In “The Israelis understand Obama,” Paul noted the poll conducted for the Jerusalem Post reflecting that six percent of Israeli Jews believe that President Obama is pro-Israel. By contrast, 88 percent consider President Bush to have been pro-Israel.
A month ago, just before Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, only 14 percent of Israeli Jews considered Obama pro-Palestinian. At that time 31 percent labeled him pro-Israel and 40 percent thought he was neutral. The abrupt change in the numbers confirmed Paul’s view that Obama’s elevation of the issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank has caused Israelis to view him as hostile. That may well be sufficient to explain the numbers, but I think there may also be a bit more to it.
I think that the perception of Obama by Israelis has been altered by Obama’s Cairo speech, which was as closely watched in Israel as in “the Muslim world.” My guess is that Israelis were troubled by the perfunctory acknowledgement of America’s traditional relationship with Israel in the speech. After designating the issue of “violent extremism” (formerly known as terrorism) as the first issue we have to confront, Obama turned to Israel:
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Watching the speech live (video here), I was struck by the coldness of Obama’s avowal. It is limited to “cultural and historic ties,” though he fails to mention a single one. Put to one side what Martin Peretz calls the “narrative dissonance” of Obama’s account of Isrel’s founding. What are the “cultural and historic ties” between the United States and Israel?
As to the “historic and cultural ties,” whatever they are, one is left to wonder if Obama himself feels them. I don’t think Israelis think he does. I certainly don’t. In the Cairo speech Obama emphasized his identification with the Muslim world. On the one hand, Israel’s standing with him personally is left a question mark. On the other hand, one can draw negative inferences from Obama’s adoption of the Arab narrative of Israel’s birth, Obama’s emphasis on the Israeli settlements as the key to peace and his and on his attribution of crucial significance to the creation of a Palestinian state.
In today’s New York Post, Jamie Kirchick assesses the damage Obama is doing to America’s friendship with Israel. Kirchick too points to the Cairo speech, noting the disparate treatment by Obama of the only true democracy in the region and his treatment of the tyrannies that surround it.
PAUL adds: I should have mentioned that the poll in question shows that 69 percent of Israelis are opposed to a freeze on building in large settlement blocs, as opposed to “outpost” settlements. Only 27 percent favor a total freeze. That was my basis for linking the change in Israeli views about Obama to his strident, highly-publicized insistence that all construction in existing settlements stop.
It’s possible that the Cairo speech also influenced the results of the poll, but I’m not aware of any evidence that it did. .