The poll asked voters their response to negative statements about Barack Obama, including reported praise for him from a leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas. Photo: AP A Republican group is taking responsibility for a poll that has roiled the Jewish community by asking sharply negative questions about Senator Barack Obama. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which is launching a campaign against Obama on behalf of Senator John McCain, sponsored the poll to "understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters," the group's executive director, Matt Brooks, told Politico. The poll asked voters their response to negative statements about Obama, including reported praise for him from a leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas and a friendship early in his career with a pro-Palestinian university professor. Some Jewish Democrats who received the poll â including a New Republic writer who lives in Michigan â were outraged by the poll, describing it in interviews as "ugly" and disturbing. A group that supports Obama, the Jewish Council for Education and Research even staged a protest outside the Manhattan call center from which the calls originated Tuesday. "If the RJC is responsible for these calls, which are designed to frighten Jews and sow mistrust, they have forfeited their place at the Jewish table," said the co-executive director of the group, Mik Moore. "It is incumbent upon the McCain campaign to speak out forcefully against this and ongoing efforts by his supporters to scare Jews into supporting his candidacy." Brooks, however, denied that the poll was meant to influence Jewish voters, and said it was a traditional poll meant to gauge the opinions of Jewish voters. "What we did is test, in standard polling methodology, a number of factual issues that have been reported on in the press and are policy positions to see how they're resonating in the Jewish community," said Brooks. "The notion that this is a 'push poll' is offensive to us." Brooks said the RJC, whose board includes advisors and fundraisers for Senator John McCain, had placed 750 calls to Jewish voters in five states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. He accused the protesters of "intimidation." Mark Blumenthal, editor of the website Pollster.com, said the form of the poll, and its length of 15 minutes, made it more likely to be a traditional "message testing" survey than a "push poll," in which brief calls are made to deliver a message and the caller typically has no interest in the results. He added, however, that in some cases a pollster might anticipateâand welcomeâthe possibility that negative questions would draw media attention and, indirectly, amplify the pointed statements. Certainly, they have drawn attention: After first reporting on two voters who were polled, Politico was contacted by a half-dozen more, and many Jewish Obama backers are livid at the survey. "The fact that the Republican Jewish Coalition is targeting Jewish Americans with these disgraceful and deceitful tactics fits in perfectly with the dishonorable campaign that John McCain has chosen to run. Peddling lies and hateful distortions to scare Jewish voters is reprehensible and deeply disrespectful to Jewish Americans," said Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, an Obama supporter. The poll may not itself have been aimed at delivering a single message, but it does point to the group's possible lines of attack on Obama in the heated battle for Jewish votes. John McCain's hawkish, pro-Israel credentials, and nervousness in the Jewish community over both Obama's promise of diplomacy with Iran and the false rumors that he is a Muslim and hostile to Israel had produced polls over the summer that showed Obama winning about two thirds of the Jewish vote. That's a substantial margin, but a narrower one than Al Gore and John Kerry took, and a worrisome issue for the Democrats, particularly in Florida.