The Weekly Beef: Wake Up

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Sometimes it takes an outsider to bring perspective to a situation.

Case in point: The current election conundrum in Cleveland’s Jewish community, noted above, which brought the globe-trotting New York Times columnist Roger Cohen to town. In his column in Tuesday’s paper, Cohen neatly captured the intensity of the battle with a few choice details: robocalls from John Bolton; alarmist advertising in the Cleveland Jewish News; and a delicious quote from Democratic fundraiser Deborah Ratner, who reportedly told Mandel, “You represent everything I’ve spent my life working against.”

Cohen quickly cut through the local crap, noting that the larger significance of the internecine Jewish battle is its potential effect on the Presidential race. “This is the swing state most likely to swing things,” he wrote, explaining that the number of votes Barack Obama gets in Cuyahoga County could determine whether he carries the state.

The fear-mongering that Republicans from Mandel up to Mitt Romney have been spreading about Obama abandoning Israel may carry some currency here, but Cohen cut through that pretty quickly, too. From the insular confines of Cleveland, people may believe that Obama favors Muslims over Jews, or is soft on Iran. But someone with a more worldly perspective can look to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whom Cohen quotes as saying that Obama has done “more than anything that I can remember” for Israeli security.

Part of the blindness here comes from what Cohen characterizes as misplaced “family and tribal Jewish loyalty,” the subject of a recent piece in the Jewish Daily Forward by Austin Ratner. But part of it, he observes, is just the nature of the community: “The Jews of Cleveland are arguing at high volume. They are good at disputation.”

This would be a good time to turn down the volume. To put it simply, Jewish voters should know better. They are among the best-educated and most financially secure in the county — maybe the country. That doesn’t necessarily mean they should vote for Obama. But like everyone else, they should vote for the candidates on their merits, not because of some irrational fears or deliberate misinformation.

Wake up. Think outside the tribe for one minute. Or at least pay attention to a clear-eyed tribe member who calls out Mandel and Romney for campaigning “in the name of a God whose wishes these men presume to know.”

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