Obama?McCain?Our panel chews it over

We asked a se­lec­tion of US Jews liv­ing in Bri­tain who they will be sup­port­ing in the elec­tion. They all agree that it’s a key vote — just not on their ideal out­come

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features - BY DANA GLOGER

YOU DO NOT need to be hooked on pol­i­tics to take an in­ter­est in next week’s US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Not only will the win­ner be the planet’s most pow­er­ful man, but the per­son­al­i­ties are com­pelling — the coun­try could have the first-ever African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, the first fe­male vice-pres­i­dent, or a 72-year-old grand­fa­ther tak­ing the global lead. Of course, Jewish is­sues, par­tic­u­larly re­lat­ing to Is­rael, are also oc­cu­py­ing minds. So how do Amer­i­can Jews liv­ing in this coun­try feel about the elec­tions?

Budd Mar­go­lis, 52, is orig­i­nally from Cleve­land, Ohio, but has been liv­ing in Bri­tain for 21 years.

“This is the most im­por­tant elec­tion in the United States for a very long time, due to the dam­age that pres­i­dent Ge­orge Bush has done to Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion in the world, as well as to stan­dards of liv­ing within the coun­try,” he says.

“I’m pray­ing and hop­ing that Obama is suc­cess­ful. I feel so strongly about it that if he loses I might give up my Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship.”

And he is not the only one. Paula Le­jbow­icz, 25, who is study­ing law in Lon­don but is from Los An­ge­les, feels the re­sult could cause a huge amount of em­bar­rass­ment for her: “I would have a huge is­sue say­ing I was Amer­i­can if McCain won.

“The past eight years of Bush’s pres­i­dency have brought one hor­ri­ble thing af­ter an­other. Now it’s a time for change.”

De­spite hav­ing lived in Bri­tain for over 35 years, Ju­dith Ch­er­naik, nov­el­ist and founder of Lon­don’s Po­ems on the Un­der­ground pro­gramme, ad­mits that she is “very emo­tion­ally in­volved” with the up­com­ing elec­tions. The 73-year-old from New York, who moved to Lon­don in 1972, says: “The out­come of the elec­tion seems es­sen­tial this time. If Obama loses, I shall just de­spair.”

Ch­er­naik, a mother-of-three who lives in Gospel Oak, North Lon­don, ex­plains: “Amer­i­cans so want a change now and I feel very con­nected to that.”

But not all Amer­i­can Jews in the UK will be root­ing for Obama next week. Jour­nal­ist and com­men­ta­tor Char­lie Wolf, a self-con­fessed “real par­ti­san Repub­li­can”, is hop­ing McCain will win the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“We don’t know any­thing about Obama, whereas McCain is a safe pair of hands. At least with him you know what you’re get­ting,” says the 49-year-old, orig­i­nally from Bos­ton but liv­ing in North Finch­ley.

“If Obama won, I would be very wor­ried,” Wolf adds.

Some Amer­i­cans, how­ever, re­main un­con­vinced by ei­ther can­di­date. Gavin Gross, 46, who has lived in the UK for 15 years, does not think of much of the choice he is be­ing of­fered: “Part of me thinks no­body for pres­i­dent. I’m not thrilled by ei­ther can­di­date.”

Gross, who works as di­rec­tor of pub­lic af­fairs for the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion but is go­ing on aliyah at the end of the year, feels that both Obama and McCain have strong qual­i­ties but also weak­nesses.

“I’m very im­pressed with Obama’s in­tel­li­gence and charisma. He is dy­namic and com­posed, but he is very in­ex­pe­ri­enced, par­tic­u­larly in for­eign pol­icy. And I worry that could lead to at­tacks on Amer­i­can tar­gets.

“McCain does not have Obama’s per­sonal charisma or star qual­ity, but he is more ex­pe­ri­enced and has greater un­der­stand­ing of for­eign pol­icy.”

So what do candidates’ sup­port­ers ad­mire in their men?

“Obama in­spires con­fi­dence and is smart and well in­formed,” Ch­er­naik says. “I think that’s what Amer­i­cans are crav­ing now. Peo­ple are so sick of the last eight years of Bush. McCain just doesn’t come across as a man with imagination. He is folksy and old and doesn’t in­spire con­fi­dence.” Budd Mar­go­lis, a fa­ther-of-two who lives in Rich­mond, Sur­rey, agrees. “I think very highly of Obama. It is now im­por­tant to have a pres­i­dent who can re­store Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion in the world, af­ter eight years of Ge­orge Bush. I be­lieve Obama can do that.”

Le­jbow­icz is scared at the prospect of McCain for pres­i­dent: “I be­lieve he will fol­low Bush’s poli­cies and won’t bring the change that we need. Obama on the other hand is all about change. He comes across as re­ally hon­est, and I think peo­ple be­lieve him.”

But Wolf ar­gues that, on the con­trary, Amer­ica needs more of the Bush treat­ment: “My big­gest com­plaint is that McCain is not enough like Bush.”

He adds that the Repub­li­can can­di­date is “a lot more in tune, from a de­fence stand­point, with what Is­rael is go­ing through.

“I don’t think Obama is anti-Is­rael, but as a Jew I am wor­ried. A lot of the peo­ple around Obama have some pretty wacky left-wing ideas and don’t have re­ally good Is­rael cre­den­tials.”

His con­cerns are echoed by Gross. “For vot­ers con­cerned about Is­rael, there are ques­tion marks about what an Obama win would mean. I do worry that some of the peo­ple Obama as­so­ci­ates with re­mind me of the Jimmy Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion, which was not seen as be­ing friendly to Is­rael.”

But Mar­go­lis strongly dis­agrees. “I think Obama is very sup­port­ive of Is­rael,” he says.

With the cur­rent global fi­nan­cial cri­sis hit­ting Amer­ica hard, this elec­tion cam­paign seems to have been largely dom­i­nated by eco­nomic poli­cies and the candidates’ re­ac­tions to the cri­sis. Ac­cord­ing to Gross, the elec­tion “will be de­cided on eco­nomics”.

Ch­er­naik says: “Peo­ple are truly wor­ried about the econ­omy and I don’t think that McCain has any cre­den­tials in that area.”

She ad­mits that both Obama and McCain were un­pre­pared for the cri­sis, but adds: “Obama man­aged to re­act and shift ground con­vinc­ingly, whereas McCain didn’t.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mar­go­lis, the eco­nomic cri­sis in­creased Obama’s pop­u­lar­ity. “McCain didn’t show up well dur­ing the cri­sis. He proved to be more of a hin­drance than a help but Obama han­dled it very well.”

But Wolf says Obama would “tax peo­ple more, which I’ve al­ways be­lieved in not do­ing dur­ing a time of re­ces­sion”.

De­spite the de­bates sur­round­ing Obama and McCain, they are not the only ones who have caused a stir dur­ing this elec­tion. When McCain an­nounced 44year-old Alaskan gov­er­nor and mother-of-five Sarah Palin as his run­ning mate and vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in Au­gust, the news sent shock-waves across the globe.

A vir­tual un­known un­til that point, her fam­ily life, and the rul­ing by an ethics com­mit­tee that she abused her power in try­ing to get her sis­ter’s ex-hus­band sacked, have made her a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure.

At times, the self-de­scribed “pit bill” has di­vided opin­ion more than Obama and McCain them­selves. Mar­go­lis says: “Her ex­pe­ri­ence is zero. The role of vi­cepres­i­dent is to take over in­stantly if nec­es­sary. That scares the hell out of peo­ple.”

Wolf dis­agrees. “Sarah Palin should be the role model for a lot of women. She has en­er­gised the con­ser­va­tive base and is run­ning one of the tough­est states. She is highly ex­pe­ri­enced.”

De­spite the con­tro­versy, Gross says: “No-one votes on the ba­sis of vice-pres­i­dent.”

So how will Amer­ica’s Jews vote? “Over­whelm­ingly Demo­crat, as they al­ways his­tor­i­cally have,” Gross says. Ch­er­naik adds: “All my friends and fam­ily are vot­ing for Obama.”

Even Wolf ad­mits: “My fam­ily have all gone very lib­eral. They are all vot­ing Obama.”

PHOTO: AP

Amer­ica goes to the polls next week to elect a pres­i­dent. But al­though most US Jews tend to vote Demo­crat, sup­port here crosses party lines

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