Israel embraces Obama

By Nathan Guttman, November 6, 2008

The historic election of Democrat Barack Obama as US President has been warmly welcomed by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described Mr Obama's sweeping victory as "historic and impressive" adding: "America has again proven itself an example to world democracies."

Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said that the election of the first-ever African-American president was "a mark of merit for American democracy", adding: "During Barack Obama's recent visit to Israel, and especially during the tour we conducted together in the city of Sderot, the people of Israel were impressed by his commitment to the peace and security of Israel."

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu went even further in expressing his optimism over Mr Obama's future role in the Middle East.

"I am sure the new president will be able to bring peace to our region," he said.

Jewish Americans voted overwhelmingly for Mr Obama. According to exit polls, 77 per cent of Jewish voters supported him, while only 22 per cent backed Republican John McCain.

Mr Obama managed to maintain the tradition of Jewish backing for Democratic presidential nominees.

"This election has showed once again that American Jews continue to solidly support Democrats," said Marc Stanley, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Mr Obama's road to the White House, which ended on Tuesday night in Chicago with hundreds of thousands of supporters dancing in the streets and chanting, had been rocky. He faced many challenges in confronting the troubled issue of race relations, and had struggled to win the support of Jews. Mr Obama started off with little support from the community and was smeared by emails and rumours targeting Jewish voters.

The Democratic candidate responded with a vigorous outreach operation which gradually eased Jewish concerns about his Middle East policy and answered claims regarding his advisers and associates.

Analysts have speculated that Mr Obama's strong performance in the community was also a result of Mr McCain's decision to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Ms Palin, a strong conservative Christian, deterred Jewish voters who hold liberal views and are concerned about maintaining the separation between church and state.

In congressional races, according to early results, most Jewish lawmakers kept their seats. As of Wednesday morning, the Minnesota Senate race between two Jewish candidates, Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken was too close to call. In New Jersey, Dennis Schulman failed to drive out the incumbent Republican. Frank Lautenberg, the senator from New Jersey, easily kept his seat. Six Jewish first-time congressmen will also return for another term.

Last updated: 4:15pm, July 22 2009