“Concern in Jerusalem: Obama Is Getting Closer to the Presidency” was the headline on the front page of Ma’ariv, an Israeli daily.  “Sources in Jerusalem are worried over the erosion in the support for Hillary Clinton who is considered more supportive of Israel,” the paper reported after the Iowa caucuses, reflecting the rising sentiment among Israeli officials that Barack Hussein Obama “is not good for the Jews.”

The sense of Obama hysteria among many Israelis was evident in a caricature published in Ma’ariv, in which Obama is seen painting the White House black.  Get it?  You can imagine the reaction in Washington if an Arab newspaper published a drawing of Joe Lieberman painting Stars of David on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Not wanting to be accused of “interfering” in U.S. presidential elections, both Israeli officials and heads of American Jewish organizations (a.k.a. “Jewish leaders”) have refrained from expressing their concerns over Obama in public.  They probably recall the political backlash among Democrats when then-Israeli Ambassador to Washington Yitzhak Rabin made it clear that he wanted to see Nixon beat McGovern in 1972.  (Though Nixon doubled his share of the Jewish vote from the measly 17 percent he received four years earlier, McGovern received 65 percent of the Jewish vote.)

This time, there is a danger that the perception that Israel and her supporters were speaking out against Obama—“No, you can’t!”—would lead to accusations that “the Jews” were responsible for sabotaging the chances of an African-American winning the White House.  At the same time, if Obama does become the first black U.S. president, the earlier kvetching by leading American Jews about Obama could place the Jewish state on the losing side, creating the expectation that the new White House occupant owes it nothing.

That may explain why some Jewish Democrats who support Israel have jumped on the Obama bandwagon.  Hence, Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of the New Republic, assured his readers that “Friends of Israel—and Jews” can “trust Obama.”  Unfortunately,

many . . . are alarmed by e-mails, saying that Obama’s middle name is Hussein (true, and so what?), that he is a Muslim and not a Christian (untrue, and so what if it was?), that he took the oath of office as a Senator on the Koran rather than the Bible (utterly untrue and, once again, so what?).

The notion that Jewish voters are waiting for a green light from their “leaders,” or for Peretz to stamp the “pro-Israel” label on this or that candidate, is ludicrous.  Exit polls suggest that Jewish voters chose Obama or Hillary Clinton based on differences in age and sex.  An elderly Jewish woman was more inclined to vote for Hillary, while a young Jewish man was likely to favor Obama.  There were no indications that the perceived differences in the two candidates’ views on Israel affected the Jewish vote in the primaries.

Among members of the “organized” American-Jewish community, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the concern over Obama stems from the fact that, when it comes to Israel, he is an unknown quantity.  Yes, he has made all the “right noises” on Israel.  But so did Jimmy Carter before winning the Democratic nomination in 1976, only to adopt a more “evenhanded” approach after taking office.

There have been long and bitter disputes between blacks and Jews on the political left.  Against the backdrop of Jesse Jackson’s earlier fights to win the Democratic presidential nomination and Louis Farrakhan’s popularity, there is a certain unease among Jews active in Democratic politics, a feeling that young blacks on the left tend to sympathize with Third World people—the Palestinians, for example—and may even harbor latent antisemitic sentiments.

These concerns were expressed indirectly by one Jewish “leader,” the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, who, during a press conference in Jerusalem in early February, referred to the “atmosphere” that surrounded the Obama campaign.

“All the talk about change, but without defining what that change should be, is an opening for all kind of mischief,” Hoenlein said.  “Of course Obama has plenty of Jewish supporters and there are many Jews around him,” he continued.  “But there is a legitimate concern over the zeitgeist around the campaign.”  Hoenlein specifically cited the fact that Obama has criticized Hillary Clinton for voting to include the Iranian Republican Guards on the list of terror organizations.

Hoenlein has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war and has urged the Bush administration to take military action against Iran.  What seems to be worrying him is the prospect that Obama, if elected, could start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and negotiating with Iran and Syria, and that such policies are supported by the majority of Democratic voters and the American people—and, ironically, most American Jews.  Don’t be surprised, then, if Hoenlein and the rest of the neoconservative forces begin marketing Republican presidential candidate John McCain as the “Israeli candidate” who would keep a “Hussein” out of the White House.