Text size

A group of liberal American rabbis have denounced Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign as leaning toward "hate speech" in its treatment of Democratic rival Barack Obama.

"The manner in which Senator McCain, Governor [Sarah] Palin and their supporters refer to Senator Obama is creeping toward hate speech," Rabbis for Obama said in a statement on Thursday.

"As leaders of the Jewish community we are well aware of the dangers of using inflammatory political language to marginalize individuals and groups. Increasingly those speaking on behalf of the McCain campaignhave been demonizing Senator Obama as not being like us."

According to the rabbis, the McCain campaign has deliberately stressed Obama's middle name - Hussein - as if to insinuate the candidate's Muslim background, a contentious rumor circulating since the start of the campaign.

"They [the McCain campaign] recently used a uniformed sheriff to warm up the crowd at a rallyby emphasize the senator's middle name," the rabbis wrote. "At another event Senator McCain seemed shocked when one of his supporters stated that Senator Obama was an 'Arab.' That false belief is the fruit of the McCain campaign's emphasizing Senator Obama's middle name."

The rabbis also accused Vice Presidential candidate Palin of asserting that "Senator Obama pals around with terrorists," a claim that denounced as "false" and "built on three distortions and a lie."

"In twenty-first century America, no word is more emotionally loaded than 'terrorist,'" they wrote. "Republican operatives who managed to convince American to believe the lie that the government of Iraq was connected to Osama bin Laden, think they can now convince Americans of another big lie, that 1960s campus radical William Ayers is connected to contemporary terrorists and that he is a close, influential friend of Senator Obama."

The liberal group also lashed out at their opponents in the Republican Jewish Coalition, which it said "falsely labels Senator Obama as'reckless on Israel.'

"They [Republican Jews] know that in the Jewish community this is the moral equivalent of crying fire in a crowded theater," the liberal rabbis said, adding: "The RJC approach harkens back to the classic Republican red baiting tactics of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon from the early fifties."

"We have put our credibility as rabbis who love Israel on the line to publicly endorse Senator Obama for President because of the smears and lies coming from the other side," wrote the rabbis.

"Never before in the history of the United States has a group of rabbis come together on this scale to work on behalf on a candidate for president."

An annual survey published last month by the American Jewish Committee on Thursday revealed that American Jewish voters Obama over McCain for U.S. president by a margin of 57-30 percent.

The surprising figure to emerge from the survey was the unexpectedly large number of undecided voters, at 13 percent.

Though the percentage of Jews in the U.S. is merely 2 percent, 4 percent of the votes in the presidential elections are generally cast by American Jews. In certain states, such as Florida, the Jewish vote is considered crucial.

In addition, more than 40 percent of American Jews contribute to presidential campaigns, comprising one fifth of all campaign contributions.