Sen. Barack Obama's alleged Muslim past have started gaining real traction in the increasingly furious battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, he said.
"I was really shocked by the number of people who took these things seriously," Bloomfield said this week. "One man said to me: how do you know he's not a 'Muslim plant'; another used the words 'Manchurian Candidate.'"
Bloomfield said he tried to "dispel what I see as a concerted hate campaign, coming largely from the Jewish right," in
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"But people were very skeptical; they said, 'how do you know he's not a Muslim?"
There are no measures of how deeply the anti-Obama campaign has penetrated the Jewish electorate. But Bloomfield, for one, came away saying, "I think it will have an impact on the way people vote."
He is not alone. Jewish leaders in diverse parts of the country say the year-old campaign to pillory Obama based on the four childhood years he spent in Indonesia and the fact his stepfather was a secular Muslim continues, despite intensifying efforts by the Obama campaign to reaffirm his friendship with the Jewish community and tout his credentials as an active Christian.
Last week, a group of top Jewish leaders representing groups across the religious and political spectrum issued a statement that sought to stem the onslaught of disinformation.
Leaders of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, among others suggested the anti-Obama campaign represented an effort to "drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion." The group stressed their statement implied no endorsement of Obama's candidacy.
Other signers included leaders of the United Jewish Communities, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Newsweek magazine also published a "Fact Check" online two weeks ago examining and debunking the charges. And the Obama campaign itself is fighting back hard via press releases, public statements and distribution this week of an "open letter to the Jewish community" from seven Jewish Democratic Senate colleagues.
"Over the past several weeks, many in the Jewish community have received hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo about Senator Barack Obama's religion and attack him personally," the Jewish lawmakers wrote. "As Jewish United States Senators who have not endorsed a candidate for the Democratic nomination, we condemn these scurrilous attacks. We find it particularly abhorrent that these attacks are apparently being sent specifically to the Jewish community. Jews, who have historically been the target of such attacks, should be the first to reject these tactics."
The letter, written by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Missing from the letter: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a leading supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton's Democratic nomination bid, and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.). Two calls to Schumer's office seeking information on his absence from the letter were not returned. An Obama campaign source said a decision had been made to stick with senators who were not backing any presidential candidate.
Such proclamations have not staunched the flood of e-mails, which cite Obama's childhood experiences between the ages of 6 and 10 in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Some messages state falsely that Obama attended a "Wahabi madrassa," or fundamentalist Muslim religious school, while there a claim investigated and debunked by CNN, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, among others.
Other messages suggest Obama's exposure to Muslim culture and a Muslim stepfather implanted within him a pro-Muslim bias that would make him a big risk as U.S. president in an age of Islamic terrorism. They ignore Indonesia's long history as home of one of the world's most moderate forms of Islam and his stepfather's lax observance of his own religion.
In fact, since his 2004 arrival in the Senate, Obama has strongly backed Israel on issues ranging from its bombing of Lebanon during the war of summer 2006, which killed hundreds of civilians, to its right to be free of U.S. pressure in negotiating with its enemies. The neoconservative New York Sun, among others, has praised Obama for his strong support of the Jewish state and sharply rebutted critics who charge otherwise. Lee Rosenberg, national treasurer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Washington-based pro-Israel lobby, is a member of Obama's finance committee and a longtime supporter, as is billionaire Jewish philanthropist and pro-Israel stalwart Lester Crowne of Chicago.
Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama's early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.
"In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a 'pintele Yid' a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one's roots," Ganchrow wrote. "With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a 'pintele Muslim,' with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?"
In an interview, Ganchrow conceded he had no evidence that the Democratic contender is influenced by Muslim theology or that he would be hostile to Israel.
"I just have this question in my mind" about Obama, he said. "I don't know what's in this man's heart and mind." He said his concerns are based on a "feeling in my gut; you can't quantify it." And he said there's little Obama can do to change that feeling.
"What's he going to say?" asked Ganchrow. "That he doesn't beat his mother?"
Rabbi Jack Moline, spiritual leader of a Conservative synagogue in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., said he sees some of the same receptivity to unfounded charges about the religious views of presidential candidates in his own congregation which is known for a well-educated, politically connected membership.
Rabbi Moline was so concerned that this week he wrote a letter to congregants warning against the rumor attacks.
"This stuff is scurrilous," he told The Jewish Week. "Anybody who writes it is a criminal, anybody who passes it on is an accomplice and anybody who believes it is a bigot."
But the Obama rumors are getting traction because a candidate's religion is becoming fair game in an increasingly bitter political climate and because "political operatives understand that that kind of language gets traction in the Jewish community, even if the charges are completely false," Rabbi Moline said.
"We have a lot of self-examination and self-correction to do," he said. "This stuff wouldn't be out there if people didn't think it would get traction."
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said it is important to examine the Obama rumors in the broader context of today's bitter, unrestrained political environment.
"I've said consistently that this campaign will turn out to be one of the dirtiest campaigns in American history, and the first few weeks prove it," Sabato told The Jewish Week. "Obama has borne a disgusting burden so far attacks on his race that are worthy of the 1950s, and complete lies about his supposed 'Muslim religion.'"
Sabato put part of the blame on the "mainstream media [which] has not done nearly enough to root out the perpetrators."
He said suspicions about Obama's religion may compound a racial divide in the campaign in which many white Democrats are simply reluctant to vote for a black presidential candidate.
"A lot of Jewish leaders have spoken out," lamented one such leader. "But there's no evidence they've had much of an impact."