Saturday, October 9, 2010

US Israel relationships: the making of the Israeli exclamation mark, part 1, Obama’s triple inheritance

Fifth in a series of seven
parts: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Why Israelis don’t trust president Obama?
Why the most likely answer to the question, “Do you trust president Obama?” coming from Israel, especially during mid 2010, is not just ‘no,’ but ’no!’?
A part of the explanation is the role of the media and the Internet, explained here and here. The other part is the Palestinian component. Two other parts have to do with president Obama, and they are explained in this article and the following one.

The survey quoted by Katie Couric in the Benjamin Netanyahu interview on July 7 2010, said 71% of Israeli Jews don’t like president Obama. The word ‘like’ is a general term that does not disclose the causes of this emotion. Another survey made around that time by the 'Dahaf Institute', had found out that 24% of Israelis consider president Obama an anti-Semite. A finding that is considered unprecedented.

[The 'Dahaf Institute' is a leading Israeli marketing and research firm known for its political and social surveys. This survey was published in the current affairs program ‘Shovrim Kelim’ in the Knesset Channel, the cable channel of the Israeli parliament. This TV program is hosted by the head of the institute Dr. Mina Tzemach and Roni Milo, the former mayor of Tel – Aviv and former government minister.] 

Given the history of the Jewish people, there are always those who see all foreign heads of states as anti-Semites, so some percentage of suspicious people is always expected, but 24% is considered to be higher then usual. At the same time it hardly represents the entire 71%. What it is more likely is that this is an indicator of the general feelings at the time of the survey, June 2010. If the majority of Israeli Jews don’t trust president Obama, a greater percentage than usual is more likely to believe he is an anti Semite. Others will see him as pro-Palestinian, or point to the ideological differences between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu as the source of policies many couldn’t understand and could not trust. And the lack of it is what all these explanations have in common.

Those who are writing off the entire 71% as people that regard president Obama as an anti-Semite are making life easy for themselves. Just as they do when they put heavy weight on the president’s middle name, Hussein, as the cause of the Israelis’ apprehension. Hussein is a common name in the Middle East, and Israelis encounter it on many different occasions. On one side there was Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who promised to burn half of Israel, after his long war with Iran ended. On the other side there was the late king Hussein of Jordan. He is the second Arab head of state to sign a peace agreement with Israel, and a moderate ruler who survived most of his radical enemies. This achievement gave him the respect of many people including a lot of Israelis. When on March 13 1997 a Jordanian soldier murdered 7 Israeli schoolgirls in Naharayim on the Israeli Jordanian border, the king came to Israel with his royal entourage to visit the families of the victims, to express his condolences and to condemn the act. It was an act that showed determination, courage and leadership and left a strong impact on the Israeli public, even among those who hate Arabs.

So while this middle name did create some unease, it did not create the wave of panic the extreme right in Israel tried to make from it, and that the Israel-bashers claim exist. There were other more serious factors. As explained earlier in this series some of the causes are inherited from the previous administrations. The collapse of the Oslo accords during the tenure of Bill Clinton, and Hamas’ takeover of Gaza after the disengagement from Gaza, had demonstrated to the Israelis the limits of the power of the office of the American presidency. It cannot make the Palestinians want peace. Since eventually all peace processes boils down to the intentions of the adversaries.

But just as Barack Obama is the heir of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he is also the representative of the large camp of George W. Bush’s critics. And that large camp wasn’t made up just of the American Democratic Party and its supporters. As the protest against the Iraq War grew in the United States and across the world, the Democratic Party and most of the mainstream American left failed to distinguish between those who opposed the war because of reasons of legality and strategic wisdom, and those who opposed it simply because they hate America and oppose everything the United States does. An important characteristic of that last group is that they hate Israel as well, burning Israeli flags alongside American flags. But Israelis did notice this. They saw on television and on the Internet, George W. Bush subjected to vile spectacles of hatred, were his effigy was burned, lynched, and he himself was compared to Hitler. All that was done by people that hated Israel and its elected leaders in the same fashion. This naturally created sympathy for him and helped bolster his image as the only foreign had of state sticking up for Israel at a time Israelis were attacked at their streets and in their homes. But the inability of the mainstream American left to separate themselves from those expressions of hate created suspicion towards them. And since Barack Obama is the elected leader of the Democratic Party, he inherited that as well.

Bush bashing
Bush-hate fest, a small sample

And then there is Barack Obama’s personal inheritance, the only one discussed in the mainstream media. That  inheritance is his past association with the reverend Jeremiah Wright, a known Israel-basher, and former PLO adviser and major BDS campaigner professor Rashid Khalidi.

Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi
            Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi

Were president Obama and his advisers aware of these apprehensions?
The later? Most likely. The others? Unknown.

The desire to bridge this suspicion is probably part of the reason for the huge military and political investment in Israel’s security. This investment includes weaponry, joint training of the two countries armed forces, the acceptance of Israel to the OECD, the financing of Iron Dome, And the backing Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. The most important support is the constant pressure on the international community regarding the Iranian threat. Part of the reason for all of this is to overcome the said mistrust. But the huge effort behind them shows a commitment to Israel’s security, because without it such an effort would not have been possible. Others may dispute this, but this dispute is largely due to ideological convictions, and as consequence of the turmoil that had taken place in March 2010. Turmoil that had taken place because commitment is not enough to win over a people’s trust, understanding them is needed in order to translate that commitment to tangible terms. This, the American administration failed to do. They understood that Iran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel, but sidelined the fact that most of the actual killing of Israelis was done by Iran’s Palestinians and Lebanese proxies.

Dvar Dea

US Israel relationships a seven parts series:
The public debate, correcting a favorable picture
The public debate, Israel and the war on terror
The Palestinian component
The right wing component
The Israeli exclamation mark, Obama's triple inheritance
The Israeli exclamation mark, unbalancing outreach w go-between
The peace process' beggars' choice

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