The debate about whether President Obama is truly a friend of Israel has heated up again in the last week since his Middle East policy speech. But in spite of the widespread dissatisfaction with Obama’s latest attempt to tilt the diplomatic field in favor of the Palestinians, Jewish Democrats have furiously insisted that to question the president’s intentions is not only unfair but also bad for Israel. With their eyes firmly on the 2012 election, Democrats have sought to downplay the splat with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, something that suits the interests of not only American Jewish organizations but also the Israeli government. Yet with the nasty exchanges of the last few days and the Congressional ovations for Netanyahu still ringing in our ears, the question of whether or not Obama is a genuine ally of the Jewish state lingers.
Even though many American Jews feel that to even ask the question about Obama’s attitude is divisive, few here have stopped to ask what the Israelis themselves think about the president. If they did, they’ll hear an answer that Democrats won’t like.
A new Smith Research/Jerusalem Post poll published yesterday reveals that Israelis have an overwhelmingly negative opinion of Obama. Rather than view the president as the friend of the Jewish state that the Democrats claim he is, 40 percent of Israelis view him as pro-Palestinian with only 12 percent seeing him as pro-Israel and 34 percent thinking of him as neutral.
But lest one think that this poll is mere the backlash from the recent spat with Netanyahu, these poor polling numbers are actually an improvement on the results that Obama got last July. At that time, 46 percent viewed the president as pro-Palestinian and only 10 percent as pro-Israel with, again, 34 percent perceiving him as neutral.
This is a far cry from the poll that was taken in 2009 before his first fights with Israel’s government and his Cairo speech to the Arab world. In May of that year, 31 percent of Israelis saw him as pro-Israel and only 14 percent pro-Palestinians with 40 percent claiming that he was neutral.
It’s clear from these numbers as well as the remarkable boost in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s popularity at home that Israelis have come to the firm conclusion that Obama is no friend to their country. Most Israelis were shocked by the president’s invocation of the 1967 borders as well as his refusal to demand that the Palestinians give up the right of return. Indeed, he is clearly the most unpopular American president in decades.
American Jews are entitled to their own opinion about Obama and Israel but it seems only reasonable that they should, at the very least, show some deference to the people to whom the question matters most. Israelis don’t trust Obama. After the events of the last week, perhaps American Jews should be listening to them.