Commentary Magazine


Obama, Ads, and Israel

The airwaves have been filled recently with video clips showing Israelis supporting of Barack Obama. I guess this is part of the ongoing campaign–spearheaded by comedian Sarah Silverman–to convince the pro-Israel Jewish voters (and maybe some non-Jewish voters, too) that Obama will be as good for Israel as the other candidate, maybe even better.

While I do believe that Obama is a genuine supporter of Israel (and if there’s any reason to question him on this, it’s because of policies, not bad intentions), the notion behind those clips is laughable.

Take a look at this one. The producers will tell you: look, many Israelis support Obama. But how many? And whom? They’ll tell you these are Israelis on both Left and Right. Not true. They say supporters of Obama are both secular and observant. I think they’ll have a huge problem on their hands if they try to prove that point. All this does not mean that Obama is problematic–but it does mean that the clip is misleading. I wrote about it last week, at the request of France-24’s “The Observers”: “finding five or six or even 20 Israelis supporting Obama is easy, but the truth of the matter is quite simple – those are mostly left-wing Israelis, representing a small minority of the Jewish population.”

But this is not the end of the story. The video uses various tricks to create a false impression that people from all quarters support Obama. Thus, it contains footage from a TV show in which Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union (and, let’s admit it right here, they wanted his black yarmulke on screen) are shown. Diament felt the need to release a statement saying that “The footage and identification may mislead some viewers to think that the OU or Nathan Diament are endorsing Barack Obama for president. This is not the case. The OU is a tax-exempt, non-partisan organization and does not endorse or oppose candidates for elective office.”

The clip also presents “Former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee” Naomi Chasan, an Obama supporter. Conveniently enough–and I don’t think is sheer forgetfulness–the producers do not mention Chasan’s party affiliation. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but she’s a member of Meretz, Israel’s party on the far Left – not exactly a representative of mainstream Israeli public opinion (my larger take on the Israeli Left’s fascination with Obama is here).

Whatever flaws it has, I guess this clip has created an appetite for more such videos (next time someone blames Israelis for meddling in U.S. affairs, these clips–using Israelis in U.S. election–will become handy). As a result, we now have “Israel’s Generals Speak“, in which “Retired Generals of the Israeli Defense Forces and high-ranking Mossad officials praise Barack Obama”. The ad has already gotten its share of attention, and is circulating with the help of Jewish Obama supporters all around the U.S.

Again, the problem with this clip is not that it gives a misleading impression of Obama. It’s the impression it gives about Israel that’s wrong. Yes, one can find some Obama supporters among the ex-officials of the Israeli Defense forces, but they will be in the minority. One of them, Amnon Shahak, is shown in both clips. Shlomo Brom, Yossi Alpher and Shaul Arieli – names most Israelis (and surely Americans) will not recognize – are all knowledgeable, respectable people, but can be usually counted on to be in opposition to most things the Israeli defense establishment believes.

But that’s not the end of it. Ex-Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi has already complained that he had said nice things both about Obama and McCain, but only the part on Obama was shown in the clip. I’d suspect Halevi really likes Obama, but this is beside the point. The point is that the producers of this clip weren’t honest about what they were doing. General Uzi Dayan, a former Duputy Chief of Staff and a member of the Likud Party, called the clip–in which he appears, supposedly as another Obama supporter–a “lie.”

In short: some genuine supporters, some not even that. If one is after proof that in Israel–a lively democracy–one can find all opinions and all political tendencies provided one looks hard enough, the proof is right here. However, interpreting these clips as proof that Israelis prefer Obama over McCain will be a mistake. Israelis might not be terrified by Obama, as some were a year ago (he did a good job convincing them that he will be a friend). They might be getting used to the idea that an Obama presidency is possible–and this makes them even more prone to try and find the positive sides of such a selection. They generally believe that an American president–no matter whom–will be a friend until proven otherwise. Obama included.

Having said that, Israelis can be divided into three major groups as far as American politics is concerned: Most of them just don’t know enough, or don’t care enough, to have real opinion. If they say that they like McCain–as they did in a couple of polls–it is because Israelis are generally more hawkish than Obama. If they say they support Obama, it is because they believe he will win, or because he is good looking, or because they deem it more fashionable to support him. Among those with an educated opinion–especially in the Israeli establishment–many more are supportive of McCain (but these are also start getting used to the idea of President Obama–and hope for the best).

The smallest group is the one of knowledgeable Israelis genuinely supportive of Obama. People who would have voted for him, had they had a vote to cast. But truth must be told–even this smallest of groups is large enough for a four-minute clip.

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