Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed puzzlement at how American Jews could be wary of him. At various shuls and before AIPAC he has brought up the email/whispering campaign, his middle name and even the comments of other African-Americans to explain why Jews haven’t all been smitten by the Great Man. The tone, not just from him, but from his blogoshpere friends has often been one of “But how can it be that they doubt him?” Well, now there are plenty of stories explaining why and how Israelis are wary of him. Ah, so maybe this is what’s upsetting all the American Jews?!
Talking to reporters in Jordan yesterday, Mr Obama made remarks that are likely to unsettle his Israeli hosts. Although he reiterated his unflinching support for Israel, he went out of his way to highlight the economic and political struggle of the Palestinians, saying: “What I think can change is the ability of the United States government and a United States president . . . to be concerned and recognise the legitimate difficulties that the Palestinian people are experiencing right now.” Israelis are particularly suspicious of Mr Obama because of his willingness to talk to Iran’s leadership, and a perception that he is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Unlike a visit to the region by his Republican rival John McCain in May, the Democrat will not only hold meetings in Jerusalem, but will travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to talk with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, and Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister. Mr Obama is likely to seek to clarify his declaration last month, made in a speech to a powerful Jewish-American lobby group, that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel . The remark appeared to pre-judge final status talks, and went even further than current policy under the Bush Administration. He then backtracked, calling it “poor phrasing”.
And wouldn’t you know, in Israel they make a connection between Iraq, Iran and their own well-being. The Wall Street Journal explains:
The judgments I’ve made over the past two years matched up with the realities on the ground,” Sen. Obama told reporters in the Jordanian capital. “That’s where U.S. foreign policy has to go.”But Israelis see Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to the existence of their state, especially given the rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Israelis strongly backed the Bush administration’s campaign to oust former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was considered the Arab world’s fiercest foe of the Jewish state.”People here have a gut feeling about who is going to be tougher on Israel’s enemies, and the answer is John McCain,” says Uri Dromi, a political analyst and commentator in Israel. . . .The concern doesn’t seem partisan, but rather specific to Sen. Obama. Before she suspended her campaign, fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton was wildly popular with Israelis.
And then there is this, which is simply is too good to be excerpted and explains why so many Israelis are afraid Obama isn’t receiving or understanding the message terrorists are sending even on the occasion of his trip.
The concerns are not easily allayed for those both in Israel and at home because it goes to the heart of how Obama sees the U.S. in the world and how he has responded in war. When a politician doesn’t wish to fulfill our obligations in a war (i.e. Iraq) — in part because of the fear it has made the U.S. unpopular in the world — and when he parrots the myths about poverty creating terror, that is going to make some people nervous. When he tells both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict what he imagines they might want to hear, when he receives advice from those who believe either (or both) that unconditional engagement with Hamas is a good idea or that Israel monopolizes too much of our attention and affections, and when he shushes Hillary Clinton for warning Iran about nuking Israel (and gives as a justification the “sympathy” such comments might engender in the UN, ground zero for world Israel bashing) that makes them even more nervous. And the denials — really base lying — that he never changed his mind on “undivided Israel” and always opposed Palestinian elections with Hamas on the ballot give these wary people all the more reason to suspect that Obama is trying to pull a fast one.
These concerns stem directly from Obama’s world view and a fundamental concern, that in the race for international popularity, Israel will get lost in the shuffle. And more personally, it comes from the perception that Obama is simply not savvy enough to spot, or tough enough to combat, the enemies of Israel and the U.S. Maybe a trip to Yad Vashem and the Kotel can solve all that. (Although it’s best not to duck questions about preventing another Holocaust at Yad Vashem.) But I suspect the very people who have these concerns are the last ones to be swayed by pretty trip pictures.